Eugenie-les-Bains – Aquitaine, France

The Pastoral Birthplace of Spa Cuisine

This tiny backwater village, whose thermal springs and pastoral setting enchanted the Empress Eugenie, after whom it was renamed, was ignored by time and tourism until the arrival of master chef Michel Guerard and his wife, Christine. Guerard was the creator of every gourmand’s pipe dream, cuisine minceur (“spa” cuisine, which helped spawn the nouvelle cuisine revolution of the 1970s, allowing diners to eat royally while staying trim).

Those of the calories-to-the-wind school can opt for Guerard s full-till cuisine gourmande menu. Either choice leaves visitors with unforgettable dining memories. The accommodations in this hamlet near Biarritz have a rustic but refined charm that’s almost too good to be true, Eugenie-les-Bains consists almost entirely of the meticulously run Guerard fiefdom: two spas (the original operation plus the newer La Ferine Thermale), three hotels (one housed in the former imperial residence), and two restaurants (the complex as a whole is known as Les Pres d’Eugenie).

Many travelers come intending to use this drowsy hamlet as a base for exploring the beautiful Pyrenees and Basque region to die south or the Bordeaux area to the north, but they find it hard to leave the small town that once enchanted an empress and her coterie.

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