The horizontal rain reduced everything in the wintery landscape to a grey blur as we swept into Saulieu, the windscreen wipers of our hire car ineffectually battling against the elements.

This small French town situated just a few hours from Grenoble, seemed fairly unremarkable – but in the distance we could see the dim lights of the place we were searching for... the revered gastronomic hotel and spa Bernard Loiseau. Its reputation had led us from Oxford to Birmingham Airport to Lyon, in search of this holy grail of food, wine and relaxation.

Its quaint reception, led onto some typically French rooms, which which were charming, but so far no evidence of its epicurean heart. I wondered with a hammering heart if the Bernard Loiseau empire had sunk inexorably along with their famous founder?

But as the liveried staff led us to our room, an eclectic mix of old and new, the state-of-the-art neon bathroom framed by the upstairs mezzanine level bedroom, and the whispers of excitement began.

It was already late, so dressing for dinner we made our way downstairs where the curtain went up and the theatrics began on an epic journey I will never forget.

Met by Eric in old-fashioned tails, he asked if we would like a glass of wine before we started and led us to the Oenoteca, a Charlie And The Chocolate Factory style contraption housing an incredible collection of wine. It later transpired that Eric Rousseau had won sommelier of the year on numerous occasions.

At the entrance of the restaurant, there stood the entire waiting staff in line. I'm not sure this was because we were press visitors but no one does service like the French. They view it as an homage, and it changes everything, urging you to feel the same reverence and to savour every moment.

Restaurant manager Pascal Abernot led us along their ranks through the airy dining room and to the kitchen preparing for service. Head chef Patrick Bertron greeted us warmly, his neat, clean, compact appearance and discerning eyes behind steel rimmed glasses, fooled no one. We were in the presence of greatness.

Beckoning us over to a table laid in the corner of the kitchen, champagne awaited and we sat and watched in awe as the chefs returned to work.

After some memorable amuse bouche, we were then led back to the dining room where one of the most delectable meals I can remember played out around us. A sommelier chose wine for each of the seven dishes, matched perfectly with local wines where possible. But then Bernard Loiseau’s world famous restaurant does boast two Michelin stars and is working on clawing back its third.

Loiseau was the revered French chef who shot himself when it was rumoured he would lose his third Michelin star: his beloved hotels, Saulieu in particular, have since been run by his widow Dominique and their children.

They are doing a sterling job, our stay seamless, the delights hidden within the unassuming hotel absolute. Its Villa Loiseau des Sens spa, which opened in 2017, defies belief. It’s huge, with endless different zones and experiences, pools, saunas, wet rooms, dry rooms, and even it's own immaculate restaurant and chefs, as well as an in-house product line. Classy, calm and contemporary, there we unwound on Saturday; the pressures of daily life a distant memory as we sat in the outdoor hot tub overlooking the hotel garden, swam in the pool and were massaged to within an inch of our lives.

Before dinner that night Eric took us into the depths of the hotel, leading us along stone corridors, our voices bouncing off each other, until finally he opened a large metal door like a dungeon and led us into a cavern. And there, resplendent, was the hotel wine collection. Stretching as far as the eye could see was bottle after bottle of precious wine. He explained the history and vintages, his favourites... and let us hold them.

And then off to dinner, for one more night under the magic of Patrick and his team, whose dishes wowed us all over again.

We were the last people to leave, eking out every last minute, unwilling to break the spell of Bernard Loiseau's wonderful legacy.

As the great man himself used to say: “Vive la cuisine.”


Prices: rooms start at 99 euros; menus at the gastronomic restaurant start at 75 euros; menus at the Loiseau des Sens restaurant start at 32 euros; spa treatments start at 40 euros. Full-stay packages start at 399 euros for two.

The Group Bernard Loiseau is: one Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris Loiseau Rive Gauche; one Michelin-starred restaurant in Beaune Loiseau des Vignes; one Michelin-starred restaurant in Dijon Loiseau des Ducs and its wine bar La Part des Anges; the historical property Le Relais Bernard Loiseau and the Villa Loiseau des Sens which opened Summer 2017.