Here are six slightly obscure French destinations with a surprising number of gastronomic restaurants.
Alsaciens exact high standards – in the kitchen as elsewhere. Olivier Nasti meets them to two-star Michelin level at the grand Chambard hotel. Thus is Kaysersberg becoming the pint-size culinary hotspot of this outstanding region. Alongside the posh dining (lechambard.fr, £160 for a full tasting menu), Nasti has a winstub brasserie operation doing Alsace specialities (choucroute, baeckeoffe, foie gras) with panache. And alongside both are other standout restaurants. Don’t miss the family-run Vieille Forge (vieilleforge-kb.com, menus from £27) or Jérôme Jaegle’s L’Alchémille (lalchemille.fr, menus from £28).
Stay at: The Chambard, which is also a four-star hotel, in 18th-century surroundings, room-only doubles from around £170.
First time I crossed the causeway to Noirmoutier, someone had just stolen all the CDs from my car. So it was without Tina Turner that I arrived on the island off the Vendée coast. The compensations were almost adequate. Head first for La Marine on the port at the L’Herbaudière, the isle’s western tip. Alexandre Couillon’s modern way with fish has winched it to two Michelin star status (alexandrecouillon.com, nine-course menu costs £154). Nearby, Le Grand Four has been surging ahead since Henrick Garriga and José Roche took it over a couple of years ago (legrandfour.com, £29). And the Fleur de Sel remains the island’s classic address (fleurdesel.fr, £26).
Stay at: The Fleur de Sel: doubles from around £100 b&b.
I’d finished the fish soup, they brought me the homard and I said: “The world is my lobster.” I’d waited long for the right place in which to echo Arthur Daley. Cancale is that place. Near St Malo, it’s hemmed with some of France’s finest oyster beds. And it has as much terrific eating as any Breton needs. Olivier Roellinger led the town to prominence with his Michelin three-star Relais Gourmand. He’s shut it now, for the simpler life at Le Coquillage (within the Château Richeux; maisons-de-bricourt.com, £62). Not far away, at St Mélior-des-Ondes, the Maison Tirel-Guérin is reliability in restaurant form (tirel-guerin.com, around £40pp). Meanwhile, Franco-Japanese Raphaël-Fumio Kudaka runs a top-class eatery above the Breizh Café créperie on the Cancale waterfront (breizhcafe.com, from £65 for a set menu).
Stay at: The old-fashioned Tirel-Guérin, room-only doubles from around £105.
The château of Blois – in the Loire valley – offers a brilliant trot through a fine slice of French royal history. The nocturnal son-et-lumière is less riveting. I’d have been better lingering over dinner, especially as Blois is becoming a regal cuisine centre. Assa is so in the vibe of Franco-Japanese fusion that Fumiko and Anthony Maubert bagged a Michelin star a couple of years back (assarestaurant.com, £48). The elegant Orangerie-du-Château is another fine option (orangerie-du-chateau.fr, £36) while, on the banks of the Loire, there is La Creusille (lacreusille.fr, £34).
Stay at: The best value hotel in town: the Loire-side Auberge-Ligerienne-Côté-Loire (coteloire.com, room-only doubles from around £60).
5. St Bonnet-le-Froid
Régis Marcon has been called “the pope of the green lentil”. He’s also hot with mushrooms. Both abound in his southern Auvergne mountain redoubt, and have helped rocket his restaurant – Régis Et Jacques Marcon – to Michelin three-star status (regismarcon.fr, £138). As remarkable as the lentils, and Marcon’s national eminence, is the village itself: alongside the three-star showpiece, there are at least three other worthy eateries across the magnificent uplands. The Marcons have their own, cheaper bistro, La Coulemelle (£33); the Fort-du-Pré is a magnificent farmhouse hotel and restaurant (le-fort-du-pre.fr, £27); the Auberge des Myrtilles has the best blueberry tart you ever tasted (aubergedesmyrtilles.fr, £19).
Stay at: The Marcons have the three-star Clos-des-Cîmes hotel – room-only doubles from around £150 – to complement their four-star Hotel Régis-et-Jacques Marcon, doubles from £320.
Burgundians are a prosperous people living on a prosperous land. Head directly to Dijon, Beaune – or, these days, Tournus on the Saône river. Bristling with Michelin stars, it’s the tastiest place to be, notably if you have a booking at Jean-Michel Carrette’s Aux Terrasses. Carrette is the world’s greatest fan of pâté-en-croûte (“pork pie”). “It represents the values of friendship and sharing,” he says, thus obviously deserving his star (aux-terrasses.com, £56). The grand Restaurant Greuze was a long-time Burgundy standout, and is now starred again, under Yohann Chapuis (restaurant-greuze.fr, £37). Nearby, Valéry Meulien provides the creative spark at Restaurant Meulien (meulien.com, £48) while Le Rempart boasts a gastronomic restaurant and a patio brasserie (lerempart.com).
Stay at: The Hotel aux Terrasses, room-only doubles from around £70.