La Borde Maison d'Hotes, Leugny, Burgundy, France, July 2014.
The inclination to keep La Borde Maison d’Hotes a secret is worryingly strong (only-child syndrome coming out in me perhaps?!). With just five suites, and already a loyal rota of repeat guests, a part of me wants to keep this luxury guesthouse in Burgundy all to myself. Breathtakingly beautiful – even the horse and chicken coop were impossibly photogenic - everything about our stay at La Borde was, quite simply, perfect. Well, except for the weather. I seem to have awfully bad luck when it comes to weather, and our mid-July stay in France – when hot, sunny weather is almost a certainty – was no exception. Unseasonably cold, rainy and grey, thoughts of lazing in the late afternoon sun by the pool were quickly replaced with strolls in the misty rain and warming ourselves in front of the enormous, roaring log fire – all of which turned out to be wonderfully romantic and, it has to be said, surreal. Huddled in sweaters, we wandered the dreamy grounds of La Borde, inhaling the heady scent of wood smoke mingled with the heavenly fragrance of the gardens in full mid-summer bloom. Rosemary! Lavender! Roses! Cyprus! Lime! It was a unique sensory smorgasbord.
Located just outside the small village of Leugny in the pretty Northern Burgundian countryside, La Borde is an easy 2-hour drive from central Paris (and a fraction of that if you arrive by helicopter on the estate’s helipad). The original La Borde chateau - a moated fort - was built in the 14th century (only a small section of which remains today) while the current chateau, with its Repunzal-like towers, was constructed in the 16th century. Our hosts, the gracious Dutch husband and wife team Marieke and Rik Klomp, have carried out an extensive and exquisite renovation of La Borde transforming it into a luxurious, 17-acre destination retreat in northern Burgundy.
Deeply thoughtful, Marieke and Rik are the kind of hosts every boutique guesthouse
must have. Having travelled extensively themselves, they offer guests the same discerning
level of service that they expect when they travel. From the warm welcome on
arrival (luggage is seamlessly whisked away by golf buggy) and offer of afternoon
refreshments, to a clutch of wellies lined up for guests to use when the
weather is wet (Rik offered them to me numerous times when he saw me clomping
about in my sneakers in the rain!), to arranging private wine tastings, cellar
visits and restaurant reservations, Marieke and Rik go out of their way to
ensure guests are taken care of. As
Marieke explains over drinks in front of the fire one evening “We really like to make our guests feel
special”. And they thoroughly
While the exterior of La Borde might date back to the Middle Ages, the interiors are firmly in the 21st century. No creaky floorboards, drafty rooms or cluttered, fusty furnishings. Instead, the large wood-beamed guest rooms and public areas are blissfully serene with plush fabrics (velvet, heavy linen, thick cotton and printed silk), vases of fresh cut flowers and elegant antiques. Handmade Schramm beds (super-sized and exceptionally comfortable) dominate the refined bedrooms while the bathrooms – each with a stand-alone tub (large enough for a proper, full-body soak) and separate walk-in shower - are stocked with L’Occitane products, thick white towels and soft bathrobes. Technology has not been forgotten for those whose stress levels start to rise at the thought of no internet connectivity (that would be me!). Each suite is discretely equipped with high-speed wifi, large Loewe television, a sleek Nespresso machine and well-stocked minibar hidden in a handsome, freestanding cabinet.
And if the interiors of La Borde are beautiful, the grounds are simply exquisite. The moment we drove through the front gates, it became obvious why La Borde has been awarded the Jardin Remarquable by the French ministry. From the stone walls veiled in masses of brightly coloured roses, to the avenue of majestic, fragrant lime trees which link the chateau with the distant woods and stream, to the vegetable garden which would have any keen cook salivating (and any struggling market gardener weeping in envy!), it is difficult to express just how glorious the estate really is.
So, I won’t try. You must experience La Borde for yourself. As we reluctantly departed, I pronounced that there is absolutely nothing I would change about La Borde…well, except perhaps for the weather ;-)
Eat + Drink:
As you would expect, the meals at La Borde are superb. Fresh fruit, vegetables and aromatic herbs are picked straight from the garden while other local produce is sourced from the weekly Saturday morning market in Toucy. And those lucky hens, with their own mini “chicken chateau”, supply fresh golden-yoked eggs for breakfast.
Served until a very civilised hour (apparently the chickens keep their own relaxed schedule and have a tendency to lay late anyway!), breakfast is a buffet affair with freshly squeezed juice, fruit salad and thick, local yogurt (drizzle with honey from La Borde’s resident bees), thinly sliced regional ham and cheese, crusty baguettes with French butter and delicious homemade jams, and a selection of warm, buttery mini viennoiserie. And of course eggs cooked to order. Try the soft-boiled option: they are served with sweet little knitted hats which Marieke says are a hit with both littlies and adults alike.
Dinners at La Borde are as sociable or intimate as you like. Rik remarks that guests will often begin their stay dining separately but within a night or two, as friendships are forged over bottles of wine from his staggeringly good cellar, tables are joined together for communal dining. Dishes range from delicious tiny, poufy gougère (a speciality of the region), silky home-cured gravlax and garlicky escargot, to local duck encrusted in smoky-sweet Espelette pepper served with creamy potato dauphinoise, and sautéed courgette. Don’t miss the cheese course nor Marieke’s velvety chocolate pudding (we took ours in front of the fire with a bottle of 2007 Thierry Richoux Irancy from Rik’s outstanding wine list).
Should you wish to venture outside of La Borde for meals, Marieke has prepared an extremely helpful guide to local restaurants, including opening days and times.
Au fil du zinc, Chablis. If there is one place you should eat in the Yonne (other than La Borde) it is this restaurant. Very new, with a young but experienced team, it is very, very good. Japanese chef Ryo Nagahama (who has worked under Joel Robuchon and Yannick Alleno) along with his pastry chef wife Vanessa and their friend, sommelier Fabien Espana, are well on their way to establishing a restaurant worth travelling for. On a rainy weekday visit, the restaurant was almost full (including a table of 20 winemakers) and I think the greatest compliment to chef Nagahama (apart from the steady parade of empty plates being carried back to the kitchen), was that paid by an elderly French couple sitting at the table next to us. After their meal and paying the bill, they asked to see chef and proceeded to compliment him profusely on his cooking. Traditional French food re-invented (but not too reinvented it is impossible to recognise!) at a very reasonable price (30€ for 3 courses).
Le Bougainville, Vezelay. Lovely, simple French food in the pretty village of Vezelay. Stop at Le Bougainville for lunch before making the trek up the cobbled street to the magnificent Abbey of la Madaleine.
Saturday morning market, Toucy. Stalls are brimming with cheese, charcuterie (including a stall dedicated to boudin noir), seafood, seasonal fruit and vegetables. We purchased a hot rotisserie chicken (I, the carb-lover, desperately wanted some of the potatoes soaking up the juices in the rotisserie but sadly they were not yet ready), a tranche of salted butter and a slab of the best artisan bread I have tasted in France (on a par with pain des amis from Du Pain et Des Idées in Paris) and drove a little way for a picnic next to a field of sunflowers.
The Yonne is a part of Burgundy which feels largely undiscovered. And I am not sure why as it is has some of the most beautiful villages I have seen in France (and we saw them in the least flattering weather!), a premier wine region (Chablis), and wonderful chateau all within a 2 hour drive of Paris.
If you can manage to drag yourself away from La Borde’s heated pool and wellness centre (or tennis court and high-tech gym for the fitness conscious), I can recommend a visit to Chateau de Ratilly (a lovely chateau now an artistic venue for potters and painters. In summer concerts are also held on the lawn), Vezelay, Chateau de Chastellux (we just wandered around the grounds but there are also guided tours at set times during the day), Auxerre, and Noyers-Sur-Serein (try the pour-over coffee and a stroopwafel at La Porte Peinte art gallery and shop).
We were hosted by La Borde maison d'hotes during our stay in Burgundy.