The tiny spa village of Eugénie-les- Bains is seriously remote. Bordeaux is two hours’ drive north; Biarritz is 100 miles to the west. Yet this place is on the radar of most food lovers thanks to French super-chef Michel Guérard. His three-Michelin-starred restaurant gets booked up weeks ahead in summer, and menus start at €135. But just a few minutes’ walk away is La Ferme aux Grives, a sister restaurant where Guérard trials and refines his dishes before they appear on the menu of his main restaurant.
Eating at La Ferme is a sublime experience. In a beautifully converted barn, it has its own herb and vegetable garden. On summer nights, diners sit outside, dawdling over remarkable puddings as the sky turns pink. In winter, an aperitif beside the roaring fire gets an evening off to an excellent start, and the suckling pig roasting on a spit lends a medieval air to proceedings. The food is simple and rustic but gorgeous, and at €45 for three courses, a bargain.
We frequent La Ferme whenever a celebration is called for. My daughter, Charlotte, made her inaugural visit at the age of seven days, and obligingly slept in the shade of a lavender bush for the whole of a hot July evening.
Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, is said to have set great store by the curative powers of the spring in the village, and Guérard’s hotel has a spa which treats obesity, among other ‘complaints’. Its guests have been known to shuffle down the street in bathrobes.
In the middle of August, the arena is filled by the courses landaises, a strange, kinder version of bull-fighting, in which cows charge at men and boys, who leap nimbly out of the way. The courses landaises draw a capacity crowd, with the local brass band in attendance, and a well-patronised beer tent outside. The afternoon stretches on, in the unforgiving sunshine, until every cow is exhausted. After which it is time to repair to the Ferme aux Grives, and sit back, in the courtyard, with a cold aperitif.
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