valreas cafe de de paix2You can't go to Northern Provence without stopping by the Café de la Paix in Valréas, a must-visit spot for a drink or meal on several counts.

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For a start, there's the building itself. Dating back to the very early 20th century, it sits on a roundabout at the entrance to the town by the war monument.

In front of the modest façade, pictured top left, is an outdoor terrace shaded by plane trees and set slightly above the action on the street. But the true glory of the Cafe de la Paix is its magnificent dining room.

The grandeur comes as quite of a surprise for such a small-town brasserie. With its dramatic red and white ceiling, huge gilt mirrors, vintage posters and ornate stucco work, it creates an immediate and irresistible sense of occasion, even if you're just popping in for a quick coffee.

The room was renovated between 1904 and 1906 by a Monsieur Marentier, about whom little is known today. There isn't even a consensus about the style: some sources describe it as Art Deco but it really looks more like typical Art Nouveau.

valreas cage de la paixBetween the two World Wars, the Café de la Paix was used as a café-theatre, hosting performances from the likes of the popular cabaret singer Félix Mayol. In 1986 it was officially designated an Historic Monument.

But, despite the impressive decor, the Café de la Paix is not at all stuffy. It remains an unassuming neighbourhood cafe, with simple bentwood chairs, no tablecloths and a casual atmosphere: a far cry from its posh namesake in Paris.

Our party was the only one in the restaurant on a cold November Saturday evening, but the welcome was warm and we had no sense of being rushed to leave. As to the food, we've read mixed reports in the blogosphere, but our own meal here was excellent.

The most important truffle market in France had been in full swing that morning at the nearby village of Richerenches. So the region's legendary black diamonds starred in every course, demonstrating once again their versatility in French cuisine.

A starter paired them brilliantly with braised Jerusalem artichokes, while the main course, a brouillade (scrambled eggs with truffles) proved again that you can't go wrong with this classic brasserie dish.

The cheese, brie, had truffle slices inserted in horizontal incisions then was heated en papillote (wrapped in foil) to bring out the flavour: the result was a lot tastier than a similar, unheated truffle cheese we'd had earlier.

valreas cafe de la paix dessertTruffles returned for one last encore in the dessert, pictured, a trompe l'oeil "apple" that turned out to be a delicate apple-and truffle- flavoured pannacotta mousse stuffed with red berries.

At other times of the year, you can still expect a cuisine based on ultra-traditional dishes such as tête de veau (calf's head: much nicer than it sounds!) or souris d'agneau (lamb shank) and local produce such as olives and olive oil from Nyons, home-made foie gras and the region's trademark Côtes du Rhône wines.

A set menu (prix fixe) is available too. Note that, despite the "Hotel - Restaurant" banner outside, the Café de la Paix doesn't offer rooms.

Visited November 2015

Where: Café de la Paix, 26 rue de l'Hotel de Ville, 84600 Valréas. Tel: (+33) 4 90 46 88 25.

Photo credits: all images © SJ for Marvellous Provence.

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