Wine, Dine, Recline
What's better than a magnificent four-course meal in a lovely European restaurant?How about a pillow and a nice warm bed?Here are some of our favorite places to spend the evening and the night. (Just don't call them B&B's.)
La Maison de Bricourt
One of the great conundrums of modern French cooking is Michelin's coconut-headed refusal to bump up Olivier Roellinger from two stars to three. For years Roellinger has been one of France's most visionary chefs, drawing on the exotic legacy of the serene corner of Brittany where his pristine restaurant, La Maison de Bricourt, nestles in the shadow of a church. During the 18th century, neighboring St.-Malo was the principal entry point for imported spices; today, spices turn up in almost all of Roellinger's dishes: a casserole of turbot with aniseed and dwarf fennel; steamed John Dory with an ornate, butter-rich fumet perfumed with cinnamon, cloves, caraway, and about 10 spices more. Minutes from Bricourt on a verdant cliff edge is Roellinger's six-room inn, Les Rimains, housed in a 1930's granite cottage-a little on the quaint side but still very inviting. The views of the Cancale oyster beds are heart-stopping, and Mont-St.-Michel is a lazy day-trip away. 1 Rue Duguesclin, Cancale; 33-2/99-89-64-76, fax 33-2/99-89-88-47; dinner for two $216; doubles at Les Rimains from $140.
Among vernacular French dishes, none triggers more contention than bouillabaisse (unless you're from the southwest, in which case you spend your life arguing about cassoulet). At Le Ruhl, pinned spectacularly to the rocks above Marseilles's ragged corniche, the authenticity of the bouillabaisse is guaranteed by the restaurant's owner: Alex Galligani helped draft the Charte de la Bouillabaisse Marseillaise, a none-too-serious charter stipulating exactly how the dish should be prepared. (For starters, it must contain at least four of the following: scorpion fish, weever, gurnard, John Dory, anglerfish, conger, and chapon. And it must be served in two parts-bouillon first, followed by the fish moistened with more bouillon.) With its ocean of blue tiles and naïve nautical theme, Le Ruhl has the nostalgic whiff of Marseilles in the forties. After dinner, it's a short climb to the 16 adequately comfortable guest rooms, most of which provide exhilarating views of the sea and offshore islands. Best of all, Marseilles—perhaps the greatest of Mediterranean port towns—is at your feet. 269 Corniche John-F.-Kennedy, Marseilles; 33-4/91-52-01-77, fax 33-4/91-52-49-82; bouillabaisse for two $75; doubles from $100.
Perhaps only a six-star chef is confident enough to recommend the competition. Alain Ducasse sends guests staying at his Bastide de Moustiers to Chez Bruno, the flagship restaurant-inn of Clément Bruno. "A road worker or hunter at my table is as important to me as a government minister," avers Bruno, "and I get all three." His elegantly homey restaurant is tucked in an 18th-century curate's house in the Provence backcountry, 80 miles from Antibes. Bruno's specialty is his truffle menu: tagliatelle and lobster tossed in truffle-and-cèpe cream; a whole truffle encased with foie gras and smoked lardons in puff pastry; pheasant, cabbage, and chestnuts stewed in truffle-scented stock; even truffle-and-vanilla ice cream. The last thing you want to do after a dinner like that is take to the road. Luckily, a rehabilitated farm building on the property holds three stylish and seductive guest rooms. Rte. de Vidauban, Lorgues; 33-4/94-85-93-93, fax 33-4/94-85-93-98; dinner for two $100; doubles from $75.
Jean-Pierre Michel is that rare holdout: a Provençal chef who refuses to dumb down the regional cuisine to snag passing tourists. His are the true, bright, and lusty flavors of the Midi, served up in an enchanting garden and a vaulted dining room of luminous, flan-colored stone. At La Regalido, which was once an olive mill, Michel prepares an "all olive-oil menu" that might go something like this: tapenade, crêpe-like omelette, red mullet with baby vegetables, fresh pasta with basil sauce, salad. Even the glaze on the apple tart has olive oil. A palette of world-class oils is drawn from the mills here in Fontvieille, a grassroots village seven miles from Arles and its ravishing Roman arena. La Regalido has 13 well-appointed guest rooms and two apartments; ask for one with a private terrace and a view of the lunar Alpilles Mountains. Rue Frédéric-Mistral, Fontvieille; 33-4/90-54-60-22, fax 33-4/90-54-64-29; dinner for two $100; doubles from $80.
As more and more of the Côte d'Azur falls to the vulgarians, Les Muscadins remains an oasis of civility: Porthault table linens, palm trees fanning a dining terrace with glittering views of the Bay of Cannes, kiss-me red roses against arched walls of immaculate whitewashed stucco. Chef Noël Mantel, an alumnus of Alain Ducasse's Louis XV in Monte Carlo, never puts his ego before his ingredients-as demonstrated by his signature dish, lobster ravioli in shellfish jus. Les Muscadins' seven attractive guest rooms and one suite are decorated with antiques and crisp, colorful fabrics. The hotel-restaurant is located at the "good" end of Mougins—the end that doesn't look like a stage set. 18 Blvd. Courteline, Mougins; 33-4/92-28-28-28, fax 33-4/92-92-88-23; dinner for two $80; doubles from $125.
Aspiring Spanish home cooks swoon at the mere mention of chef Karlos Arguiñano-imagine a Basque Emeril Lagasse. Arguiñano's restaurant, along with 12 smallish guest rooms, is housed in a summer villa with ocean views in the nostalgic resort village of Zarautz, just west of San Sebastián. Crowds flock here for the Basque delicacies, such as bacalao, hake cheeks in parsley sauce, partridge escabeche, and Spanish foie gras with a sherry-vinegar sauce. Can't choose among the noble Riojas and Dueros on the ambitious wine list?Drink Txacoli, the region's greenish, fizzy white. Request a room facing the expansive white-sand beach. 13 Calle Mendilaunta, Zarautz; 34-943/130-000, fax 34-943/133-450; dinner for two $96; doubles from $90.
—Anya von Bremzen
Amid the soaring peaks and haunting Romanesque chapels of the Catalan Pyrenees, Irene España turned her family's modest cantina into one of Spain's gastronomic meccas, frequented by the Spanish royals who ski nearby. Chef Andre Vidal-España's son-combines earthy Catalan flavors (stuffed pig's feet in mustard sauce, roast mountain lamb with white beans) with nueva cocina conceits (sweetbread sauté with river-crab and cilantro sauce). Indulge in one of España's famous homemade liqueurs before retiring to a plain but cheerful room at her family's adjacent hotel, the Valartiés. 3 Calle Mayor, Artiés, Lérida; 34-973/644-364, fax 34-973/642-174; dinner for two $66; doubles at hotel from $53.
Unforgettable tortellini in brodo and pumpkin-stuffed tortelloni are among the grandmotherly treats offered at Paola Bini's 200-year-old farm, on the edge of a small lake in the province of Emilia-Romagna—just a short drive from Bologna's medieval arcaded streets and from the elegant center of Modena. Prepare for a three-hour meal: the menu usually includes an antipasto of pickles and local salumi (cured meats) with brick-oven breads; a trio of eggy pastas; perhaps a roast rabbit scented with herbs from Bini's organic farm; and exquisite zabaglione. After dinner, saunter over to one of the suites scattered around the grounds-all whitewashed walls, exposed beams, terra-cotta, and country antiques. 18 Via Gaidello, Modena; 39-059/926-806, fax 39-059/926-620; dinner for two $84; doubles from $112.
On a cypress-lined road slashing through olive groves and vineyards, 30 miles from Siena, is a 14th-century walled complex converted into a refined 17-room inn. The renowned restaurant, housed in the former stables, retains the medieval vaulting and rough-hewn stone walls. Chef Walter Redailli's food might seem almost too haute for a setting so cunningly rustic. But stick with his regional inspirations—say, a spelt and chickpea soup; straccetti with artichokes bathed in a fragrant olio del podere; or the toothsome bisteca fiorentina—and you'll go to bed purring in guest rooms decorated with antique furnishings and prints. LocalitÀ Amorosa, Sinalunga; 39-0577/679-497, fax 39-0577/632-001; dinner for two $100; doubles from $212.
Auberge du Raisin
Only the Swiss could confect from an old inn something so atmospheric and inviting as this Relais & Châteaux property in the wine-making village of Cully, on Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Montreux. A well-heeled international clientele flocks here for chef Adolfo Blokbergen's equally classy food: crustacean cakes in a light minestrone sauce, sweetbread mille-feuille with the season's first vegetables. Ask the sommelier to pour a white from Lavaux, and you're in for a revelation. The seven dainty guest rooms and three suites are done up with all the Relais & Châteaux trappings, with fresh flowers, plush furniture, and soft linens. 1 Place de l'Hôtel de Ville, Cully, Vaud; 41-21/799-2131, fax 41-21/799-2501; dinner for two $240; doubles from $175.
Bucolic Danube vistas, hillsides dotted with abbeys and castles, and some of Europe's best unsung white wines are reason enough to fall in love with Austria's Wachau valley, 90 minutes by car from Vienna. Even more seductive is the delicately flavored Austro-Italian food served at Liesl Wagner-Bacher's restaurant: zander (pike perch) with cabbage lasagne in a Riesling sauce; rabbit brochettes accompanied by oversize zucchini ravioli; an ethereal poppy-seed soufflé. Liesl's husband, Klaus, has assembled a wine list of treasures from small nearby producers (try the 1990 Tiefenthal Auslese Riesling). Eleven rooms at the adjacent hotel-blond wood, floral bedspreads-put the same modern spin on gemütlichkeit as does the snug, bright, and boxy restaurant. Liesl also offers three-day cooking classes; upcoming dates are June 16 to 18 and July 28 to 30. 2 Südtirolerplatz, Mautern; 43-2732/85429, fax 43-2732/74337; dinner for two $140; doubles from $125.
Germany is full of little Gasthöfe, country inns offering good beer and sausages for townsfolk and travelers alike. But when Hans Stefan Steinheuer inherited his family's inn—19 miles from Bonn in the village of Bad Heppingen, at the heart of Germany's red-wine region—he knew he could do something different. Fifteen years later, he is recognized as one of Germany's best young chefs, constantly perfecting a high-flying French menu for the formal "gourmet salon" while reinventing traditional fare (blutwurst, venison, calf's head) for the rustic casual dining room. The dormered windows of the small guesthouse, Zur Alten Post, overflow with flowers; upstairs there are six surprisingly modern, stylish rooms, with sleek black chairs, parabola-shaped tables, and space-age bathrooms. 110 Landskronerstrasse, Bad Neuenahr-Heppingen; 49-2641/7011, fax 49-2641/7013; dinner for two $150; doubles from $135.
Flohr's Restaurant & Hotel
Georg Flohr met his wife, Kristin, while both were working for the renowned Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn. In 1990 they refurbished his family's old inn on Lake Constance, where Georg's cooking has since earned a Michelin star and three Gault Millau toques. This region is Germany's fruit basket—Flohr's desserts include a gratin of golden delicious apples with walnut and honey ice cream-while the bounty of the lake and nearby forest can be found in, say, a pot-au-feu of quail, or a grilled monkfish. Georg steps into the garden for his herbs. Five years ago the couple added six individually decorated guest rooms in a sunlit, green-shuttered annex. 11 Brunnenstrasse, Überlingen am Ried; 49-7731/93230, fax 49-7731/932-323; dinner for two $122; doubles from $125.
Chef Utz Ueberscher cooked all over the world before finding this tiny 15th-century inn seven years ago. Alte Pfarrey (old vicarage) sits in the village of Neuleiningen in Germany's Palatinate region, where the hills are ribboned with grapevines, and acres of prized white asparagus proliferate in springtime. Utz's sophisticated cuisine is grounded in the area's rich fields and forests—goose-liver terrine; ragoût of sweetbreads; freshwater crab with asparagus; lamb in a potato crust. The wine cellar, maintained by Utz's daughter Anette, holds more than 200 labels, most from local vineyards. The dining room is full of antiques, as are the nine guest rooms. Outside is a cobblestoned dining terrace shaded by walnut trees. 54 Untergasse, Neuleiningen; 49-6359/86066, fax 49-6359/86060; dinner for two $145; doubles from $100.