Eugénie-les-Bains – A Fairy Tale Setting In Gascony
The renowned three-star chef, Michel Guérard and his wife Christine Guérard are the owners of luxury thermal resorts located in Eugénie-les-Bains and Barbotan-les-Thermes in Gascony. In celebration of our 30th Anniversary, we are pleased to offer French Heritage Society members participating in the Trip to Gascony the opportunity to discover a fairy tale setting with a two-night stay as part of our program.
Before settling in Eugénie-les-Bains, Guérard established his reputation as Meilleur Ouvrier de France Patisserie while working at Maxim's, Le Lido and the Hôtel de Crillon. He was awarded his first two stars in the Michelin Guide for his Paris restaurant Le Pot-au-Feu. In 1974, after marrying Christine Barthelemy, daughter of the founder of Biotherm products and owner of a chain of spas and hotels, he joined her in Eugénie-les-Bains. At the time she was running one of her family's smaller, lesser-known spas. They restored the buildings, and Guérard invented a new style of cooking, cuisine minceur®, a form of healthy cooking, designed to convince health-conscious Parisians to travel the 800 km to Eugénie.
In 1977 his main restaurant received three stars from Michelin. Since then, all his properties in Eugénie have been extraordinarily successful, transforming the tiny village into a privileged destination synonymous with the region's douceur de vivre. Dominique Flahaut de la Billarderie and Caroline Chobillon recently interviewed Madame Guérard at Eugénie-les-Bains.
On a late sunny August afternoon, an immaculately attired butler ushers us into the lush gardens surrounding the stately main house at Les Prés d'Eugénie. We glide into plush armchairs around an elegant teak table in these gorgeous gardens on the edge of Gascony. The air is soft and sweet with a gentle breeze that rustles the leaves of the plane trees like discreet wind chimes.
The conversation is punctuated by birds chirping in the distance. As the evening progresses, the warm glow of the setting sun envelops the grounds with a pervasive feeling of peace and serenity, a profound bien-être. Madame Guérard, who oversees every aspect of the Domain of Les Prés d'Eugénie and the recently opened Bastide Gasconne, shares with us her secrets on the art de recevoir in a French stately home. As we listen to her speak of her house as if it were a person with its own tastes, moods, and history, one understands why here, more than anywhere else, visitors feel the quintessential bien-être for which France is so renowned.
She explains, "l'art de recevoir, is first of all to share with others the joys of a house, its history, its character and not to jealously keep it to one's self. Everyone who enters here should be able to feel what this house can convey about those who have lived here, even about those we have never known but who have left their imprint on the place in a way that we cannot define but can most definitely feel."
For Madame Guérard the art de recevoir starts with the appropriate restoration of a house. A proper restoration takes time, a lot of time. It is necessary to let the house express itself and to listen to it. Before undertaking the restoration of the houses on the domain, Madame Guérard spent months observing the buildings in their natural setting. It is essential, she professes, "to receive guests well, first of all to listen to the house, follow the seasons, its orientation and once it has divulged certain secrets, where the light comes from, the prevailing winds, the rain, one better understands how to live here and how to orchestrate it for others."
"There are two things that unite the French people in any time: the respect for their roots and cuisine. For us in France, history is integrated in our everyday life. It is natural for us to try as much as we can to keep our home for future generations" she proudly states. When undertaking the restoration, these vital concerns come into play. "If you employ too many contemporary materials, the soul of the house dies. In order for the house to breathe, the windows and doors must open so that air circulates inside the house. "
As Madame Guérard continues, it is clear that she has given all of this much thought. "The house expresses the emotions of every one who enters it, but in order for this to occur, the house must be content to live in the present. This expression also occurs with the choice of beautiful antique furnishings and paintings, fabrics, original materials, whether they be floors or walls, fabrics either rustic or refined, linen or silk. A house can love all of this. These harmonies must allow the house to speak and express itself."
At the Guérards, the rooms are decorated with bouquets of natural flowers according to the seasons. In autumn, simple bouquets of foliage adorn the interior. At Christmas time, there are no exotic flowers, but rather natural conifer crowns and seasonal fruits on the pedestal tables. Happiness is a simple thing for Madame Guérard, found in everyday joys such as the appreciation of these bouquets.
Those who welcome the guests are also one of the most important keys to the success of receiving. "A house is like a ship and those who welcome are its crew. The crew has to work together in order to move forward." says Madame Guérard.
In a world where everything moves quickly, Les Prés d'Eugénie is an eloquent example of the cardinal virtue of patience. When speaking about French Heritage Society's 30th Anniversary, Madame Guérard congratulates us for taking more than two years to meticulously build our celebrations, "When we go too fast, we only skim the surface of things. Taking the time to build an event step by step confers a special dimension to it. In difficult and stressful times,
it is important to go back to what is essential, to simple joys." This is what the Guérards strive to offer to their guests at Eugénie-les-Bains and Barbotan-les-Thermes. "What we can provide to our guests," concludes Madame Guérard, "are moments of peace, serenity and douceur de vivre. People need that, especially these last couple of years."