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Wednesday 22 June 2011

The London Foodie Goes to France - Abbaye de la Bussière (Dijon)

Clive and Tanith Cummings purchased Abbaye de la Bussière in 2005 from the Catholic Church, who used it as a spiritual retreat.  The Abbaye is no stranger to the English, having been founded in 1131 by Stephen Harding, third Abbot of Cîteaux.  Its origins reflect the Cistercian Order’s long tradition of humility, peace and hospitality.

The hotel has retained these core qualities, now magnificently restored as a luxury Relais & Chateau Hotel with a Michelin starred restaurant, and was recently listed among the 50 Best Hotels in the World by The Daily Telegraph.

Set in 15 acres of beautiful parkland, the hotel is far away from the road, with a long drive which passes a stunning lake and immaculate lawns. 

Although the Abbaye is a large building, it has only 16 generously sized rooms, and has the feel of a country house with several welcoming living rooms.

Few hotels have impressed me as much as the Abbaye de la Bussière when it comes to attention to detail.  From the elegant furniture and quirky artwork, to the hydro-massage baths, Bulgari toiletries, and massive beds in each room, every aspect of this hotel has been very carefully thought out.

The Abbaye's restaurant has held a Michelin star since 2007, and is headed by Emmanuel Hebrard. In 2010, Emmanuel retained the Michelin star of his former head chef after the latter was head-hunted by the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.

The hotel’s main restaurant is set in the stunning refectory rooms of the Abbaye – I loved the sense of theatre that those rooms provide, which is the perfect setting for Emmanuel’s regional menu.

We enjoyed his interpretations of some classic French dishes, as well as his own creations, some with an Asian touch like beef tataki in ponzu sauce, brill with rhubarb purée or rice with salmon, sesame and lemon rind.

Other good dishes also included the asparagus, sabayon, grapefruit and caviar and the deep fried frogs legs with pea puree.

The cheese trolley is magnificent, with a large and well thought out range of regional chee
ses. We were also impressed by the selection of petit fours served with our coffee including marshmallows, cakes, chocolate and jellies.

Freddy, the head sommelier, lived and worked in the UK for many years. He matched every course to a  specially chosen wine, explaining each with great care and knowledge.  We loved every wine that he chose for us.  A 6-course gastronomic menu in the restaurant costs around €95 per person (including a glass of Champagne).

At lunch time the hotel’s bistro opens its doors to guests and the general public alike, and if the sun is shining as it was on the day when Dr G and I were there, it is served al fresco in the hotel’s grounds. We were coincidentally joined by Greedy Diva and TPG on one our days at the Abbaye as our trips overlapped.

The food at the more informal bistro was also outstanding. At €25 for 2 courses, €29 for 3 courses and €33 for 4 courses, the bistro was also one of the best value meals we had during our stay in France.

I ordered a magnificent dish of escargot (snails) served with a richly garlic-suffused green risotto, topped with a goat's cheese foam. Dr G went for mullet with a deliciously creamy sauce of seafood and chervil, which was also expertly executed.

Greedy Diva’s partner (TPG)  enjoyed his starter of haddock with smoked garlic cream from Arleux and main of grilled trout served with basmati rice, capers, sultanas and herbs, which was expertly filleted at our table. Freddy’s wine suggestions were again spot on, as was the wonderful cheese trolley selection.

Breakfast at the Abbaye is mainly continental, but a cooked option is also available for a small extra charge.  During our stay, we were served freshly squeezed orange juice, chilled gazpacho soup, various types of bread and pastry, cold meats, cheese, and fruit poached in vanilla.  It was a very generous and well thought out spread.

For wine lovers, it is only a few kilometres to the nearest Côte de Nuits vineyards at  Gevrey Chambertin and Nuits-St Georges, and the 20km scenic drive to Beaune passes through the Côte de Beaune vineyards of Pernand Vergelesses and Aloxe Corton.  When we visited Beaune with Greedy Diva, we enjoyed a comprehensive cellar and barrel tasting of an extensive  range of Burgundy reds and whites, and Beaujolais, at Maison Louis Jadot by its General Manager Dominique Mounier.

In the unlikely event that you should tire of the dining options at the Abbaye, there are also some outstanding restaurants in Beaune, including Caveau des Arches, at which Dr G and I had a magnificent dinner during our stay.

Beyond the wonderful rooms, interiors and food, the setting of the Abbaye is what is most remarkable.  With parts of the building dating back nearly 1000 years, the building is fascinating, and the tranquillity and beauty of the lake and gardens is striking.  As an escape from the far too hectic lives many of us lead, there are few places to rival it.

It is set in a small village, in which it is by far the largest building.  It is set very close to a canal, which provides easy scenic walks, and there are also bikes for hire, fishing, canoeing and hunting opportunities. I cannot recommend highly enough as a perfect long weekend break, or longer if you plan to explore the magnificent vineyards of Burgundy.

Travel Details:

Abbaye de La Bussière, La Bussière-sur-Ouche, 21360 Dijon, Cote d'Or, France, Tel: +33 (0) 3 80 49 02 29, www.abbaye-dela-Bussière.com.

The closest airport is Paris CDG or Lyon. There is a daily direct train from CDG Airport to Dijon. The Abbaye can collect you from Dijon Station or organise a car hire service. By road, the Abbaye is around 370 miles drive from London.

Room rates at the Abbaye de La Bussière start from €195 and there are 2 day Abbaye break packages including dinner in the Michelin star restaurant and a continental breakfast. The 6 course gastronomic menu in the restaurant will cost around €95 per person, while lunch in the more informal bistro cost €25 for 2 courses, €29 for 3 courses and €33 for 4 courses.

The London Foodie was a guest of Abbaye de La Bussière.


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