SIX FRENCH TOWNS WHERE GOURMETS ARE SPOILT FOR CHOICE
Valence is not alone in attracting more than its fair share of top chefs. Here are six more towns in France which have a surprising number of gastronomic restaurants.
Alsaciens exact high standards – in the kitchen as elsewhere. Olivier Nasti meets them to twostar Michelin level at Le Chambard, a gastronomic restaurant attached to a grand hotel. Alongside the posh dining (lechambard. fr, £100-plus for a full dinner), Nasti has a winstub brasserie doing Alsace specialities ( choucroute, baeckeoffe, foie gras) with panache. Alongside both are other standout restaurants. Don’t miss the family-run Vieille Forge (vieilleforgekb.com, menus from £27) or Jérôme Jaegle’s brand new L’Alchémille (lalchemille.fr, menus from £33).
Le Chambard, which is also a four-star hotel, in 18th-century surroundings; room-only doubles from £171.
Stay at: Noirmoutier island
The first time I crossed the causeway to Noirmoutier, someone had just stolen all the CDs from my car. So it was without Tina Turner that I arrived on the island off the Vendée coast. The compensations were almost adequate. Head first for La Marine on the port at the L’Herbaudière, the isle’s western tip. Alexandre Couillon’s modern way with fish has winched it to two-Michelin-star status (alexandrecouillon.com, dinner £127). Nearby, Le Grand Four has been surging ahead since Henrick Garriga and José Roche took it over last December (legrandfour. com, £26). And the Fleur de Sel remains the island’s classic gastronomic address (fleurdesel.fr, £24).
The Fleur de Sel; doubles from £97 b&b.
I’d finished the fish soup, they brought me the homard and I said: “The world is my lobster.” I’d waited long for the right place in which to echo Arthur Daley. Cancale is that place. Near St Malo, it’s hemmed with some of France’s finest oyster beds. And it has as much terrific eating as any Breton needs. Olivier Roellinger led the town to prominence with his Michelin three-star Le Relais Gourmand. He’s shut it now, for the simpler life at Le Coquillage (within the Château Richeux; maisons-de-bricourt. com, £58). Not far away, at St Mélior-des-Ondes, the Maison Tirel-Guérin is reliability in restaurant form (tirel-guerin.com, £41). Meanwhile, the big news is the arrival of Franco-Japanese RaphaëlFumio Kudaka in the top-class eatery above the Breizh Café créperie on the Cancale waterfront (breizhcafe.com, £86 including drinks).
The old-fashioned Tirel-Guérin; room-only doubles from £105.
Stay at: Blois
The château of Blois – in the Loire valley – offers a brilliant trot through a fine slice of French royal history. The nocturnal son-etlumière is less riveting. I’d have been better lingering over dinner, especially as Blois is becoming a regal cuisine centre. Assa is so in the vibe of Franco-Japanese fusion that Fumiko and Anthony Maubert bagged a Michelin star last year (assarestaurant.com, £31). The elegant Orangerie-duChâteau has had its star a little longer (orangeriedu-chateau.fr, £33) while, on the banks of the Loire, new owners have breathed life into La Creusille (lacreusille.fr, £22).
The best value hotel in town: the Loire-side Auberge-Ligerienne-CôtéLoire (coteloire.com); roomonly doubles from £51.
Stay at: St Bonnet-le-Froid
Régis Marcon has been called “the pope of the green lentil”. He’s also hot with mushrooms. Both abound in his southern Auvergne mountain redoubt, and have helped rocket his restaurant – Régis Et Jacques Marcon – to Michelin three-star status (regismarcon.fr, £132). As remarkable as the lentils, and Marcon’s national eminence, is the village itself: alongside the three-star showpiece
Burgundians are a prosperous people living on a prosperous land. Head directly to Dijon, Beaune – or, these days, Tournus on the Saône river. Bristling with Michelin stars, it’s the tastiest place to be, notably if you have a booking at Jean-Michel Carrette’s Les Terrasses. Carrette is the world’s greatest fan of pâté-en-croûte (“pork pie”). “It represents the values of friendship and sharing,” he says, thus obviously deserving his star (auxterrasses.com, £51). The grand Restaurant Greuze was a long-time Burgundy standout, and is now starred again, under Yohann Chapuis (restaurant-greuze.fr, £36). Nearby, Valéry Meulien has his star for cooking with a creative spark at the Restaurant Meulien (meulien.com, £51) while Le Rempart boasts a one-star gastronomic restaurant and a patio brasserie (lerempart.com, £35 and £17 respectively).
The Hotel aux Terrasses; room-only doubles from £69.
Oysters on sale at the market in Cancale, Brittany