Les Prés d’ Eugénie By Antonia Peck
Experience gourmet cuisine whilst whittling your waist in the historical spa town of Les Prés d’ Eugénie….
The hotel and spa of Les Prés d’ Eugénie has established itself and taken flight as one of the leading wellness destinations in France under the stewardship of the talented Guérard family. Whether you’re looking for Michelin starred cuisine, great hospitality and spa treatments based on the natural sulphur waters found in the Landes region, there is something here for everyone looking for peaceful rejuvenation.
Family-owned and evidently loved, the chateau and adjacent hotels were originally bought by Christine Guérard’s father, Adrian Barthelemy, and under her direction were re-opened as part of the Relais & Chateau group. The family have been revealing the alchemy of the healing properties of the natural landscape in all its glory since the 1970s.
The spa attracts those wanting to lose weight in the manner of the Empress Eugenie, the spa town’s namesake and unofficial patron, whose repeat visits made the therapeutic qualities of the waters famous across France. When Christine married the 3 Michelin starred and celebrated chef Michel Guérard, his nouvelle cuisine and slimming menu worked in perfect harmony to provide guests with the ultimate cure. Today people visit as much for the spa’s curative waters as for the truly exceptional culinary delights.
The Spa – La Ferme Thermale
The spa is housed in a fairytale farmhouse that takes inspiration from the popular, rustic architectural fantasies of the nineteenth century so popular amongst the nobility and European elite.
It is surrounded by a beautiful rose and herb garden that immediately appealed to my romantic sensibilities, providing an aesthetic harmony as well as a source of produce for the kitchen. Herbs are collected daily, with bouquets given to you before you bathe in the spa’s sulphur-rich waters. The French Medicine Academy consider Eugenie’s thermal waters to be particularly effective for the treatment of rheumatic and metabolic diseases, due to their rich sulphur content, which is recommended for inflammatory pain and to help the liver deal with blood sugar and fat.
The treatment rooms are some of the prettiest I have ever reviewed, and touches such as portraits of the hotel’s namesake Empress Eugenie and gold duck-faced taps add to the enchantment. However, this is also a spa that means serious business – some of the water treatments are far less relaxing than I anticipated! Each guest is prescribed a bespoke programme and, to be fair, the doctor did warn me that this treatment was painful but yielded great results. So for the purpose of journalistic endeavour, I was game. The reality of the situation I faced involved being naked against the stark tiles in nothing but a frilly shower cap having my thighs and stomach ‘‘needled’’ via a water jet. It was sharp, raw and made me feel vulnerable and exposed. But if you want to lose weight, the spa recommends the needle shower that triggers lymph and blood circulation helping to break down toxins and fat – no pain, no gain, as they say! Thankfully, the spa technician was delightful and charming throughout the ordeal, which took some of the edge off. In any case, it made the other treatments on my schedule all the more luxurious and enjoyable.
These included the indulgent, peaceful sulphur baths, a soak in the white mud pool – where I floated in suspended animation feeling like a classical statue – and an exceptional Decleor aromatherapy facial. All are an absolute must on your bucket list of spa treatments! My programme was exceptionally crafted to my every need. I had arrived at the spa in need of a little tender love and post-baby care. I wanted to lose some weight and soothe my aching muscles. The combination of the spa routine and the food menu meant that I was successful in whittling 1.5 inches off my waist and my skin felt much smoother. The most noticeable effect was the absence of muscular pain in my neck. Three months later and I am still free of neck pain, which is nothing short of miraculous, as I have tried everything in pursuit of a cure. Was it really that I had a sulphur deficiency? Are the curative powers of the water that strong? I can honestly say an emphatic yes! Sulphur is the 8th most common element in the human body. It is critical for metabolism so a deficiency damages fat and muscle cells, making them glucose intolerant. Sulphur is both anti-parasitic, anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory.
Guests are encouraged to play tennis, swim, explore the grounds and keep physically active so that they have a bon appetite for the exceptional culinary delights that are on offer here. The beauty of the grounds and the facilities allow for this, and provide good soul food. I found the serenity of the pool especially satisfying and there is a personal training team in place for those who need an extra nudge.
Michel Guérard Cuisine
Guérard has had his 3 Michelin stars for 39 years and deservedly so. The food at Les Prés d’ Eugénie is exceptional. So exceptional, that I was perfectly willing to scupper my vain attempt to stick entirely to the slimming cuisine for the five days. Luckily, a feast day was included in the programme. It would be too tempting otherwise! Guérard understands the psychology, stating that ‘‘every human being functions with pleasure in mind. Nobody truly wants to live an ascetic life for slimness and health. But everybody wants both.’’
Actually, there were some main courses from the slimming menu that were just as tantalizing as those found on the gourmet menu. Michel Guérard’s slimming cuisine is delicious and divine, whilst skilfully weighing in at around 600 calories per meal. The slimming menu changes every day and includes a starter, main course and dessert. Examples of the main courses could include: champvallon lamb with thyme, creamy risotto of vegetables with shrimps, sea bass ceviche with mango, Paris-Brest with chicory, and more than 200 other guilt-free recipes!
I didn’t fully follow my programme (I said yes to bread and champagne, and the irresistible gourmet breakfasts). I had travelled with my young son and mother, and the epicurean delights on offer were a crucial part of the healing vibes I craved. However, Guérard’s philosophy (encapsulated in his book Michel Guerard’s Cuisine Minceur) highlights the essence of well-crafted slimming cuisine and I certainly brought these ideas back to my own kitchen at home.
The Key Principles:
• Seasoning is paramount
• Choose the correct cooking method (i.e. steaming, in papillote)
• Keep your diet as varied as possible
• Increase the proportion of vegetables
• Herbs add variety
• Dieting does not mean sacrificing style (i.e. display food beautifully!)
• Remember you are feeding body and soul – you are what you eat!
Harder to recreate at home is the exceptional service on offer and the sheer charm of the staff. They are all are so cordial, helpful and elegant. The Maître D’, Emmanuel Perignon, enchanted our dining experience on every occasion. He even made sure my 18-month-old son’s food was served on a silver platter and took him for little walks around the restaurant! The staff are an extremely positive reflection on the hotel and testament to the Guérard family. Who could not love working for a man who feels the vocation of his work and says things such as: “I cook the way a bird sings – free, clear, light, cheerful, ethereal, calm, silky, smooth….I play with the joy of flavours the way Mozart used to play with notes – impertinently, inquisitively and poetically.” A stay at Les Prés d’ Eugénie will make you feel this way too!
Les Prés d’Eugénie Michel Guérard
334 Rue René Vielle