HÔTELLERIE BEAU RIVAGE
Despite numerous reports to the contrary, I am not Superman. When I motor down to the French Riviera in the Silver Cloud, I need to stop at least twice on the way. I have, of course, met those – usually they are drivers of Ferraris, or of other brightly-coloured Italian cars (in which the occupants are obliged to lie almost flat and suffer a level of engine noise which I would find horrifying) – who like to talk about their wonderful, two-hundred miles an hour thrashings from the North to the South of Europe. But such idiocy is not for me, and it is certainly not for the Royce. Neither of us is capable of it and neither of us would want it. We proceed at the sort of leisurely pace which makes the lips of the ‘boy’-racers curl. I prefer comfort to speed, and I like to look forward to my stopovers – and small wonder, when they are as good as the Hôtellerie Beau Rivage in Condrieu. Indeed, I find my charitable soul filling up with pity for those who speed past on the A7 Autoroute and do not turn off and stop for a night of rest and good cheer at this former fisherman’s house by the River Rhone.
You will know the name of Condrieu. It is given to the local white wine, one of the most highly regarded in France. This elegant beverage is made from the viognier grapes which grow on the hills above the town. These vineyards are so steep that it is necessary for the workers to use ropes to manœuvre themselves between the vines. Condrieu itself is little more than one long street, and its chief appeal for the traveller is the short lane which leads to the Hôtellerie Beau Rivage. The hotel is owned by the Huymann- Donet family, and its 28 rooms are regularly sought out by those journeying to and from the Côte d’Azur.
I must give you one piece of advice at once. You must book a ‘Superior Suite’. The Beau Rivage has some small rooms, which are more modest in their dimensions than any reader of Bown’s Best would expect. But you will be happy in a Superior Suite. I certainly was. Mine was on the first floor and was room number five. This was a bright and comfortable billet. In the spacious hallway were the wardrobe and a door to the cloakroom (with the loo and a bidet). An archway led to the sitting room, which provided three armchairs, a television and a French window to my private terrace, overlooking the vast expanse of the Rhone. Another door led to the bedroom. This, like the sitting area, had a wooden floor. Its bed was comfortably soft, and – should I have needed it – there was a second television. Within the tiled bathroom were two wash basins, a tub of proper size and a separate shower. All this came for 288 euros, bed and breakfast for two.
As you would expect in France, the real heart of the Beau Rivage is its dining room, which, of course, is also blessed by river views through its plate glass windows. This is the domain of Chef Reynald Donet. And a remarkably traditional domain it is, in both its décor (there is much red) and its cuisine. Judging by the buzz of happy diners which greeted my ears as I arrived for dinner, this approach is exactly what the guests of the Beau Rivage want. And pourquoi pas?
I settled myself at a table with a view of the river. Upon the yellow tablecloth before me were glasses by Schott and porcelain plates from Limoges. The waiters were dressed smartly, in dark suits. I looked at the two set menus (at 62 euro and 82 euros), but decided upon four courses from the carte (for which you should allow 90-100 euros). I began splendidly with an escalope of pan-fried foie gras with raspberries. I always love the combination of the luscious richness of hot foie gras and the bright acidity of fresh fruit, and this was well done. Next, it was a classic dish from the old haute cuisine - quenelle de brochet au salpicon de homard. You will no longer find this on many menus, which is a pity, because the flavours and textures of the light, poached mousse of pike and the full-bodied lobster sauce bring joy the mouth. I had it in a half-portion, as the kitchen is generous with its servings. Roasted fillet of veal came with basil and tomato, and the concluding poached peach came with one of the most delicious peach sorbets I have ever tasted.
Prices on the wine list run from 29ε for a white vin d pays d’Oc to 420ε for 1971 Margaux. (1971 is a good vintage for claret, but – like the equally good 1962 – it has always been over-shadowed by the fame of the preceding year. 1971 was, incidentally, the first vintage of Pétrus produced by Christian Moueix, and I had the privilege of trying it a few years ago in California at a tasting conducted by the great man himself. It was magnificent.) Unsurprisingly, the cellar is strongest in the local wines, with 60 offerings of Côte Rôtie (up to the 2004 La Mouline of E.Guigal - 360ε) and 28 of Condrieu (with Mr Guigal’s 2005 La Doriane at 135ε). With my foie gras I had a glass of sweet viognier from the Ardèche, which I might have supposed – from its careful balance of sugar and acidity – was a wine from the Loire. Half a bottle of Condrieu had the body to stand up to the lobster sauce (Montez, 2007 - 45ε), and a half of 2005 Côte Rôtie with the veal yielded a nose of red fruit, but proved rather stern and young in the mouth (La Viallière, De Bonserine - 72ε).
I returned to the restaurant the next morning for breakfast. One of friendly waitresses brought to me a dish of good fruit salad and some coffee in a glass globe of the Space Age sort. From the buffet table I secured croissants, slices of ham and cheese and a bowl of sugared Corn Flakes.
Then it was back to the leather and walnut of the Silver Cloud, so that the wafting along the French tarmac could begin once more. There really is too much rushing about in this world. Let us all resolve to take life a little more easily, and to travel less like Supermen and more like Gentlemen – aided by excellent stopovers, like the Hôtellerie Beau Rivage.
HÔTELLERIE BEAU RIVAGE
2 rue du Beau-Rivage, 69420 Condrieu, France.
Telephone +33 (0)4 74 56 82 82
Fax +33 (0)4 74 59 59 36
Double rooms from 115 euros, breakfast extra (19 euros per person)
Ask about special packages