Luxury Travel Advisor spends much of the year on the road, researching the latest and greatest travel offerings. In France alone we’ve stumbled upon some fabulous finds. Here is a recap of our favorites from 2012- all outside of the Paris metropolitan area. (For Paris tips, check out our top 2012 news stories here.)
Hotels: A hard-hat tour of the InterContinental Hotel-Dieu (www.ichotelsgroup.com), opening in Marseille in April 2013, provided a glimpse of what will be one of the hottest hotel openings in the new year.
In Champagne country, we were delighted by La Maison de Rhodes (www.maisonderhodes.com) in the medieval town of Troyes (tourisme-troyes.com). You don’t book this five-star hotel for the facilities (it’s quite small, and even lacks an elevator), but for its incredible history and atmosphere. The half-timbered house used to belong to the Knights Templar!
In the heart of Burgundy, the Maison d’Olivier Leflaive (www.maison-olivierleflaive.fr) is an excellent home base while exploring the region’s celebrated cellars. We also loved the Chateau de Vault de Lugny (www.lugny.fr) near Vézelay, a beautiful pilgrimage town perched on a hilltop. Straight out of a fairytale, the hotel has four-poster beds and a pool in its vaulted cellar.
Bernard Loiseau was a famous French chef (whose life and death featured in the storyline of the Pixar film Ratatouille). Loiseau’s legend lives on at his fabulous restaurant and hotel (www.bernard-loiseau.com) in the Burgundy countryside.
Restaurants: While checking out the Centre Pompidou in Metz, make a pit stop at Le Magasin aux Vivres, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in town, located in a lovely four-star hotel called La Citadelle (www.citadelle-metz.com). Chef Christophe Dufossé makes a creative deconstruction of the region’s most famous dish, the Quiche Lorraine, using the quiche’s original ingredients.
Hands down the best restaurant in Reims, the Champagne capital, is Le Château les Crayeres (lescrayeres.com). It’s worth the hour train ride from Paris just for a meal there. In Beaujolais wine country, the Auberge de Clochemerle (www.aubergedeclochemerle.fr) is run by a cute husband-and-wife team and just snagged a Michelin star this year.
For a fabulous lunch in Marseille, check out L’Aromat (www.laromat.com) where you can try the 'bouillabaisse burger'- channeling the classic Marseillais dish. Villa Gallici (www.villagallici.com) is a luxurious hideaway in Aix-en-Provence and its restaurant serves refined cuisine with market-fresh ingredients.
Georges Blanc (www.georgesblanc.com), a Michelin three-starred chef, is the patriarch of a gourmet village in Bresse (a region renowned for the best poultry in the world). His restaurants and hotel have lured celebs like a honeymooning Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
Spas: A new spa concept recently debuted in the Burgundy vineyards called Fruitithérapie. Just as the Caudalie brand uses the antioxidant power of grapes in its products, the Cueillette Château de Cîteaux (www.lacueillette.com) has created a new line made from seasonal fruits like raspberry and cassis. The hotel itself is brand new, and is expected to earn a five-star rating with a bistro and gastronomic restaurant run by a Michelin-starred chef. The 12th century Cistercian cellars are magnificent.
Overlooking Lake Geneva, the Hilton Evians-les-Bains is home to the beautiful Buddha Bar Spa-- the first spa for the brand known for its restaurant and nightlife venues.
When it opens in April 2013, the InterContinental Hotel-Dieu in Marseille will have an impressive spa by Clarins.
Museums and Sites: The new Louvre Lens (www.louvrelens.fr) just opened this month in the northern department of Pas-de-Calais, just an hour from Paris, and it's spectacular. Nearby, check out the town of Béthune with its UNESCO-listed belfry overlooking a square lined with gingerbread houses. In the underrated North of France, the coastal road from the beach resort of Le Toquet (www.letoquet.com) to Calais reveals a beautiful landscape of rolling green hills jutting up from the turquoise Channel, with the white cliffs of Dover visible in the distance.
On Lake Geneva, Yvoire (www.yvoiretourism.com) is classified “one of the most beautiful villages in France.” From this historic port town, enjoy a private cruise onboard a beautiful boat called Hippos ([email protected]), and a stroll through the Jardin des Cinq Sens.
Outside of Marseille, the Calanques has been declared the first new national park in mainland France since 1979. The dramatic limestone cliffs and fjords are easily accessible from France’s second largest city.
In Champagne country, Charles de Gaulle’s family home- called La Boisserie- is a marvelous museum for history buffs. Nearby, the Charles de Gaulle Memorial (www.memorial-charlesdegaulle.fr) has been converted into a cutting-edge museum showing the 20th century through the life of one extraordinary man.