BY Lisa Lindblad
September 7, 2011
There is a classic in the Southwest of France, 1. 5 hours from the renewed city of Bordeaux, an hour from Pau at the foot of the Pyrenees and another hour or so from the Atlantic Ocean and the great summer beaches of Biarritz, St. Jean de Luz and more. For centuries, Eugenie-les-Bains has been drawing seekers of health to its sulphur-rich thermal waters. Today, a steady stream of French citizens come for their cure for rheumatism and arthritis, metabolic and circulatory problems. And the French government foots the bill.
More than 30 years ago, Christine Guerard and her famous chef husband, Michel, decided to create a temple to wellness and wellbeing on the site of the thermal baths and have built or renovated, over the intervening years, a collection of buildings – a convent here, a farmhouse there – each bearing its own name and style and providing accommodations that welcome and comfort.
And then they created the spa or ferme where guests go to find wellness in the thermal baths. The sulphur rich spring waters, flowing in a rushing river through the property, are scented with plants from the surrounding gardens or thickened with a deliciously viscous and bouyant white clay. Designed to relieve rheumatism and arthritis, to adjust metabolism, to soothe, they are joined by more traditional beauty treatments of massage and facials, always using the plant material for which the property is so famous.
The third pillar of Les Pres d’Eugenie is the exquisite cuisine of Michel Guerard.
Volumes have been written on Chef Guerard and Guerard has written the Bible on light cooking or Cuisine Minceur. When he arrived at Eugenie in 1974, he determined that there should be a lighter versions of Nouvelle cuisine to accompany and reenforce the benefits of the thermal cure. Guerard has two restaurants at the property – his temple at Les Pres d’Eugenie which offers two menus – one with his classic dishes and the other with his calorie-counted Cuisine Minceur – and La Ferme aux Grives offering a more rustic menu. The food on all menus is sublime, and never do you arise from the table with a heavy, overfed feeling. Most of the fresh produce comes from their own gardens, and the taste of the fruits and vegetables is unlike anything I have put in my mouth in years. A true pioneer and star in the culinary firmament, Guerard is still hands-on in his kitchens.