A bit of London, a bit of France -- all in a day's work

Hilton Smith at Relais & Chateaux in France

Each year TravelStore is proud to be represented at the ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) in Cannes, France. This year I was pleased to attend, and it is an intense event, with scheduled appointments throughout the day with hoteliers from around the world and receptions through the night. Nevertheless, I like combining business and pleasure. Of course, in the travel business, there can be a faint line between the two.

I first flew to London via United Airlines on a pair of B787 Dreamliners via Houston from LAX. Business/First was completely adequate and I found the properties of the Dreamliner indeed helped lessen a bit of the fatigue of air travel.  

There is always something new in London and I fall in love again every time I return. The city was alive with holiday decorations, and Oxford Street was even more packed than usual. A few blocks off Oxford Street is the new Beaumont Hotel, where I stayed two nights. This is a smaller hotel built on the site of a former parking garage, but you would never know it.  The rich Art Deco design is striking and no expense has been spared to offer the best in facilities and services.  Most comfortable beds, lavish bathrooms, a complimentary mini-bar (alcohol excluded) and even dice and paying cards are commanding features in a bold and tasteful design.

One night we dined at the striking Wolseley nearby on a very tasty meal.   It is in an amazing space right across from The Ritz Hotel.

After the rigors and the numerous events at ILTM in Cannes, we flew to the enchanted French region and city of Bordeaux, France for a few days of relaxation. We stayed in the heart of the city at The Grand Hotel de Bordeaux, which is becoming affiliated with Inter Continental Hotels.  The hotel boasts a bold, rich design, a bit eclectic but comfortable.  In this city of about 250,000 people we saw every kind of French shop with cheeses and wine of every description. Busy and colorful, Bordeaux is well worth a visit.  

One night we dined at L'Oiscau Bleu on the other side of the river. The former police station has been turned into a contemporary French restaurant with a very dedicated owner and a young, attractive staff.  It is not fancy, but the food was outstanding in the modern French style.

From the city of Bordeaux, we proceeded for about 45 minutes to the enchanting smaller town of Saint-Emilion.  Our home there was the charming Hostellerie De Plaisance right next to one of the ancient clock towers. The town is beyond description with its rolling up and down the close hills and a small but very scenic town square.  No chain stores here, just an authentic,historic atmospheric feel.

Of course what would this region be without its wine, and O Tour Du 20 offered a patient owner who worked as my friend assembled a special 12 pack case. I was lucky to be in on the wine tasting as the vintages were selected.  After this hard work it was on to a leisurely lunch at Chai Pascal with casual but amazingly fresh local farm to table dishes. 

That evening was a true highlight of the trip.  Chef Cedric Bechade at our hotel prepared a special dinner for us.  He worked for 10 years at the Plaza Athenee in Paris with Alain Ducasse. He is now in charge of the gourmet restaurant at Hostellerie De Plaisance.  We wanted to see what he could do with his defined contemporary, tasty cuisine. With the now obligatory question of any food allergies answered, the chef did his personal creation lasting a couple of hours.

In six courses, he took us through his culinary world with delicately assembled presentations of seafood and pork and numerous flavors and textures. It was a visual and taste culinary journey of his complete choosing.  The theme throughout was well crafted and complicated, but not heavy. Several flavors were assembled on the same plate with maybe a light sauce.  Attention to detail was amazing.  

I then flew back to Nice for one night at the contemporary Hyatt Regency Nice.  From there it was a very comfortable SWISS Business Class back through Zurich to Los Angeles.  The menu on board was impressive and even with a Bordeaux Grand Cru to bring back the memories of wonderful discoveries. 

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Hilton Smith