Auberge Stays in the French Countryside
"Those buildings look like they came from Mars," commented a beret-wearing local farmer as he cycled past this auberge in the town of Iguerande. It's actually the dream project of the great French chef Michel Troisgros. Seven years ago, he was biking near his family's three-star hotel-restaurant in Roanne, in this time-stood-still corner of Burgundy, and came across what he describes as a "magically beautiful" old farmhouse with an ancient round tower and a huge stable. When the property came on the market, he and his wife, Marie-Pierre, immediately bought it.
"We wanted to create a new-style country auberge, a simple, ecologically friendly place where you get away from it all and eat delicious food," says Troisgros. He carefully restored most of the buildings, but he asked architect Patrick Bouchain to construct three modern rooms. The result is a trio of chalets (right), or "Les Cadoles," set atop stilts. They're made of wood, steel and glass, with curved zinc roofs and enormous balconies that overlook pastures of Charolais cattle; bedroom walls are lined with thick tapestries of braided hemp and resemble the inside of a beehive.
At the stone-barn-turned-restaurant, diners sit on crimson Eames chairs and try Troisgros's playful interpretations of eternal Gallic comfort food, like fricassee of snails. The open kitchen lets guests watch Troisgros and his team work.
Pays de la Loire
"After my haute cuisine training, I was ready to invent my own cooking; food that tells a story and conveys different emotions," says chef Éric Guérin, who made a name for himself in Paris at Taillevent. A passionate traveler, hunter and art collector, he wanted to "be close to nature." In 1995, he bought a cottage in La Brière, a canal-laced marshland in the estuary of the Loire River, and converted it into an auberge with a bird theme. The food he began cookinglike roast pigeon with honey and Sarawak pepperimmediately made him one of the most talked about young chefs in France. Last year he added five suites decorated with antique furniture from his travels in Asia.
When Balthazar and Sébastien de La Borde inherited an 1825 mansion in Bermicourt, two-and-a-half hours north of Paris, the experience changed their lives. Because the tobacco farming that had helped pay for the property's upkeep in their great-grandfather's day was on the wane, the brothers gave up careers as Paris businessmen and decided to convert the outbuildings into an auberge.
Sébastien, who trained with chef Stéphane Jego at the excellent L'Ami Jean in Paris, took over the kitchen, preparing regional dishes like caramelized veal shank, rabbit braised in white wine and shallots, and his grandmother's chocolate-and-chicory mousse. He also curates an extraordinary selection of local cheeses.
Rooms have a cozy, minimalist feel, with parquet floors, exposed beams and brick walls; quirky touches include massive granite bathtubs and, in one room, a glassed-in well. In 2008, the de La Bordes channeled their inner children and added a tree-house suite built in a century-old sycamore; its great views make it the room to get. Upon request, Sébastien will send breakfast (warm brioche, locally made yogurt, fresh juice) up the tree-house ladder.
Day Trip from La Cour de Rémi
Fromagerie Caseus, in nearby Montreuil-sur-Mer, specializes in cheeses from northern France, vacuum-packed for travel. Place du Général de Gaulle; 011-33-3-21-06-50-88.
Perched on a hillside overlooking the eternally chic Alpine town of Megève, Kristine and Emmanuel Renaut's six-room chalet has the most exciting restaurant in the French Alps. Emmanuel creates the modern Alpine cuisine, including a starter of smoked hen eggs with Reblochon cheese emulsion and white truffles, and arctic char cooked in a smoked-salt crust and served with yogurt and fera (a lake fish) eggs. Rooms have fancy details like fur throws and cowhide chairs, and several have wood-burning fireplaces.
"I want to show the wild side of the produce I cook with, so sometimes I treat it with violence," says chef Alexandre Gauthier, who owns this auberge in Madelaine-Sous-Montreuil. Instead of serving lobster tail in a pleasant cream sauce, he roasts it in a super-hot oven, takes it out of the shell and sends it to the table in a nest of smoldering juniper boughs. What Gauthier calls his "radical and singular, pertinent and impertinent" cooking has made him just about the hottest young chef in France, and he brought the same energy to the dramatic transformation of his family's 400-year-old auberge (la grenouillère means "the frog's house," a reference to the surrounding streams and marshes). Inspired by the industrial heritage of the French north, the dining room is shaped like a forge and furnished with saddle-leather-covered tables and chairs. Guest rooms loosely reflect Gauthier's cooking philosophy (wild, not violent). The eight all-black pine cabins feel reminiscent of an Alexander McQueen fashion collection with their surprising natural elements like sapling roofs and bale-of-hay fences that resemble hunter's blinds.
When French chefs burn out from working in city restaurants, they seem to recover by cooking in the countryside. That's what Arnaud Daguin did: After running the busy, Michelin-starred Les Platanes in Biarritz for years, he moved to a 1746 farmhouse outside the quiet town of Hasparren. He and his wife, Véronique, turned the house into a five-room auberge and built an open kitchen with two wood-burning ovens and a custom-made steel, oak and stone island with three burners. Daguin prepares a different menu daily. Depending on what he finds in the markets in Biarritz and nearby Spain, that might be baby clams on eggplant caviar, followed by squid stuffed with country ham, langoustines and sea bass with mushrooms. Véronique pairs each dish with wines from Spain and lesser-known regions of France.
In July, Irish hotelier Karl O'Hanlon converted a white turreted château in Quarante, surrounded by vineyards, into an auberge and wine estate. The eight-acre property includes suites in the 1886 limestone manor house and cottages that were created from outbuildings, like the former grape picker's lodge. An orchard and an olive grove are also spread across the estate. Chef Anne de Ravel, a Languedoc native and former Food Network producer, prepares Mediterranean-style tapas using local products like goat cheese and anchovies from the port of Collioure. Some accommodations have terraces with barbecues, and all have fully equipped kitchens; guests looking to cook should ask the front desk staff for directions to the terrific covered market in Narbonne, one of the prettiest in France. The estate's winemaker, David Alcaraz, will help plan visits to nearby wineries (usually over a bottle in the new wine bar). He also recently started offering hands-on winemaking classes and regularly hosts regional vintners for tastings.
Just outside the 11th-century Norman port of Honfleur, in Barneville-La-Bertran, this 15-room auberge was created from several 18th-century half-timbered farm buildings by owner Jean-Marie Boelen. "At the beginning of a new century, it seemed to me the time was right to return to the original values of the French aubergefriendly hospitality, a comfortable and reasonably priced room, good regional food made with seasonal local produce and a strong sense of place," says Boelen, who also runs the famous Ferme Saint-Siméon hotel a few miles away. He decorated the rooms in a French-country style that includes oak parquet floors, local antiques, wrought-iron furniture and beds with plump, white-cotton-covered duvets. Young chef Yannick Bernouin oversees the chalkboard menu, serving dishes like sea bass with baby peas in the faience-tiled dining room or at umbrella-covered tables outside. The biggest revelation, however, is not the food but Bernouin's excellent selection of Calvados from his favorite small producers. Served in the restaurant and sold to take home, the best, like Toutain, are every bit as complex as a great Cognac or Armagnac.
Day Trip from Auberge de la Source
Alexandre Bourdas cooks superb dishes like mackerel with chorizo at his two-star restaurant, Sa.Qua.Na, three miles away in Honfleur.
Paris-based writer Alexander Lobrano reviews the city's 102 best restaurants on his blog, Hungry for Paris.