Saint-Amour-Bellevue: Auberge du Paradis

Saint-Amour-Bellevue: Auberge du Paradis

No auberge in France better illustrates the renewal of the genre than the Auberge du Paradis in the Beaujolais region, not far from Macon. I was bowled over when I arrived at this handsome old stone building in pretty Saint Amour Bellevue, a perched village surrounded by some of the greatest vineyards in Beaujolais. Previously the local social hall, the building has been completely renovated by chef Cyril Laugier and his wife Valérie Bugnet.

I was initially disappointed by a twee detail—each of the eight rooms is named for a spice. But that was before I caught a first eyeful of the laidback but grand-slam good taste of the place. Just past the reception desk, two silver medicine balls skidded along the surface of a creeper-shaded black-tiled lap pool. A Jacuzzi bubbled away on a sheltered outdoor terrace, next to a sunny library filled with beautiful art books and piles of novels and magazines. This particular paradise could fill pages in a decorating magazine, and yet it never feels staged or overdone.

Upstairs, it got even better. I can’t remember the last time I opened the door to a hotel room I liked more than Gingembre (ginger). I’m a tough customer, but for €135 the room is a knockout. Not only does it have a discreetly chic mix of antique and design furnishings—bleached-oak parquet floors, marble-topped dressing table, Philippe Starck lamps, velvet chaise longue, potted white orchids—but it was light, spacious, quiet and kitted out with all the right gear, including Tivoli Audio table radio, free wireless internet and flat-screen TV.

Dinner was remarkable too. Laugier’s signature is a bold, masterful use of spices from all over the world—perfectly dosed gusts of flavor that make his impeccable cooking sexy and so much fun. That night a first course of roasted green asparagus was followed by pork loin marinated in red curry paste and served with shitake mushrooms and smoked bacon in a lemon coulis. A plate of raw-milk cheeses was garnished with garam masala, and dessert was a rhubarb fool, a chilled swirl of rhubarb puree and whipped cream. Many repeat visitors come for weekends just to enjoy Laugier’s delicious nightly prix-fixe menu, and maybe do a couple of wine tastings in neighboring towns, including Juliénas and Saint-Amour-Bellevue.

As we chatted over a terrific country breakfast the next morning—local strawberries, fresh goat cheese, smoked ham and sausage, homemade yogurt and jams, soft-boiled eggs from a nearby farm, freshly baked bread—Laugier said that the chef who most inspired him is the Breton maître d’épices Olivier Roellinger. “What I learned from Roellinger is the power of spices-they usually don’t need the medium of a sauce, and just a pinch of a fresh, high-quality spice like the nutmeg I use on green asparagus makes the vegetable eloquent.”

A dozen years ago Laugier decided a traditional chef’s trajectory just wouldn’t work for him—”I couldn’t play the Michelin game and still cook the way I like to cook,” he explained, so he struck out on his own, first with a wine bar, then a restaurant, and now the auberge. “What Valerie and I have created is the kind of hotel we hope to find when we travel, a place where you eat well, have a good time and feel at home. And now I love being able to tell people that France isn’t stuffy anymore.”

Auberge du Paradis Plâtre-Durand, Saint-Amour-Bellevue, Doubles from €130. website

Originally published in the June 2010 issue of France Today; updated in March 2012


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