SAULIEU, FRANCE, September 19, 2017 – Le Relais Bernard Loiseau is a legendary five star Relais & Chateaux restaurant and hotel with a cherished history in the pantheon of great French chefs and the legacy of Haute Cuisine.
Located in the tiny village of Saulieu in the Burgundy region of France just north of Beaune, it originally opened in 1904 as the Cote d’Or, and was soon a gastronomic landmark.
The domain of Master Chef Alexandre Dumaine from 1930 until his retirement in 1963, this extraordinary property is something just short of a national shrine to the culinary arts.
Under the stellar guidance of 2 star Michelin Chef Patrick Bertron, and hotelier and owner Dominique Loiseau, Le Relais Bernard Loiseau is today the quintessential luxury destination resort.
Over the decades it has taken its historical legacy and the resonance of its charismatic namesake to continually rediscover the essential character that defines greatness.
Bernard Loiseau was a young chef in Paris when the opportunity came his way to run and eventually purchase the storied Cote d’Or in the village of Saulieu.
He immediately lept at the chance, and in 1982 finally acquired the somewhat rundown remnant of what had once been a great culinary institution.
At the beginning of the 1900’s the road from Paris to what was then called the Riviera and we now call Provence or the South of France ran through Saulieu.
It was about 5 hours south of Paris, and passengers on trains or cars would stop for dinner or stay overnight in hotels and continue their journey the next day.
The Cote’d’Or was one of those restaurants and small hotels, gaining great prominence and acclaim far and wide. Elites from Paris and across Europe stopped here as they made their way north or south.
In the 1930s Alexandre Dumaine purchased the hotel and over the decade started acquiring Michelin stars for his cooking, retaining 3 Michelin stars for over 30 years until his retirement in 1963.
During this time The King of Spain, Salvador Dali, Prince Rainier, Orson Welles, Gary Cooper, Edith Piaf, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were all guests of Chef Dumaine.
Bernard Loiseau gained fame as a young Chef in the tutelage of Claude Verger. He was hailed by the Gault Millau Guide as a prodigy as one of the earliest proponents of nouvelle cuisine emphasizing fresh ingredients and less cream.
He virtually invented the cooking process of deglazing with water, revolutionizing the cuisine classique so prominent in French Gastronomy. He was renowned for having a strong and forceful, charismatic personality.
When Claude Verger took over the Cote d’Or in 1975 he installed Loiseau as head chef, giving him leeway to develop his own very personal style of cuisine, and eventually selling him the property in 1982.
Loiseau then set out to remake the property in his own light and restore the glamour and history of its heyday. Renovations ensued, and soon he acquired one Michelin star, then a second, and was awarded his third Michelin star in 1991.
When he died in 2003 the torch was passed to his protégé, Chef Patrick Bertron, and his widow Dominique Loiseau, who had been an integral part of his life and business since 1989. They have carried on the grand traditions of Cote d’Or that have continued to make it an ongoing culinary landmark and destination hideaway.
Today Le Relais Bernard Loiseau is more than a shrine to Cote’d’Or and the history of Alexander Dumaine and Bernard Loiseau, but is an intoxicatingly serene and beautiful five star luxury resort in its own right.
It is located in the heart of Saulieu, a small village of 2000 inhabitants about 30 minutes north of the Burgundy wine center Beaune.
Its 32 rooms and suites retain the style and feel of a French village, with the regal luxury trappings of an acclaimed Relais & Chateaux establishment.
The front entrance spreads across the center of town just off the main road. The lobby is welcoming and charming, warm dark woods and classic French tiled floors giving way to exquisite views of the central gardens.
The gastronomic restaurant and bar area is to the left, down a flight of stairs and sprawling out into two gorgeous wooden beamed domed dining rooms with walls of glass immersed into the gardens.
Just off the lobby is the original dining room, with thick wooden beamed ceilings, and a discreet charm of its own. Now a shrine to Alexandre Dumaine with a grand collection of his memorabilia, it is also the breakfast room for hotel guests.
On the wall is a classic portrait of Dumaine and a wonderful autographed photo and letter from Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during their visit there in the 1960s, signed “Merci mille”, a 1000 thanks.
A wing of 32 rooms and suites done in classic French style fills three floors to the right of the lobby, with a circular stair tower and a glass elevator leading to the rooms.
Our exquisite two-story suite overlooking the gardens is spectacular, beautifully appointed with sumptuous furnishings, and quaint red tile floors.
Panoramic views of the central gardens and the restaurant are a vision of serenity, billowing clouds above blue skies above sun drenched flowers.
An impressive staircase leads to the second floor bedroom with polished wooden floors and a massively comfortable king size bed.
It is a terrace in the sky, intricate wrought iron railings creating a wonderful balcony overlooking the living area.
A walk through the gardens is to experience the charm of the French countryside all within the confines of a large interior courtyard.
Extensive plantings across a large sweeping lawn slope across the grounds to a duck pond and the outdoor heated swimming pool in a cozy corner.
The village of Saulieu dates back to Roman times, and is filled with classic timbered structures, quaint shops, restaurants, and the occasional vintage car.
Le Relais Bernard Loiseau stands at the crossroads underneath an imposing statue of Christ at the gateway to the village and the looming nearby cathedral.
Cheese shops, antique stores, bakeries and the subtle charms of a village life spill out across a walking tour of 5 square blocks through narrow streets.
The church dates back to the 12th century, with the abbey dating back to the 6th, and a gallery of art and sculpture next door runs the gamut from the sacred to the profound.
A farmers market is a bustling cornucopia of local farm fresh products and the living face of the French locals who live and shop here.
It is the charm of Saulieu that lends the village an authenticity as an oasis of quietude and genuine serenity, a crossroads of village life and French culture.
Dinner at Bernard Loiseau is a wonderful event, as the gastronomic history of the last century comes to life with anticipation that is gloriously realized.
Hotel Manager Pascal Abernot has been at Bernard Loiseau for 17 years. He greets us as we have a pink Champagne aperitif and a trio of amuse bouche in the ante room before a roaring fireplace.
The main dining room is a spectacular chamber floating in the midst of the gardens, the arching domed ceiling accentuating an otherworldly environment.
The table along the windows seems to be a part of the greenery around us. The surroundings are glorious, the atmosphere intoxicating, the evening electric with anticipation.
Chef Patrick Bertron carries on the immeasurable traditions of Loiseau and Dumaine while making his own indelible, phenomenal, and personal stamp on the ever evolving fine art of Haute Cuisine.
Asparagus vertes de Roques-Hautes is beautiful, crisp and firm, with a light sabayon au sapin du Morvan sauce.
Huitres Belon a l’etuvee, or warm succulent oysters, are exquisite, a thing of beauty on a hidden bed of risotto under a cloud of sea foam.
Homard Bleu des casiers de Penmarch, or Blue Lobster, is succulently luscious in a bisque of rutabaga, a delight to be savored with each tender bite.
Bar de Ligne des Cotes Bretonnes, or sea bass from Breton, is a fantastic display of culinary brilliance and visual spectacle.
An exceptional Corton Bressandes 2010 Grand Cru from Tollet Beaut graces the meal with the immeasurable joy of an immaculate wine to match an evening of fine dining.
In an homage to Loiseau, Bertron serves an extraordinary Filet du Canette, or two kinds of foie gras, pate and broiled, with a confit of raviolis, the flavors leaping from the plate, the sauce delightful.
Boeuf de Charolles is the famous local aged fillet of beef, a classic dish that is as delightfully rich and tender as it is perfectly cooked, beautifully complimented by the wine.
Service throughout the meal is precise and impeccable, each step of the process attended to with brilliance and charm by a delightful enthusiastic staff.
Then it is time for the fromage, a classic finale to any fine French culinary adventure, as the cheese cart is rolled tableside to select an array of cow, sheep, goat and bleu cheeses.
Provenance and culture have made this ritual indispensable, for it conveys the essence of culinary arts, a selection of singular cheeses of remarkable distinction and completely unique individual character.
A desert of apple soufflé is dazzling, a crystaline spun apple broken open to reveal the delights within.
Hazelnut soufflé is an enticing delight, sumptuously rich and exploding with flavor.
After dinner Chef Bertron is graciously humble, effortlessly charming, yet this is a man who carries on his shoulders the weight of giants whose company he has long been a part of.
He more than makes his mark in the pantheon of culinary greatness across the history of Haute Cuisine, keeping the spirit of Cote d’Or alive and thriving.
A stunning new spa has just been completed which will continue the expansion of the grand traditions of Bernard Loiseau, with a specialized new restaurant emphasizing vegetarian, organic cuisine.
The spa facilities, which opened the summer of 2017, mark a modernist twist that is sure to delight and enthrall guests with its exceptional full service treatment center, rooftop terrace, and specialized meals.
In 1998 Bernard Loisseau was awarded the Legion of Merit, Frances highest national honor, by President Francois Mitterand.
In 2008 his widow, Dominique, who has taken his dream even further than he could have imagined, was also awarded the legion of merit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
On the walls of the blond wooden library off the lobby hang these distinctions as well as photos through the years of Presidents Jacque Chirac and Valerie Giscard D’Estang. All of them have come to grace the halls of Le Relais Bernard Loiseau many times across the decades.
In a conversation with Dominique this regal accomplished woman discussed the dream of Bernard, and their struggle together to return this outpost in Saulieu to the prominence of its early years.
She describes Bernard as a driven charismatic man who changed the face of French Gastronomy in an age long before Gordon Ramsay and other celebrity chefs made their persona and marketing efforts a part of their brand.
It is a family tradition that carries on, with daughter Berangere handling the business communications, their son Bastien emerging with his own gastronomic business in Paris, and younger daughter Blanche having completed her training at Paul Bocuse school of culinary arts in Lyon.
They also operate a one Michelin star restaurant in nearby Dijon, Loiseau des Ducs, and a 1 Michelin star restaurant in Beaune, Loiseau des Vignes, next to the iconic Hotel Le Cep.
It is Blanche who will, in 6 or seven years, take over the reins of this institution. She has the drive, passion, vision, and personality of her father.
One day she will gain her own Michelin stars and remake the world of Haute Cuisine in her own right, and one day a Loiseau will once again hold the coveted three Michelin stars here in Saulieu.
If she earns it, her mother says. Nothing is given to you in life. It must come from her, it can’t be given to you.
It is this uncompromising promise of grand and legendary tradition that has made Le Relais Bernard Loiseau a culinary destination well worth the special journey to the Cote d’Or ,and the tiny village of Saulieu, along the road to Burgundy.
Standard rooms start at around $280 a night, with a Chambre Superieure running about $350. Deluxe Chambres are around $400 a night, Suites begin at about $600 per night, and a deluxe apartment is available for $800.
Air France flies direct to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and from there to the rest of France and all of Europe from Washington, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of American cities.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds. @BigAlPeoplesPal
Find more of their travel articles at: www.commdiginews.com/author/joel_berliner/