Trundling down the Burgundian stretch of the Nationale 6 highway connecting France and Italy, any driver in the know will stop in the quiet village of Saulieu, population 2,473, where the Côte d’Or has been a French gastronomy destination for nearly a century.
Chef Alexandre Dumaine first earned three Michelin stars there in 1935 and, 40 years later, a 21-year-old Bernard Loiseau — rich in experience with top French chefs Guy Savoy and the Troisgros brothers — first donned his chef’s whites in the kitchens of the roadside restaurant. Under new owner Chef Claude Verger, Loiseau was eager to shine, and shine he would. He purchased the restaurant and inn from Verger in 1982, and, inspired by his oft-repeated mantra, “innovation in tradition,” Loiseau transformed the inn into a luxury hotel. In 1991, he achieved his lifelong goal: earning three Michelin stars.
Today, 20 years after his untimely death, his wife Dominique and daughters Bérangère and Blanche are ensuring that Bernard Loiseau’s legacy lives on, with changes afoot for both hotel and restaurant to make the property even more tantalizing for a new generation of guests.
The hotel has grown and evolved several times under the Loiseaus. These days, what was once a small inn is home to 34 rooms and suites, as well as several cozy lounge areas, including one with a billiards table and another where I spent a long, rainy afternoon reading by the fire. In a separate building, reachable by crossing through the botanical garden, is the state-of-the-art, 1,500-square-meter spa, built in 2017 and elected best spa in Europe by the European Hôtel Awards in 2018. Guests have full access to the spa during their stay, including the hammam, sauna and multi-sensorial spaces. A VIP suite at the top of the building even allows guests to sleep in the spa itself, with access to a private hammam, sauna and massage suite. Organic, French-made cosmetics are used in all treatments, including ones designed for kids, like a “super-hero” ritual or “enchanted” treatment. Indeed, the entire hotel seeks to be welcoming to families, with family suites, a playroom and babysitting services available.
The rooms themselves marry old world charm and contemporary comfort, with Burgundian terra cotta tiles and exposed oak beams highlighted by touches of gold, evoking the autumn leaves (and golden Chardonnay) of the surrounding Côte d’Or and Morvan Regional Natural Park. This year, under the watchful eye of Bérangère Loiseau and architect Arnaud Behzadi, they’re undergoing the early stages of a makeover. True to Bernard Loiseau’s philosophy, the more contemporary touches — like state-of-the-art temperature control systems — do not undermine the tradition of the space, which remains anchored in the natural beauty of the region.
Perhaps the most staggering aesthetic change is the addition of three new cocoon suites, with more to come. These suites feature king-sized beds encased in a nest of wicker and wood that are draped with pale linen for an even cozier feel. They are a true triumph, managing to marry extravagance and hominess in equal measure.
The hotel is luxurious, to be sure, but as most visitors would agree, one comes to Loiseau for the food. Today, the hotel is home to two different restaurants: the Loiseau des Sens bistro and the two-Michelin-starred La Côte d’or. The bistro, located in the same building as the spa, overlooks the garden and boasts upscale plays on both local peasant fare and French bistro classics. Oeufs en meurette sees perfectly poached eggs nestled in a Burgundian red wine sauce rendered rich with bacon. House-made terrine is paired with local blackcurrant and onion confit. A steak tartare begins with lightly smoked Charolais beef, hand-cut and mingled with Parmesan and pine nuts. The dessert cart from Pastry Chef Jacquin Xavier boasts seasonal delights that may include a creamy coconut and pineapple entremet or a local play on the hazelnut and choux pastry marvel that is the Paris-Brest.
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Chef Patrick Bertron has been at the helm of La Côte d’Or for the past 40 years. Here, guests can enjoy dishes inspired by both local terroir and Bertron’s native Brittany: crab with salicornia or langoustines served with fennel and mint evoke the latter, while the former is found everywhere from veal sweetbreads with seasonal local mushrooms to roast pigeon served with a blackcurrant jus. A few of Loiseau’s star dishes, including the frogs legs with parsley sauce and garlic cream that rendered him famous — and that daughter Bérangère claims earned him his third star — remain on the menu, largely unchanged.
The cheese cart is a testament to the rich tradition of French fromage, with mainly local selections supported by a handful that evoke Bernard and Dominique Loiseau’s origins: a fourme d’Ambert for his Auvergne, a Munster for her Alsace. Desserts from Xavier include several fruit-forward creations and the popular caramel Saint-Honoré for two, made to order.
The renovation of the hotel is still ongoing, with more cocoon suites and an upgrade of the stodgy but storied Alexandre Dumaine room to come. The kitchens of La Côte d’Or will also be entirely redone, though foodies need not worry: the bistro will play host to the full gastronomic experience in the interim.
If the changes thus far are any indication, the hotel will continue to be a delight and boast the ideal blend of innovation and tradition so sought-after by Loiseau.
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