No one shrieked. No one splashed. No one screamed ‘inflatables!’
Mon Dieu! What had happened to mes enfants?
Normally able to reduce even the most sophisticated surroundings into scenes resembling ‘It’s A Knockout’, they suddenly took leave of their overly excitable senses when faced with the hushed waters of the Relais Bernard Loiseau pool.
Fiona Hardcastle checked into the Relais Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu, France, with her three children. It is named after its former three-Michelin-starred head chef, who committed suicide in 2003
Fiona was impressed with the hotel’s grounds, writing that ‘sculptures and works of art are dotted throughout the romantic gardens that lead down to the pool’
‘Sssh!’ hissed Rose, 13, as Evie, 11, broke the silence with a dive. Felix, six, lowered himself in with the caution of an elderly bather.
Were the plush hotel robes and freshly opened packs of monogrammed flip flops to blame for this outbreak of composure?
Or was it the chic surroundings – sculptures and works of art are dotted throughout the romantic gardens that lead down to the pool – that gave them a baffling ‘Je ne sais quoi’.
Perhaps it was the peace. After all, having just arrived from a neighbouring Center Parcs, we were glad not to be in Aqua Mundo anymore.
At the heart of the hotel complex is a world class restaurant once run by the late visionary Bernard Loiseau (pictured)
Le Relais Bernard Loiseau continues a centuries-long tradition of hospitality in Saulieu. The town has long been a stopping place for travellers making their way between the north and south
The hotel has welcomed personalities from the world of politics, art and literature, including Alphonse XIII, the king of Spain, the Aga Khan, Prince Rainier, General Juin, Sacha Guitry, Orson Welles, Vivien Leigh, Mistinguett, Edith Piaf, Bernard Buffet, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Salvador Dali and Rita Hayworth, among others
The Relais Bernard Loiseau hotel, a magical oasis slap bang in the middle of France, in beautiful Burgundy, is a place to be deeply grateful for indeed.
A simple stone landmark informs guests that they are exactly 250km (155 miles) from Paris and Lyon. Halfway to heaven is another way of putting it.
The town of Saulieu in the Cote d’Or region may not be most people’s idea of a holiday destination but the hotel’s location – built on the crossroads of two Roman roads linking Paris and Lyon to the south – makes it the perfect stop-off point for those driving through France.
From the generous, impeccably furnished bedrooms to the warmth of the staff, this is a place to be savoured.
And at the heart of it all, a world class restaurant Parisians would drive three hours to eat at, once run by the visionary Bernard Loiseau.
The hotel contains exposed beams, antique furniture and has an intriguing history
Fiona says the Bernard Loiseau hotel boasts generous, impeccably furnished bedrooms
This bedroom features a writing desk, a beautiful sofa, a fireplace and a balcony – the perfect place for the sipping of aperitifs
The property used to be a coaching inn, then it became La Côte d’Or Hotel. In 1904 it was bought by Paul Budin and his wife, Elise. The couple equipped the hotel with all the period’s most modern conveniences, including central heating and bathrooms
Gastronomes will be familiar with the name of the playful yet perfectionist chef who dominated the world of haute cuisine before, fearing he was about to lose one of his coveted three Michelin stars, he shot himself in the head.
Few, however, may realise what his widow Dominique has achieved since his untimely death in 2003. Not only has she maintained the exacting standards put in place by her late husband but she has created a tangible legacy of her own.
Her addition of an extensive, yet sympathetically designed, spa complex has elevated a sumptuous hotel into a palace for the senses, while her exquisite gardens provide the perfect centre point.
The highlight, though, will always be the food.
Our nine-course tasting menu, each dish paired with a wine so dreamy my husband and I were asking for vineyard directions throughout the meal, was understated perfection.
When the system of restaurant stars was created in the Michelin Guide in 1926, the hotel’s restaurant was given one star
Today the restaurant has two Michelin stars under head chef Patrick Bertron, Loiseau’s former second in command
Fiona had a nine-course tasting menu at Relais Bernard Loiseau, with each course paired with ‘a dreamy wine’
Patrick Bertron is pictured here hard at work. His menu still features some of Bernard Loiseau’s classics like frogs’ legs with garlic purée and a parsley jus, and crispy-skin pike-perch with shallot marmalade and red wine sauce. They now appear alongside new dishes by Patrick Bertron like pike loin pochouse-style and deer fillet with mountain berries
Created in 1991, through the inspiration of Dominique Loiseau, the English-style garden ‘concentrates all the beauty and the charm of the Relais’, says the hotel. It’s 3,000 square metres of green spaces adorned with pathways, terraces and fountains
The Relais Bernard Loiseau features a shop, a gym, a library, a games room, a French billiards room and a spa-restaurant (pictured), the Villa Loiseau des Sens, which opened in April 2017
Stays at Relais Bernard Loiseau are from £89 per room per night.
For reservations contact www.relaischateaux.com or 00 800 0825 10 20.
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
As for our children, whose culinary tastes peak at Wagamamas, they have now tasted heaven – and boy do they like to remind us.
Summoned into the kitchen at the end of the night to meet head chef Patrick Bretron, they were presented with signed chefs’ hats with the motto: ‘Vivre La Cuisine!’
Giddy with excitement, they took to the glass lift that hides inside the magnificent outdoor oak spiral staircase, riding up and down, tilting their toques.
Watching from the reception, the general manager, Saulieu’s very own Robert de Niro, arched a benign eyebrow.
Summoning up the little sang froid I possess, I reminded myself that besides not getting fat, French women also do not holler at their children in the lobby of a five star hotel.
I hope Mr Loiseau would have smiled.
THE MICHELIN-STAR-STUDDED HISTORY OF RELAIS BERNARD LOISEAU
Le Relais Bernard Loiseau continues a centuries-long tradition of hospitality in Saulieu.
The town has long been a stopping place for travellers making their way between the north and south.
It’s sited on a major communications route built by the Romans, called Via Agrippa.
In the Middle Ages it was called the Grand Chemin, then it became Route Royale, Route Impériale, Grande Route, Nationale 6 and, today, the D906.
The hotel is organised on four levels. The corridors, paying homage to the Saulieu sculptor François Pompon and the painter Bernard Buffet, overlook the street, while the rooms overlook the garden.
Dominique Loiseau, pictured, was appointed Vice–President of Relais & Châteaux in 2005. She was the first woman to be appointed to the position
The property used to be a coaching inn, then it became La Côte d’Or Hotel.
In 1904 it was bought by Paul Budin and his wife, Elise.
The couple equipped the hotel with all the period’s most modern conveniences, including central heating and bathrooms.
Their chef was Jean-Baptiste Monin and when the system of restaurant stars was created in the Michelin Guide in 1926, his talents won La Côte d’Or one star.
In 1930, La Côte d’Or was taken over by Alexandre Dumaine (1895 – 1974) and his wife, Jeanne.
In just one year, La Côte d’Or was awarded a second star, and then a third in 1935 (which it kept until 1964).
Alexandre Dumaine’s reputation was such that he was nicknamed the ‘the king of cooks’.
La Côte d’Or’s reputation was made: it welcomed personalities from the world of politics, art and literature, including Alphonse XIII, the king of Spain, the Aga Khan, Prince Rainier, General Juin, Sacha Guitry, Orson Welles, Vivien Leigh, Mistinguett, Edith Piaf, Bernard Buffet, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Salvador Dali and Rita Hayworth, among others.
They all signed the guests’ book. At one point it contained over 30 years of history, enhanced with drawings, paintings and photographs.
But after a guest wrote an acerbic comment in the book it was burned by Alexandre Dumaine in his oven.
From 1963 to 1975, François Minot was at the helm. Claude Verger then decided to buy the restaurant and appointed his promising protégé, the young Bernard Loiseau, as chef.
At the age of 24, with his head filled with dreams and an ambition as big as his heart, the chef made his name synonymous with the legendary Côte d’Or restaurant, as the craftsman behind its wonderful renaissance.
From the summer of 1990, renovation work was carried out to guarantee diners a special setting and it 1991 it won a third Michelin star back.
In 2003, La Côte d’Or was renamed the Relais Bernard Loiseau, a reminder that, since 1975, it has belonged to the prestigious Relais & Châteaux network.
Through this new name, all of Bernard Loiseau’s team paid homage to their talented chef and committed themselves to pursuing his work, under the guidance of his wife, Dominique Loiseau.
The restaurant currently has two Michelin stars under head chef Patrick Bertron, Loiseau’s former second in command.