Starry Eyed in Collias

Once a year we do a Gastro-ramble through the Languedoc Roussillon region of France. The ramble part consists of walking between and from some very picturesque cities and villages in what was once Roman France. We wind our way through gorges, forests, the garrigue the Romans adored so, and to the towering monument of that time, the incomparable aqueduct that carried water from Nimes to Uzes, The Pont du Gard. More on that in a subsequent post.

The “gastro” part involves the fact that some of the lovely hotels we stay in are Relais & Chateaux. But one in Collias, is a charming inn, run by the Aparis family, and which now leaves us truly “starry-eyed” as they’ve this March gained an exceptional second Michelin Star. They are the only restaurant in the Gard region of France to have this coveted honor.

The Hostellerie le Castellas has had intriguing beginnings. Mr. and Mrs. Aparis once ran a snack shop at the Pont du Gard. When it was taken over by all the trappings of modern tourism (the postcard shop, the compulsory cafeteria serving vile swill tightly wrapped like a lab culture, etc), they relocated to Collias. Mr. Aparis was fond of the picturesque village of Collias, on the banks of the river Gardon. The Gorge of Gardon makes for stunning walks and he was a devotee of the locale.

A labor of love began — to create a true abode of hospitality, a place awash with elegance, and dedicated to gastronomy. This is France, and food is a secular religion. Their daughter Aurelie then was 11.

Fast forward about 15 years, and a new Chef arrives, Jerome Nutile. And after years of irrigating their dream with attention and devoted care, the hotel and restaurant came into the full bloom of gastronomic recognition. One Michelin Star was awarded. I remember that year Madame doing a jig of true delight. Their daughter Aurelie, had returned to help run this little gem, and has added her own vitality and considerable charm to an already superb enterprise. The second Michelin star has now come in, and they are awash with culinary pilgrims. So it should be. This place more than deserves a visit, and during that visit, focused attention.

Papa is now the Mayor of Collias (just as well as I had to let him know of a tree blocking one of the main walks from Collias to La Baume along the Gorge du Gardon after a particularly tempestuous rainfall), Aurelie’s husband who runs a landscaping company, ensures the garden blooms. The Sommelier, who has been with them for 14 years, is a chirpy, beet-cheeked life enthusiast who calls to mind the words of Rabelais:

“For my book: all you’ll find is laughter:
That’s all the glory my heart is after,
Seeing how sorrow eats you, defeats you.
I’d rather write about laughing than crying,
For laughter makes men human, and courageous.”

Certainly the cuisine, the wines, the garden, the imagination of the owners, the loveliness of the Languedoc, all conspire to make us feel more gratefully human there, glowing with the robust sharing of rare and piquant pleasures.

Below is a recent dinner that remains a true highlight.

And here’s a lesson to be learned too: If  they shut down your livelihood, make a choice. Wail and weep. Or dream anew. Plant yourself and your dreams and re-imagine what’s possible. The Aparis family did. And over that lovely hotel, the stars shine bright. They are polished with dedication.



Contrast de Foie Gras en Trois Versions

Foie Gras contrast in three versions: in an ice dust of Sarawak peppercorns, confit “au naturel” in a Maury jelly, hot and crispy in a croustillant with Ayala Brut Majeur Champagne

Minute de Roget

Red Mullet “a la minute” in a paella-style risotto of courgette flowers seasoned with Iberico ham slivers with garlic and sparkling Saffron with white Chateauneuf du Pape Beau Castel 2007

Emulsion retour des Illes sorbet Champagne

Cote et Filet Agneau de lait

Rib and Fillet of Milk-fed Lamb and shoulder compote, mashed chick peas, split seeds with lemon confit, spiced jus with Bandol Domaine Du Gros Nore 2001

Chariot des Fromages

with the Bandol

Cubism Choco-Praline

Choco-Praline Cube in the style of Black Forest with Muscat “Frontignan” 2006


with Laubade Armagnac 1970