Despite the threat of terrorism, travel in Europe remains for me a perennial pleasure. This year I found time for trips to Brittany, Burgundy and Bordeaux, plus memorable two-week driving itineraries in Galicia and Switzerland. Several discoveries are now high on my list of all-time favorites.
La Grande Maison de Bernard Magrez offers a taste of the Bordeaux lifestyle, as lived by its great winemakers, including owner Bernard Magrez. From the black-and-white marble floor in the entrance hall to the stairway with a hand-forged wrought iron balustrade, this six-room hotel has a patina of aristocratic luxury. Décors feature sumptuous fabrics by Pierre Frey and Braquenié and furniture by Moissonnier. Chef Pierre Gagnaire, who has three Michelin stars in Paris, oversees the kitchen of the elegant dining room, and the parklike setting provides a wonderful respite from the big city beyond.
At this 17th-century granite mansion, the air smells bracingly briny, and the cries of the gulls in Roscoff harbor bring the Atlantic right into your bedroom. The port is just across the street from the 23-room Hôtel Brittany, and the superb restaurant, run by chef Loic Le Bail, is supplied daily by local fishermen dropping off just-landed fish, shrimp and oysters. There are beautiful views over the harbor from the dining room, too, as well as a cozy bar with a woodburning fireplace, ideal for a nightcap of Glen Breton whisky on a night when the fog rolls in. There is also a small spa with an indoor saltwater pool and two treatment rooms.
Certain properties seem the very definition of a luxury hideaway, and La Borde is one of them. Located in the heart of pastoral Burgundy, 45 minutes from Chablis, this five-room retreat dates back to the 16th century. More recently it served as the vacation home of Rik and Marieke Klomp, who converted it into an upscale inn. Our Junior Suite came with ancient wooden beams, original terra-cotta-tile floors and a woodburning fireplace. The heated pool faces timeless Burgundian countryside. There’s also a full spa and fitness center, an airy lounge in a converted carriage house and a restaurant serving delicious meals prepared by Marieke herself. This ingeniously renovated historic complex stands amid 17 acres of flower gardens and topiary. La Borde exemplifies what a French country hideaway should be. Best of all, the Klomps have a true instinct for hospitality, and we felt like their honored guests.
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
After a day in teeming Santiago de Compostela, the sound of the rushing waters of the river Sar is deeply refreshing. The enchanting 51-room A Quinta da Auga, created from an 18th-century former stone paper mill, lies just outside the famous cathedral city. The hospitality at this family-owned property is warm, spontaneous and personal, right down to the fact that their outstanding collection of 19th- and 20th-century oil paintings is displayed in the public rooms and hallways. Every room is individually decorated in a traditional Spanish style, with antiques, potted plants and fresh flowers. Though it comes with an excellent spa, an indoor pool, a bar and a very good restaurant, the intimacy of this hotel often makes you feel more like a guest at someone’s charming country house.
Located in the tranquil and unspoiled Lower Engadine valley, 40 miles and a world away from glitzy St. Moritz, the Schlosshotel Chastè is almost the definition of a hideaway. Set within a 500-year-old building that has been owned by the Pazeller family for 21 generations, it stands at the foot of the dramatic 11th-century Tarasp Castle, surrounded by the absurdly pretty village of Sparsels. The public areas are wonderfully atmospheric, while the rooms are the embodiment of Alpine charm with wood-paneled walls and thick down duvets. The traditional food is impeccably prepared and supported by an impressive list of surprisingly excellent Swiss wines, including Pinot Noirs from the surrounding canton of Graubünden. The Schlosshotel Chastè is an exceptionally hospitable family-run inn, with a tremendous sense of place.
In contrast to Switzerland’s many Belle Epoque lakefront hotels, the art nouveau Villa Honegg is set on a mountainside 3,000 feet above Lake Lucerne. The views from the wide restaurant terrace are stupendous, and it is a joy just to sit with a glass of wine watching the ferries far below or gazing at the distant peaks of the Saint-Gotthard Massif. Generally, your reverie is interrupted only by the sound of cowbells. The comfortable and civilized interior, with its log fires and deep sofas, is ideal for a long novel or a game of chess. And in the stylish dining room, friendly and obliging staff serve consistently delicious cuisine. The 23 accommodations are comfortable and well-appointed with spacious modern baths. Aside from a striking indoor pool, the Villa Honegg has a remarkable outdoor horizon pool, heated to 95 degrees year-round. This is a distinctive and unusual property that is unlike any other of my Swiss recommendations.