Saint Joachim: La Mare aux Oiseaux

Saint Joachim: La Mare aux Oiseaux

I had heard raves about chef Eric Guérin’s cooking at La Mare aux Oiseaux long before I finally made it to the village of Saint Joachim, a huddle of thatched cottages on the Ile de Fédrun in the Parc de Brière, a remote and beautiful nature reserve in the département of Loire Atlantique. “No one used to come here before the boy opened his inn,” offered a rotund, beret-topped dog-watcher after I asked him for directions. “So today I get an American, yesterday three pretty Japanese ladies. It makes me proud.”

Only 40 minutes from Nantes and ten minutes from the chic Atlantic beach resort La Baule, the Brière is a vast, hauntingly luminous salt marsh, where patches of still water in the shaggy green landscape mirror the sky on a flat horizon, blurring the boundary between the two.

Guérin’s auberge occupies a snug, whitewashed 18th-century cottage with a steep reed-thatched roof right in the village center. The best rooms—9, 10 and 11—are in a clapboard outbuilding overlooking one of the many canals that lace the region. The comfortable rooms have a maritime vibe, with white-varnished wooden walls and decks with Adirondack chairs.

Guérin’s cooking thrums with an antic, unbridled creativity, and it’s beautiful too, every dish as carefully composed as a Flemish still life. Between meals, there is lots to see and do nearby. A canal outing in a chaland, or flat-bottomed wooden boat, is highly recommended, and so is a visit to the fascinating walled city of Guérande, the center of the salt pans that produce some of the world’s finest salt, fleur de sel de Guérande.

La Mare aux Oiseaux Parc National de Brière, 162 Ile de Fédrun, Saint Joachim, Doubles from €145. website

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

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