Europe’s Chef-Run Hotels
Published: June 2009
By Anya von Bremzen
What happens when talented cooks step out of the kitchen and get behind the front desk?T+L reports on a burgeoning European phenomenon.
Burgundy: La Colline du Colombier, Iguerande
Even legendary French chefs with Michelin three-starred restaurants nurture pastoral dreams. “Don’t expect Relais & Châteaux—simplicity is the beauty of La Colline,” says Michel Troisgros of his new venture, a bucolic auberge that he and his wife, Marie-Pierre, have created in the Burgundy countryside, 12 miles from their Maison Troisgros restaurant in Roanne. Beet-hued Eames chairs pose against weathered stone walls at the inn’s dining room, which was once a barn. Stylish renditions of local plats include a whisper-light friture of Loire fish, layered veal headcheese terrine, and juicy butter-fried Charolais steaks. Each of the two-bedroom suites in a restored farmhouse is perfect for families. Couples, meanwhile, can hide out at one of the three futuristic cadoles, one-room chalets on stilts, landscaped into the hills by architect Patrick Bouchain. The designers’ use of sheep’s wool, cork, felt, and braided hemp throughout the property is the dernier cri in eco-chic. T+L Tip Raid the Huilerie Artisanale J. Leblanc & Fils shop in the nearby village for delicious oils (pistachio, walnut, hazelnut), flavored mustards, and vinegars. Doubles from $330, three-night minimum; dinner for two $93.
London: York & Albany
Great Value In between cursing on the telly and steering his global restaurant empire, British megachef Gordon Ramsay made his debut as a hotelier last September. He put his gifted protégé Angela Hartnett in charge of the hotel’s kitchen. He also hired British interior designer Russell Sage to bewitch a derelict 1826 coaching inn into a Regency-inspired 10-room confection. Even the mattresses are from Hypnos—the very same brand found in Buckingham Palace. The not-quite-ideal location on a busy road in Camden Town, in North London, hasn’t stopped the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow from dining at the hotel’s restaurant, where the earthy sophistication of Hartnett’s dishes—warm wood-pigeon salad with roasted quince; sea bream with crushed potatoes and cucumber sauce—comes at bargain prices. From the $27 set lunch to bar tapas, the entire menu can be had in-room, too. Then again, why miss out on the action in the sultry-red basement dining space that evokes a postmodern bordello? T+L Tip At Hartnett’s Nonna’s Deli, in the former stable, you’ll find all the makings (including La Perla di Torino truffles) for an haute picnic in nearby Regent’s Park. Doubles from $260; dinner for two $90.
Italy: Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais, Polesine Parmense
Great Value If culatello, an über-prosciutto produced in the misty lowlands near Parma, is a porcine cult favorite, then its high priest is Massimo Spigaroli—one of Italy’s top salumi producers, president of the Culatello di Zibello Consorzio, chef of the legendary Al Cavallino Bianco restaurant, and a great-grandson of a farmer who cured hams for Giuseppe Verdi. And now he’s a hotelier, too, with a new inn in a medieval castle on his historic farm estate, Antica Corte. After a feast of salumi and divine eggy pastas, guests can collapse into a four-poster bed in one of the six rooms, with antique furniture, Oriental carpets on tiled floors, and rustic-chic designer bathrooms. Following a breakfast of flaky crostata tarts and farm-fresh yogurt in a vaulted chamber decorated with 15th-century frescoes, guests can amble by the farm’s heirloom geese and black Culatello pigs. The affordable room prices include a gift basket stuffed with a fine hunk of Parmesan, fruit, the estate’s own wine, and dusky, soft strolghino salami. T+L Tip Enroll in one of the Antica Corte’s pasta-rolling, liqueur-producing, or salumi-tasting sessions. Doubles from $185; dinner for two $86.
Netherlands: Librije’s Hotel, Zwolle
The Michelin three-starred De Librije restaurant is the best-known attraction in the handsome Hanseatic town of Zwolle, 65 miles east of Amsterdam. Recently, to accommodate the gastronauts traveling here from all over Europe, chef-owner Jonnie Boer and his wife, Thérèse, turned a former women’s prison into a design-centric 20-room hotel, cooking school, and casual restaurant complex. Behind the heavy cell doors of the 18th-century jailhouse, each room has a unique design with a name to match: Bubbles has a dramatic black-and-orange color scheme and a lavishly stocked champagne bar, while silver-hued Vanilla features a sauna. Indulgent breakfasts are built around handcrafted Dutch cheeses and sausages, and Boer’s mom’s pancake recipe. For dinner there’s the formal De Librije around the corner, or the hotel’s own one-starred dining room, decorated with Dolce & Gabbana fabrics and serving five-course themed tasting menus. T+L Tip The hotel can arrange a biking trip or a canal tour on its sloep. Doubles from $398; dinner for two $160.
Barcelona’s gourmands have long been crazy for the brilliant revisionist Catalán cooking of chef Xavier Pellicer. After 10 years at his original El Born address, the maestro moved his restaurant north to the leafy residential Sant Gervasi barrio, adding a chic 15-room hotel housed in the 19th-century mansion of a flamboyant socialite intellectual, and a striking new glassy pavilion by Catalán architect Antoni de Moragas. After a long day on the town, you’ll be grateful for the hotel’s relaxed vibe, its soothing garden, and its diminutive spa. The minimalist blond-wood guest rooms are outfitted with Treca de Paris beds, and spacious snow-white bathrooms are stocked with Hermès toiletries. At the sleek, light-filled restaurant, Pellicer’s perfectionist compositions—amazingly sweet Maresme peas accessorized with truffles and bacalao; a signature bamboo-steamed foie gras in a gingered chicken consommé—are framed by Versace plates. T+L Tip Save room for the most exciting cheese cart in Barcelona. Doubles from $286; dinner for two $266.
Germany: Alte Schule, Fürstenhagen
Great Value Formerly chef de cuisine at Berlin’s trendiest (and tastiest) restaurant, Vau, Florian Löffler traded urban bright lights for a rural retreat in the Feldberg Lake District. Two hours northeast of Berlin, the magical landscape—lakes, forests, sunflower fields—was part of the draw. Here, Löffler and his partner, Nadine Gala, converted an old red-brick school building into a temple of refined country cooking. The meals, served in the former classroom, reflect seasonal ingredients. Goat cheese made by a neighbor shows up in a bright, precise salad with an unexpected flourish of beet jelly and cumin caramel; local rabbit is folded into soft faggotini pasta—and for dessert there’s a pumpkin-seed parfait. Free of designer pretension, the 18 bedrooms upstairs are cozy and so inexpensive you’ll want to stay the week. T+L Tip Try one of the couples’ cooking classes or wild herb–picking expeditions. Doubles from $115; dinner for two $108.