After a luxurious Britanny Ferries’ overnight crossing in our cabin from Portsmouth to Caen, we stayed with friends en route before arriving early at Joigny, a charming  medieval town with half-timbered houses 100 miles south of Paris in northern Burgundy.

La Cote Saint Jacques overlooks Joigny’s majestic, slow-moving River Yonne and is close to the famous Chablis vineyards.  After checking into the upmarket Relais & Chateaux Hotel, we dropped off our luggage in the lovely suite with riverside balcony, and headed for the split-level spa [800 sq. metres].  Here, the Treatment Centre boasts a hammam, sauna, fitness centre, body and treatment rooms, where, amongst others, one can indulge in Ayurvedic massages, revitalising ‘Papaya Puree’ body scrubs, Balinese body treatments, using Cinq Mondes and Carita top brands. Unwinding after superb body massage and facial, we swam a few lengths in the upper-level indoor swimming pool before plunging into the adjacent effervescent giant circular Jacuzzi, where we secretly phantasized over a dinner to be prepared by Patron three Michelin-starred Grand-Chef, Jean-Michel Lorain. Life doesn’t get much better than this!”

Just 1½ hours from Paris and located at the gates of the Burgundy region, here is a “Destination Hotel” really worthy of the title.  One of the 26 best dining experiences in France¸ La Cote Saint Jacques is a Mecca for food-loving Parisians seeking a weekend’s escape from the city.  Once arrived, a wealth of attractions mean there is no need to step beyond the hotel’s enclaves. Lovely air-conditioned suites and spacious elegant terraces overlook the river.  Along with the Spa, Jacuzzi and large indoor swimming pool, there is fishing, boating or waterside dining for those inclined.  Specially designed entertainment programmes for children are on offer.  And, of course, cookery courses from Jean-Michel are a star draw.

The hotel, an assemblage of townhouses cleverly realigned into a de luxe hotel, is clustered above the banks of the picturesque river.  Here, in the wood-panelled dining room, Jean-Michel, when just 27, first garnered his famous Michelin Star triumph, the youngest Chef in France to achieve such an honour.  Visitors from all over the world are drawn to this prestigious Relais & Chateaux member, and in 2009, Jean-Michel won the coveted Prix Villegiature Award for Europe’s best hotel restaurant.

“White asparagus with warm vinaigrette” then, “mango and pineapple brochette with chilli” was our lunch in the restaurant of the calm, stone-coloured Spa.  Finally we had cracked that all time French paradox.  How come our Gallic cousins can indulge their gourmet lifestyles, yet stay so slim?  Conundrum solved as we both conserved our appetite for dinner, and enjoyed a delicious calorie-counted Menu.

In the wood-panelled library, we were offered a flame-thrower of a pre-dinner aperitif that was not only delicious but designed to loosen the tongues of any unsuspecting stiff upper-lipped Anglo-Saxon. Maceration Agrumes’ comprised:  Cognac, Grand Marnier, Campari and Domaine Michel Lorain’s cremant Burgundy. Gourmet themes abound, celebrity photos and a wallpaper of recipes by the bar; to descend to the dining room, we boarded a copper lift that was like a stepping into a giant kettle.  On offer for fine dining is Chestnut crème brulee, Ocean Terrine or the signature dish Bresse Chicken steamed in Champagne and cooked in pastry-sealed casseroles, the  choirboy’s pastry ruff served by the Dining Room Manager, Pascal Bondoux.  Throughout, the décor and colour schemes are inspired by the warm earthy tones of fruits and vegetables.

Says Jean-Michel Lorain, hotel patron who leads a team of 75 professionals, and, unlike many celebrity chefs, is always to be found in the kitchen: “For me, this is much more than a hotel.  It is the house where I grew up, my grandparents lived and where my father and mother opened the hotel.  I want guests to enjoy it as friends.”

[Reservations & Enquiries, telephone 0871 244 0744] The car ferry service operates from 10 ports in the Irish Republic, France and Spain. This summer, Brittany Ferries sails from Portsmouth to 3 appealing destinations in Normandy: incl. Caen, Cherbourg and, from May 16th, Le Havre.

La Cote Saint Jacques & Spa, 14 Faubourg de Paris, 89300 Joigny, France. Telephone: +33 (0)3 86 62 09 70 Wellbeing Readers as hotel guests, children under 12 staying in rooms are not not charged.  Playing area.  Pets welcomed. 3 Michelin-star restaurants.

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