When food cravings get the better of your fitness program, this is the place to combine both passions. Michel Guerard’s three-star restaurant rates among the best in France. A pioneer of cuisine minceur, his 500-calorie meals taste like 2,500. Matching the menu’s excellence are thermal baths and country-chic accommodations that give new meaning to taking the waters.
La Ferme Thermale at Les Pres d’Eugenie, as the thermal resort complex is known, includes two spa treatment buildings, three hotels, two restaurants, and a cooking school. Clustered on forty acres of parkland planted with an herb garden and shaded by magnolia, plane, and tulip trees, it’s in Eugenie-les-Bains, a Belle Epoque village that seems to be in a time warp. Each of Les Pres d’Eugenie’s hotels has a distinct look and mood, a result of antiques hunts through surrounding farms by Christine Guerard.
La Maison Rose is exclusively for guests who sign up for minceur meals and spa treatments. More modest than lodging at the Couvent des Herbes (a converted convent) or the main hotel, Les Pres d’Eugenie, the thirty-one-room Maison is a shuttered mansion, not a full-service hotel, so the price of accommodations is lower. By 9:00 a.m. spa-goers are up and about, clad in cheerful pink bathrobes and heading across the garden for their morning session. By noon, they will have been tub soaked, water massaged, steam bathed, and mud packed—a regimen designed to blast away cellulite, eliminate stress, and alleviate a host of other ailments.
The secret of this water therapy is in sulfur-ous springs that so enthralled Empress Eugenie that she convinced her husband, Napoleon III, to bulla a posh resort where her society friends could take the waters and be pampered in style. Cold drinking water flows from the Imperatrice spring; warm water used for external treatments and baths comes from “Christine Marie”—named after Madame Guerard. There is also a clay bath along with the latest in hydrotherapy, skin care, and antiaging programs.
Designed in the style of a provincial farmhouse, the thermal spa has a covered courtyard tiled in terra-cotta, where you sip a lemon-balm infusion while awaiting treatments. An herbal bath is activated with sprigs of lavender, chamomile, and hawthorn fresh from the garden. In a different version of aromatherapy, oils of lemon, orange, and grapefruit are added to the bath, plus a sachet for scrubbing, filled with rinds of the same fruit—all with thermal spring water that flows at a natural temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the standard cure at La Ferme lasts six days, with four to five daily treatments chosen from a menu of thirteen in consultation with a staff doctor, you can also opt for a single treatment or packages designed for relaxation. The spa complex has a beauty parlor, gymnasium, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, and bowling.
Located 75 miles northeast of Biarritz, this pastoral pleasure palace is for hedonists who relish good food and the art of the bath.
Accommodations: Seventy-four rooms and four suites with antique Turkish rugs, Louis XVI armoires, four-poster beds, and modern tiled bathrooms. The main hotel, Les Pres d’Eugenie, has rows of French doors opening to fanciful wrought-iron balconies. The eight-room Couvent des Herbes, a former convent, is most romantic. French-English colonial antiques, formal restaurant, and billiard room. La Ferme aux Grives, once a farmhouse, has four suites and country kitchen restaurant.
Meals: Cuisine minceur served at La Maison Rose, table-d’hote fixed menu: salmon en gelee with capers, eggs with caviar, carpaccio of duck, vegetable risotto, roast venison with spicy quince, crepes with lemon sauce or lemon verbena mock ice cream garnished with strawberries and raspberries. Gourmande meal (included in seven-day package) can begin with morsels of lobster in eggshell or grilled prawns, asparagus tips, osetra caviar, salmon escaloppes with a carrot mousse, ends with pear souffle.
Facilities: Thermal therapy pool with underwater whirlpool, Vichy shower, mud bath and mud packs, gym, sauna and steam room, beauty parlor, indoor and outdoor swimming pools.
Services & Special Programs: Dietetic drinking cure; weight management weeks; medical team for muscular, arthritis, and rheumatism treatments; massage; beauty parlor. Cooking school seminars.
Getting There: From Paris by car, Autoroute A-10 via Bordeaux, Le Muret exit (715 kilometers); by Air Inter to Pau; by train, TGV to Pau.
What’s Nearby: Lourdes, Biarritz (Atlantic beach resort. Hotel du Palais), Toulouse, Pyrenees mountains, Spain.