"Those buildings look like they came from Mars," commented a beret-wearing local farmer as he cycled past this auberge in the Burgundy town of Iguerande. It's actually the dream project of the great French chef Michel Troisgros.
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.
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. 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, Pas-de-Calais. 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.
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 in the Basque Country.
Irish hotelier Karl O'Hanlon converted a white turreted chateau in Languedoc's 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.
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 auberge—friendly hospitality, a comfortable and reasonably priced room, good regional food made with seasonal local produce and a strong sense of place" says Boelen.