Mini Guide to the French Countryside
The French countryside is a vast landscape of, among other agricultural achievements, culinary diversity that’s worth exploring in its entirety. The wines, the cheeses, the cognac, and the wafting scents of puffed up gougeres and croissants are among the country’s most enticing products and, like many things, they’re best sampled on home turf. But taking the entire French countryside by storm is intimidating and, frankly, we don’t have that many vacation days. So we turned to our friends at Area Daily for a primer on three of their favorite regions — Le Perche, the Champagne region, and Cognac — and they divulged the best hotels, tasting rooms, and restaurants in each. — Nicole Campoy-Leffler
Just two hours south of Paris lies a cluster of villages that will inspire you with endless green fields, châteaus, and tranquil rivers. You've arrived in the Le Perche region of Normandy. Book a room at Château de Saint Paterne and you'll immediately get the feeling that you are an invited guest in a
grand family home. Each of the 10 rooms and suites are spacious and appropriately decorated and the communal salons with their parquet floors and antiques will transport you back in time. The grounds, 25 acres in total, including a heated outdoor pool, are great for stealing away to read a book or sip an afternoon cocktail. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Flickr.Whisker)
The region is known for its food, and is home to the baguette du Perche, where every loaf baked is scrutinized and given an official seal. Escargot is also a local specialty and Les Escargots du Perche is a working farm open to visitors for sampling. And if you can't get to Pont L’Évêque and Camembert for their cheeses, be sure to check out the Saturday market in Nogent-le-Rotrou or Thursday in Bellême to savor the other flavors of the region and shop for antiques and local crafts.
Ninety minutes outside of Paris lies Champagne, a region unlike anywhere else. For those who enjoy sipping their way through vineyards, head to this region to sample grapes (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier) of the regal bubbly. The epicenter of the region can be found in Epernay and Reims, where most of the larger producers and well-known brands are located. If you head south into the rolling countryside of Troyes, you'll discover smaller vineyards and a more laid-back atmosphere.
Stay in the medieval La Maison de Rhodes which has been carefully restored without losing its historical origins. Be sure to dine on gourmet, local cuisine at the hotel's restaurant, La Commanderie. For something out of the ordinary, head to the forest to sip amongst the trees at the Perchingbar. Designed like a treehouse, the bar rests on stilts and has a wraparound terrace that looks out onto the park’s zip lines.
The largest single vineyard of white grapes is nestled in a region of France known as Cognac country. Most of these grapes go through a double distillation process, are aged for numerous years in oak casks, and are then blended with other vintages or eaux de vie (water of life) to create
what some call the “drink of the gods,” cognac.
With hundreds of producers, each with their own distinctive styles, scattered throughout the vine-clad towns, visiting the distilleries, and even blending your own batch, is a palate pleaser. The cobblestone streets, old churches, rolling hills, and gourmet food that can be found in many of the towns and villages that surround the Charente River will inspire you to spend a few days to explore. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/mooste)
For a classic French experience, book one of the 24 rooms at the Château De L'yeuse, which overlooks the Charente River and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and an outdoor terrace to enjoy a great meal. If the country is more your style, opt for the Château de la Couronne, where 16th-century charm is met with a witty, urban style.
Keep your energy going with a high caliber dining experience at La Ribaudière, a Michelin-starred feast that is reasonably priced and set in a sleekly designed restaurant. Another can’t-miss meal is at Le Restaurant du Château, which serves up modern European dishes for a local crowd of followers.