Feature / Europe / France / Eugenie Les Bains
A rare jewel in the crowded world of luxury hotels and spas / Simon Lowe
By Simon Lowe
“New”, “latest”, “uber-luxurious”, are words commonly used to describe the opening or refurbishment of luxurious Hotels or Spas. Normally, writers mention the vast spaces they cover and nowadays they are almost always modern, minimalist and delivered in tones of beige and black. You can imagine therefore how excited I was when I arrived at Michel Guerard’s Michelin 3-starred “Pres d’Eugénie” in France, which conforms to none of the above.
Eugénie-les-Bains is a small village about two hours south of Bordeaux and was rediscovered by Empress Eugénie in 1860 when she came to take the waters. Today, “Les Pres d’Eugénie” combines traditional thermal treatments with a host of modern Spa and health options in one of the most stunning Thermal Spas in the world. The cluster of buildings within the compound offer a selection of accommodations to suit all pockets; from La Maison Rose to the Imperial Suites, where even the room’s telephone numbers are based on important dates in the life of Empress Eugénie. The decor is the work of Michel’s wife Christine who has superb taste. Having decorated many hotels and houses myself I really appreciate someone who has individual taste, does not follow the herd, and executes design that is sympathetic to its surroundings. Apart from being a perfectionist, Christine has created an atmosphere that is warm, cosy and stylish whilst presenting rooms that are dramatic and “grand”. It is her attention to detail that marks this individual property out from so many of the 5-star chain hotel interiors. Flowers are everywhere, and yes, they are colourful and unstructured.
Perfection is extended to the many dining rooms. Her husband’s claim to fame in the kitchen of course and the two of them combine to present spectacular food served on gorgeously set tables. Ladies, even the lighting is perfect. I know that so many “in” restaurants do not think that tablecloths or flowers are modern or necessary anymore, but if you are slightly nostalgic for the gentler world of yesteryear as I am, then your eyes will enjoy the feast that every table presents. From Limoges crockery, to perfectly folded napkins, small bird cages and 2 or 3 strategically placed home grown apples on each table your eyes will dance over them.
And so to the food; Michel presents three delicious options: Gastronomie: Minceur and Rustique; so whatever your tastes and for whatever reason you come to stay, you will be catered for. Add to this, the best service one can imagine and you start to get the flavour of what is on offer.
So many of us spend endless time thinking about or trying to take off weight, but can’t cope with the stark options and severe diets suggested to us by the various diet gurus. Imagine eating eye catching delicious food, three times a day, feeling pleasantly full and consuming an average of less than 1000 calories a day? Well you can if you book one of the many “minceur” programmes available. You will be served one of the many home brewed tisane teas to accompany your lunches and dinners.
Michel’s “Gastronomie” and “Rustique menus (in the wonderful “Ferme aux Grives” restaurant) allow you to indulge your every food fantasy. A great wine list at reasonable prices makes for the perfect dinner. You can choose to have either a “minceur” or “gourmande” breakfast at 25 or 30 Euros respectively; the three course “minceur” and the “ferme’s” lunch and dinner menus are all at 48 Euros each; the “gastronomie” menus starts at 100 Euros but are well worth it.
Come to rest, take the waters or have an array of dazzling treatments in the Spa, that specialises in thermal water treatments; all are infinitely more elegantly delivered than at the traditional Thalasso Spas and the likes of Quiberon.
The service is just about the best I have ever come across; attentive but not intrusive. Most of the staff are local and have been there for some time. Under the watchful eye of Directeur Georges Mootz and his new “Directeur Adjoint” Emmanual Perignon little is left to chance.
And now for the best news; it’s affordable. After recent visits to Sicily, Mallorca, the South of France and Switzerland where prices are sky high and most luxury Hotels don’t offer good value especially when paying with our ever depreciating £s, I found our stay here to be reasonable and worth every penny.
Rooms start at 140 Euros a day and go up to 1,300 Euros a day for the “Empress suite” which is spectacular and enormous; in all, there are 63 rooms. Numerous “value” packages are available for various length of stays.
Apart from being kept busy at the hotel and spa which has tennis courts and a lovely outdoor swimming pool (there is no gym) there are many country walks.
For our last two days we drove to Huchet, the Guerard’s house on the Atlantic about 90 minutes from Eugénie. They have two cottages below the house that effectively are huge suites, decorated in the inimitable style of Christine, and come with a personal Gouvernante, Florence, and a personal Chef, Benoit, who was sent over from Eugénie to cook for us. As we were the only couple there it made it all the more private.
After our mid afternoon arrival we were offered tea on our terrace (the full works). We then went for a walk on the beach, famous for its rugged endless dunes and “virgin” appearance. It is the longest, widest beach I have ever seen, made all the more wonderful because there were only a few locals to share it with. Weary on our return we moved to the House’s terrace for drinks and canapés; yes, more foie gras, but boy was it delicious as I accompanied them with more than one 12-year-old Balvenie Malt!
All food and drinks are included, and they are very generous.
We moved into the dining room for dinner; as it was just the two of us it really was like being at home on a stage set in Provence style. Once again everything was perfect and Benoit created a magical dinner: to start, a four kinds of tomato salad. I never thought a salad could taste that good and I have been in the restaurant business for over 30 years. The barbecued Saint Pierre fish was accompanied by a compote of leeks and andives a l’orange.
We never normally eat puddings, but, well... the chocolate soufflé and a crème brûlée with fruits could simply not turned away!
The choice of wines was perfect and we retired after coffee feeling light and in a state of bliss as we walked the few steps to our cottage gazing into the moon filled sky.
Huchet is a very rare and special place. The Guerard’s offer a lot and in this case take a lot for it is not cheap. At 1450 Euros a night for two (including all food and drink) it is not within everyone’s reach, but compared to some of Europe’s fancier offerings we thought it value for money and a very special experience.
Getting to Eugénie: Easyjet or BA to Bordeaux which is c 1 hour 45 by car or Air France to Pau which is c 45mins by car.
If you continue onto Huchet it is best to fly back from Biarritz, which is one hour away. Easyjet fly from there during the summer season.
Contact details: tel: +33 05.58.05.05.05.