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 sulfur-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 sulfur-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 buoyant 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 version of Nouvelle Cuisine to accompany and reinforce the benefits of the thermal cure. Guerard has two restaurants at the property – his temple, the 3-star Michelin Gourmet Restaurant 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 kitchen.
For those who want to learn how to recreate this exceptional cuisine, the Institut Michel Guérard cookery school within the estate holds classes and courses throughout the year.
Les Pres d’Eugenie, in the Landes, is 1h45m equidistant from Biarritz and Bordeaux. There are five different lodgings on the estate that range from my favorite – the Convent with its walled herb garden – the Empress Wing with the two imperial suites, the Main House with 28 rooms and suites, the Logis des Grives with four rooms and suites (perfect for privatizing) and La Maison Rose which is akin to a B&B and offers simpler options at a lesser cost.
A stay at Eugenie can be as little as one night for a massage followed by a delicious meal, or longer to follow a course of treatments and a dietary plan. There are plenty of activities on or near the property – a lovely swimming pool, tennis courts, biking and walking paths, and golf close by. A visit to the Guerard family home and winery, the Chateau de Bachen, at 7 kilometers distance for a tasting or a day on the wild and wide Atlantic Coast at Le Huchet, another of the Guerard’s properties, are a must. The latter, a magical 19th century hunting lodge nestled between sand dunes and pine forest, offers accommodation, more delicious food and great surfing.
I love Biarritz for its old-fashioned glamor, for the wonderful Hotel du Palais, for the wide beaches that children adore, for my favorite hat shop and the Basque markets. Bordeaux is a beautiful city and well worth a night or two. And if you love oysters, don’t miss a visit to the Baie d’Arcachon and the village of Cap Ferret with its many small restaurants offering sublime seafood and oysters, of course.