One of the things we enjoy most when traveling is the food – and the drinks! Visiting a French or Italian vineyard and sipping on limoncello on the Mediterranean is a bucket list experience, but every region has special liqueurs that speak to their history and resources. One of our favorites is pastis, an anise-flavored liqueur you’ll find along the French Riviera. It is symbolic of sunshine and relaxation on a terrace overlooking the sea. Sipping on a pastis, it seems the world stands still.
Pastis follows a tradition of anise-flavored alcohols in the Mediterranean, including sambuca in Italy and ouzo in Greece. However, the blend of anise with fresh, vibrant Provençal herbs– like verbena, thyme, savory, and sage– sets this liqueur apart. Pastis’ rise in popularity was inspired by absinthe, another famous anise-flavored alcohol. Absinthe was outlawed in France during the First and Second World Wars because of its high alcohol content and hallucinogenic properties. French industrialist Paul Ricard skirted these regulations by making his own recipe for an anise-flavored liqueur and naming it pastis, which derives from “mixture” or “mash up” in the regional dialect of Occitan. During this same time period, Pernod, inventor of absinthe, altered its own recipe to be able to sell an anise-based liqueur once again, calling it Pastis de Marseilles. Ricard and Pernod battled for dominance in Provence for decades until 1974, when they merged into Pernod Ricard, now a leading global alcohol producer.
Since the eighties, many variations of pastis have emerged with different herbal blends. Boutique producers are proliferating, making sampling a must-do when visiting. When served, it is diluted with water, giving it a milky look and the name “Milk of Provence”. It is now the iconic aperitif of a French Mediterranean holiday.
Perhaps what makes pastis so special to us is how we share it with our friends in Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Our first stop on our French and Italian Riviera tour is at a charming hotel in this beautiful town on the Mediterranean, a few miles from Nice. The owner, Daniel, gives our guests an entertaining pastis-tasting lesson on the rooftop terrace, where the view of the mountains and sea is unforgettable. We all raise our glasses to new Franco-American friendships and the glories of travel. Our favorite toast is “Santé, Amitié!” Health and Friendship!
Santé et Amitié from Olde Ipswich Tours!