Calvados, cream, butter, cheese, apples, cider: like many places in France, Normandy is not easy on the arteries. It is, however, a superb place to sample AOC-status booze and food made by small, unfussy family producers, many of whom have been perfecting their produce since William the Conqueror started peppering the landscape with castles. Just a short hop across the Channel, it’s recently been made more accessible thanks to new self-guided tours designed by accommodation outfit Sawdays. These link up its most special places to stay with local distilleries, cider houses, orchards, farmers’ markets and artisan food stores.
Sleep Manoir de Fresnay is an exemplary half-timbered 16th-century estate, complete with a crumbling old apple press and five contrastingly chic b&b rooms, revamped by irreverent Sicilian ex-pat, Matteo Fabra. At Chateau Canisy, one of France’s oldest b&bs (it has been in the Kergorlay family for more than 1,000 years), salons are hung with French masters, and bedrooms overlook neatly landscaped gardens and lakes.
Eat At recently revitalised bistro, Les Saisons, near Manoir de Fresnay, a glass of frosty pommeau (calvados-fortified cider), seafood terrine, and gooey pont l’évêque cheese with peppered pears, provide a Normand dining experience at its purest. Meanwhile, in the pretty city of Caen, don’t miss the Saturday food market, or a calvados tasting at specialist food shop, La Boite a Calva.
Do For the full apple experience, rural distilleries such as the family-run Domaine de Christian Drouin promises orchards grazed by cows and, in Drouin’s case, sculptural cellars home to a 1939 Calvados. At the hilltop Manoir d’Apreval, within view of the sea at Honfleur, taste bone-dry ciders that feel not-so-distant from champagne; the sweet variety tastes as natural as a bite of earthy apples, anything but saccharine. Don’t leave without taking sobering trips to Normandy’s D-Day landing beaches and to see the truly riveting tapestry at Bayeux.
Double rooms at Chateau de Canisy cost from € 210, b&b; € 90 at Le Fresnay, b&b and are part of Sawdays’ Tours Normands, three- or six-night suggested itineraries (sawdays.co.uk/discovernormandy). Return ferry crossings from Portsmouth to Caen or Le Havre cost from £158 (brittany-ferries.co.uk). More info normandy-tourism.org
Burgundy’s world-famous cuisine and wine make it a must-visit destination for gourmands, but the region’s bucolic tangle of rolling hills, tree-lined tracks, acres of vines and picture-perfect medieval villages also make it tricky to navigate. To help steer a course, turn to Château & Hotels Collection. This 40-year-old organisation, presided over by Alain Ducasse, is dedicated to championing characterful, boutique hotels and independent restaurants across France and beyond. And 31 of its food and wine-focussed members happen to be clustered in Burgundy.
Sleep Close to the famous vineyards of Chablis and Champagne, Château de Courban is more family home than hotel. This grand country house has been lovingly restored (founder Pierre Vandendriessche was previously an interior designer) and now features 25 characterful bedrooms. Head south through Dijon and you’ll hit Meursault, and the 19th-century Château de Citeaux. Five minutes from the historic town of Beaune, this renovated castle has 19 comfortable, modern guestrooms, four of which come with wraparound terraces overlooking vineyards.
Eat Both hotels have excellent restaurants turning out modern dishes with classic Burgundian ingredients. But don’t miss the chance to have dinner at Restaurant Greuze in the medieval village of Tournus. Behind an unassuming façade, chef Yohann Capuis serves astonishingly good food with regional influences; poached egg yolk in a cloud of whipped whites topped with snails and trompette de la mort, flavourful local-breed chicken, succulent frog’s legs basted in garlic butter and light-as-air Grand Marnier soufflé.
Do To extend your trip, head further south to honey-coloured Château de Besseuil. While undeniably grand, it retains a relaxed, rustic charm. Book an apartment and spend days cycling through vineyards in the Mâconnais, stopping at cellar doors and roadside bistros along the way.
Double rooms at Chateau de Courban start from € 99 per night, b&b, at Chateau de Citeaux from €190, b&b, and at Chateau de Besseuil from € 99 per night, b&b (chateauxhotels.co.uk). Return fares from London to Dijon via Lille start from £86 (eurostar.com). Car hire costs from £35 for three days (holidayautos.co.uk). More info burgundy-tourism.com
Hilltop Crillon Le Brave is a vision of Provençal style; a clutch of honey-hued, pastel-shuttered houses surrounded by slopes carpeted with olive groves and vineyards. Now a gourmet hotel in Provence’s agricultural heartland, its chefs gather pork from the Ventoux, asparagus from Mormoiron and trout from the river Sorgue (in autumn the hotel offers truffle-hunting breaks). While they’re transforming it into elegant dishes, spend your time playing boules in the terraced garden, relaxing by the pool or the tiny spa, or exploring further afield: Avignon is a short drive away.
Sleep The eight village houses that form the hotel bear the names of their previous inhabitants. Maison Roche was once the presbytery and village school, Maison Salomon the lawyer’s house, Maison Soudain was owned by a local artist, and Maison Philibert was once home to the mayor. Inside them, 28 rooms and seven suites have glorious views of the Rhône valley or Mont Ventoux, and are decked out in chic, country style with freestanding tubs, painted furniture and a smattering of antiques from nearby L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Eat Whether you opt for Jerome Blanchet’s fine-dining restaurant (and dishes such as young pigeon cooked two ways with a crumble of sweet onion and peach flavoured with verbena), or rustic Bistrot 40K (produce from within 40km of the hotel), the focus is on seasonal and local ingredients. Blanchet offers a seven-course tasting menu, à la carte and a menu of the month. In August it might be tomato-themed, in September, mushroom. Bistrot 40K is low-key and relaxed with a set blackboard menu featuring classic soupe au pistou. One of the highlights, however, is breakfast on the hotel’s sunny terrace, a gourmet spread featuring fresh fruit, local cheeses, croissants and homemade granola laid out on a rustic farmhouse table.
Do Borrow one of the hotel’s hybrid bikes to explore the villages and vineyards of the Ventoux, a suggested 26km ride mapped-out by the hotel. Double rooms at Crillon le Brave start from € 310, b&b. Return fares from London to Avignon cost from £99 (eurostar.com). More info provenceguide.co.uk
In an attempt to make more of its food, the French luxury hotel group Sofitel has been quietly partnering-up with some of the country’s best-known chefs to run branches of their own restaurants at some of its most prestigious properties. Two of these are in Paris – Les Cocottes at Sofitel Arc de Triomphe, where Christian Constant is in charge, and STAY at Sofitel Le Faubourg, overseen by Yannick Alléno. Base yourself at the latter and you’re ideally placed for a quick sightseeing trip. The newly renovated hotel is set, gleamingly, on a smart street that’s just steps from the Place de la Concorde and the Jardin des Tuileries.
Sleep Step into the lobby and you’ll find yourself cocooned in Parisian elegance. Waistcoat-clad bell boys collect your bags, guests sip tea on comfy chairs in a space that’s decorated in greys and golds, and a knowledgeable concierge whisks you around facilities that include a wood-panelled reading room, a Turkish hammam and a hotel bar with an exclusive, members-club feel. Upstairs, bedrooms are dominated by princess-and-the-pea beds and luxury touches include Hermès toiletries and thick curtains that, when drawn back, reveal haute-couture boutiques lining the street below.
Eat Decked out in blacks, whites and the hotel’s signature golden yellow accents, STAY aims to transport diners around the world with dishes such as zesty lime-marinated coconut sashimi and silky cod with finely sliced radish in a light and pungent fish broth. Other highlights include a perfectly soft egg on a bed of creamed spinach with deep-fried croutons and heaps of grated cheese, or steak with buttery onions and triple-cooked chips. Yannick’s skills shine brightest, however, in the pastry library – a huge glass cabinet that puts the spotlight on dark chocolate choux with smooth hazelnut cream, and punchy mango tarte tatin. At breakfast, the glass shelves are piled high with miniature pastries, croissants and baguettes along with continental cheeses and cured meats, tiny jars of jam and hazelnut spread.
See Take a wander around the trendy neighbourhood surrounding Canal Saint-Martin. Pop in to trendy Ten Belles for coffee, or go all out with a three-course brunch and the house hot chocolate at neighbourhood bistro, Les Enfants Perdus. Doubles at Sofitel Le Faubourg cost from €335, room only. Return fares from London to Paris cost from £58 (eurostar.com). More info parisinfo.com
Chateau de Bagnols is in Beaujolais country, 30 minutes’ drive from Lyon, and is a must for anyone whose idea of holiday heaven is winding through countryside punctuated by wine estates, tasting, touring, and tucking into regional specialities, and gazing from an ancient terrace over cherry trees to hillsides threaded with vines. The glorious, golden-turreted chateau was the centre of a winegrowing estate in the 19th century – one of its many former functions. First built in the 13th century, it was transformed from fortress to grand country house in the 17th century, fell to ruin, but was rebuilt as an opulent hotel in the 1980s by Lord and Lady Hamlyn (of the publishing house). Now with a Michelin star, it’s the stuff of foodie fairytales.
Sleep There are 21 rooms in the chateau with four-posters wreathed in antique velvet, brocade and silk, polished stone
floors, faded 17th-century frescoes and marble bathrooms. In 2014, the 19th-century winery was converted into a spa and six contemporary bedrooms, its striking interior – bare stone, curved wood and iron – reminiscent of the barrels once stored there.
Eat Chef Jean Alexandre Ouaratta trained with the likes of Paul Bocuse and Yannick Alléno at Le Meurice in Paris. Now you can try his signature dish, artichoke with a pepper sauce, snails and mushrooms in front of the flickering flames of one of the grandest Gothic fireplaces in France. Also on the seasonally changing menu is roasted saddle of lamb with young vegetables and confit sausage, plus vegetables and herbs from the walled kitchen garden, produce from local markets and cheeses from Lyon’s renowned La Maison Mons fromagerie. The cellar is, naturally, stellar, with 10 Beaujolais crus on the wine list. Inhale strawberry and morello cherry aromas as you sip a rich, red Chateau de Bagnols Brouilly.
See The hotel can organise tastings at local vineyards, including organic Domaine de St Cyr. Or drive to Mt Brouilly, an extinct volcano, for a panoramic view of the whole Beaujolais region.
Double rooms start from € 200, room only (chateaudebagnols.com). Return rail fares from London to Lyon cost from £89 (eurostar.com). More info destination-beaujolais.com
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