For a taste of French art de vivre surrounded by stunning scenery, get thee to the Rhône-Alpes. Abutting Switzerland and Italy, the second largest region in France is a year-round destination, as beloved for its gastronomic greatness as it is for its landscapes. The region’s natural bounty steals the stage on Michelin-starred tables, and it also makes a showing in world-famous spas like the Evian Resort. Simply put, this is paradise for bon vivants. Fresh from a trip, Luxury Travel Advisor dishes on what to do and where to stay.
Lyon: From Bouchon to Bocuse
For foodies in France, first on their itinerary should be a trip to Lyon. The regional capital is only two hours by TGV from Paris. Here legendary Chef Paul Bocuse has inspired generations of (now famous) students. A meal at his Michelin three-starred restaurant should include the signature black truffle soup (first created for the French president in 1975), and the Bresse chicken cooked in a bladder.
But Lyon isn’t known as the world’s culinary capital just because of the founding father of “nouvelle cuisine.” Lyon is also famous for its bouchons, a type of soulful bistro with red-checked tablecloths and friendly service. Sit elbow to elbow with fellow guests, and for a reasonable price, tuck into generous helpings of traditional Lyonnais cuisine. One of our favorites is Daniel et Denise where Chef Joseph Viola—awarded Meilleur Ouvrier de France (“Finest Craftsmen of France”)—cooks up classics like pâté en croûte made with foie gras and calf’s sweetbreads.
In the summer months, the Nuits de Fourvière festival is staged in the ancient Roman amphitheater, and on December 8, the Festival of Lights illuminates the streets and monuments of Lyon in a spectacular way.
Book a stay at the Cour des Loges, smack dab in the heart of Old Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The neighborhood’s distinctive Renaissance houses—painted in colorful Italian style and connected by secret passageways called traboules—draw sighs from visitors. Owned by Sibuet Hotels, the Cour des Loges puts you squarely in the midst of this history. The hotel itself is a graceful blend of the ancient and the contemporary: Four Renaissance houses overlook a Florentine courtyard covered with a glass roof. The restaurant, newly awarded a Michelin star, enjoys pride of place in the heart of the establishment.
Each of the 61 guest rooms is individually decorated; one Junior Suite is devoted to photography, another resembles an artist’s studio with painter’s palettes and an easel as decoration. Keep in mind that the smallest room category is a cozy duplex intended for one guest. There are four spacious suites, one on each floor. For VIP bookings, contact Karine Moiroud ([email protected]; 011-33-50-90-63-63). Despite its small size, the hotel has a spa by Pure Altitude.
Concierge Gérard Ravet ([email protected]; 011-33-4-72-77-44-44) is famous for knowing everyone and everything in town. President of the Clefs d’Or association for the Rhône-Alpes region, Ravet was awarded “World’s Best Concierge” by Vanity Fair in 2009.
A New Look at Beaujolais
On the third Thursday of November all around the world, merrymakers fete the arrival of the new vintage of Beaujolais. Made with Gamay grapes, Beaujolais Nouveau is fermented for just a few weeks, intended for immediate drinking. A terrific marketing campaign created an international event in the wine world, but in some ways Beaujolais has become a victim of its own success. The Beaujolais vineyards actually produce 10 crus, including Brouilly, Fleurie and Morgon, which, unlike the young November vintage, have an ageing potential of seven to 10 years.
|Château de La Chaize in the Beaujolais wine trail is a centuries-old, family-run castle that’s home to 250 acres of vineyards and a cavernous wine cellar.|
Just 30 minutes outside of Lyon, the Beaujolais wine trail winds through rolling hills carpeted with vines. Wine lovers will go weak in the knees discovering vaulted cellars housed in gorgeous estates. The Château de La Chaize, for example, is a centuries-old, family-run castle that’s home to Le Nôtre-inspired gardens, 250 acres of vineyards, and a cavernous wine cellar that’s a football field in length. We also recommend a stop at Château de Montmelas, a 12th-century “living castle” perched on a hilltop overlooking eight French departments. Tours and wine tastings should be booked in advance at [email protected]
For a superb meal while exploring the vineyards, stop at the Auberge de Clochemerle, where young couple Delphine and Romain Barthe recently scored a Michelin star for revelatory cuisine that sources local ingredients: Girolle mushrooms plucked from the nearby hills, sesame oil from Beaujeu, guinea fowl from Saint-Georges-de-Reneins.
|Château De Pizay has 62 guest rooms accented with frescoed ceilings and ancient timber beams.|
Rising from the Morgon vineyards, the Château de Pizay also uses local ingredients in its spa. Named for the roses planted next to the grapevines, the Rose & Pepper product line utilizes grape extracts for their antioxidant properties. Contact Spa Manager Delphine Paire ([email protected]; 011-33-4-74-66-69-92) to book treatments. Dating to the 11th century, the chateau has 62 guest rooms, a nearby helicopter landing pad for vineyard tours, and lovely facilities for meetings and weddings—accented with frescoed ceilings and ancient timber beams.
Keep on your radar: The Château de Bagnols, once lauded as one of the finest hotels in France, was acquired on March 1 by the owners of Les Suites de la Potinière in Courchevel and closed for one month for urgent renovations. Insiders tell us that the spruced-up chateau, a fairytale hotel experience, is well on its way to reclaiming the Michelin star that its restaurant lost a few years ago. For VIP bookings, contact Stanislas Hayaux du Tilly ([email protected]).
Georges Blanc’s Gourmet Village
Northeast of Lyon, the fertile plains of Bresse produce the best chicken in France, if not the world. For generations, the Blanc family drew visitors to their country inn where the Bresse chicken was championed in famous recipes. Today Georges Blanc, a Michelin three-starred chef, is the ruling patriarch of a village called Vonnas, where he’s renovated 17 historical buildings. Within the village walls, Blanc has created a resort complex including a five-star hotel, a three-star hotel, the Spa Mosaic, the gastronomic restaurant (where chef Daniel Boulud got his start), a casual eatery called L’Ancienne Auberge, and boutiques.
|Georges Blanc, the Michelin-star chef, has restored a village with a series of hotels, restaurants and shops.|
This is where Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman honeymooned, and photos of celebrity patrons line the walls. (There’s a heliport onsite for A-listers flying from Geneva, Paris, and London.) Rooms at the five-star hotel are the height of luxury, stocked with Nespresso machines, his and her amenity kits, and linens embroidered with Bresse chickens. Contact General Manager Antoine Maillon ([email protected]; 011-33-4-74-50-90-40) for assistance with your VIP clients.
Cap off an epic Michelin-starred meal—served on beautiful tableware, some plates designed with stingray—with a tour of the 130,000-bottle wine cellar, the fifth largest in the world.
Water, Water, Everywhere
The Rhône-Alpes is the source of 35 different mineral waters, including Badoit and Evian, making it an ideal well-being destination. Situated on the shores of Lake Geneva with the dramatic Alps as the backdrop, Evian-les-Bains has attracted visitors for centuries.
|Hotel Ermitage resembles a refined private residence with 80 nature-inspired guest rooms finished in wood, stone and leather.|
Lording over the Belle Époque town, the Evian Resort has a marvelous vantage point over the shimmering lake. In fact, there’s a cable car that takes guests downtown to the Evian spring. Within 148 acres of parkland, the resort comprises the five-star Hotel Royal, the four-star Hotel Ermitage and their respective spas (Spa Evian Source and Le Spa Quatre Terres). It’s a veritable playground with endless recreational activities. The resort is home to an 18-hole golf course (host to the Evian Masters), a kids’ club, tennis facilities and scenic swimming pools. Flavien Raymond, head concierge at Hotel Royal ([email protected]), can assist with activities farther afield: like skiing the Alps or white water rafting. Don’t miss an excursion to Yvoire, classified one of the most beautiful villages in France, where you can enjoy a private cruise onboard a beautiful boat called Hippos ([email protected]), followed by lunch at Hotel Restaurant du Port.
Insiders tell us that a large-scale renovation project is in development for the Hotel Royal; expect work to begin within the next four years. Hotel Ermitage completed a makeover in 2010, and it now resembles a refined private residence with 80 nature-inspired guest rooms finished in wood, stone and leather. Contact Reservations Manager Céline Menetrier ([email protected]; 011-33-0-4-50-26-95-95) for assistance with bookings.
Buzz: Housed in the Hilton Hotel, a luxury property situated right on Lake Geneva, the beautiful Buddha Bar Spa was the first spa for the brand known for its restaurant and nightlife venues.