How This Dordogne Castle and Restaurant Models the Future of Relais & Châteaux
In a hilly, tree-drenched patch of Southwestern France, Château de la Treyne sits on a giant rock above the Dordogne River, its rounded white tower like a lighthouse for the fly fisherman below and the birds above. A property that manages to stand apart in a region known for lush, rolling vistas and fairytale castles, the hotel and restaurant owned by Stephanie and Philippe Gombert, who is the current president of Relais & Châteaux, acts as a standard bearer for the association and, more broadly, the art of French fine dining.
Built in the 14th century, the Château was restored by the Ramière family during the reign of Louis XIII and passed to the Cardaillac family in 1759. The couple bought the castle in 1982, which had previously been privately owned, to turn it into something singular, opening it as a luxury hotel ten years later. The property was soon added to the Relais & Châteaux portfolio, which now encompasses 580 luxury restaurants and hotels (in over 60 countries) that embody their region’s unique arts de vivre, as Philippe puts it.
To do this successfully, the food needs to be good—not just "good for the area," or "good enough for tourists." Château de la Treyne's restaurant, which has maintained one Michelin star since 2001, is packed every night with locals and visitors, despite its relatively remote location. Their popularity is well-earned, even just for their breathtaking cheese cart alone, which is topped with over 20 cheese and rolled out to guests at the end of their meals. The cart features some of the region’s finest, most distinctive cheeses, including pungeant rounds of Rocamadour, a goat-milk cheese made in a village of the same name just a few kilometers away. The wine list is similarly rigorous in its hyper-local offerings from small producers, many unknown outside of the Dordogne area.
Chef Stéphane Andrieux is a native of Perigord who trained with high-profile French chefs like Anne-Sophie Pic and Marc Meneau before returning to the Dordogne Valley and beginning at Château de la Treyne in 1998. His cuisine is surprising yet traditional, showcasing the area's world-renowned foie gras de canard, Quercy lamb, truffles, walnuts, and produce from the property's brand-new organic garden. A creamy bowl of riceless celery "risotto"—topped with thick slivers of truffle and a lush poached egg—is so perfect I order it two nights in a row.
This year marks Andrieux's twentieth year in the restaurant, and it's easy to see why dishwashers, servers, and cooks stay here for decades. There's very little turnover at La Treyne because the working conditions are good, and the mission is solid: Represent the best of the region. And Relais & Châteaux's partnership with Slow Foods is a natural extension of this, not a branding maneuver.
Both personally and professionally, the Gomberts advocate relentlessly for regional products, and outfit the property with items you can't find anywhere else: all of the dining room's china, for example, is sourced from Limoges, the porcelain capital of Europe located just 100 kilometers from the property. "Even the art of the table, we want to offer something very particular," he said.
While Philippe acknowledges that you may, on occasion, encounter lobster on the menu sourced from, well, not the forest, imported products are a rare exception.
“We consider each Relais & Châteaux to be a lighthouse for the region—an ambassador for all the products,” he says. “With chefs, the risk is copying each other. But when you travel, you are expecting the best of foods that you can only eat there.”
“It’s a question of coherence between location and the food you have,” he continues. “The French have been interested in good food by centuries. It’s in their DNA. And they are lucky enough to have very good products.”
Within the Relais & Châteaux association, there has been a broader movement to center chefs, with Philippe specifically making an effort to include more delegates with culinary backgrounds.
“We decided that we need to have food representation of all our chefs worldwide,” he said. “During the past election, we had only two chefs on the board of directors. And we said, it’s not enough. The chefs are not interested in running the business or the association, but they want to give their input. They are so passionate.”
What's next for the brand? Well, a lot more of the same, which is a good thing—empowering regional chefs and producers, working towards a more sustainable industry, and dazzling guests who travel for the food but stay for the cheese.
"What’s important is that people are proud of their soil and are trying to work with people surrounding them," says Philippe. "What's important is that when someone is traveling, they find the best in the region."