Sunday, 19 July 2015

Favourite hotels: French bliss by the river

                                      Number 10 in an occasional series on special hotels
It would be easy to drive straight past the Auberge de la Rivière in Velluire.  Uniess you’re already aware that the chef has earned a Bib Gourmand in the red Michelin Guide – or are sufficiently curious to pull up and peer over the parapet of the bridge as you traverse this unassuming Vendée village – there’s nothing to suggest the hotel is anything out of the ordinary.  Don’t be put off. Turn off the main road and follows the signs down to the riverside where the charm of the Auberge becomes instantly apparent.  It’s the kind of hotel you are more likely to find in the depths of the French countryside than anywhere else in Europe: walls cloaked in Virginia creeper; a sparkling little reception area; early arrivers enjoying drinks under parasols, by the sluggish Vendée River. 

If you’re going in summer, try to book a ground floor room looking out on the riverbank. You have direct access to a small patio area outside, with table and chairs – and if you feel energetic enough you may borrow the hotel dinghy, which is moored a new feet away.

There’s plenty to see on the doorstep. We spend two hot July days exploring the canals of the nearby Marais Poitevin and the Abbeys whose medieval monks first drained and managed this fascinating area of marshland.

Abbey St Vincent at Nieul-sur-l'Autise
In the evenings we  freshen up in the smartly renovated bathroom, with its rain and hand held shower heads, and relax outside our room, using the free wi fi before heading for dinner at the water’s edge. And what a dinner: chef Fabrice Riefolo, who runs the Auberge with his partner Lucie, offers prix fixe menus from €30 to €58.

On two evenings we take the middle way and plump for the €40 “Menu Sensation”. And sensation it certainly is (which is why we chose it twice). A little mise en bouche of gazpacho with a crisp pastry stick, a starter of crayfish, crab, mascarpone herbs and spiced courgettes, sandre (pike-perch) with mogettes – beans which are regional speciality -  slow cooked veal with a port reduction, accompanied by parmesan crumble, carrots cooked in garam masala, a hot and cold strawberry creation with a little chocolate for dessert – and even a tiny, pistachio topped crème brûlee as and encore. As we dine, geese and a lone swan glide serenely to and fro noon the placid water. An excellent buffet breakfast may also be taken on he riverbank in fine weather. It’s not often I have been so captivated by a hotel.

Dinner b&b at the Auberge costs around £150 for two, including a dinner of the kind described above but before accounting for drinks. 

No comments: