Laguiole, France

Photo: Bras
Photo: Bras

Your current to-do list includes putting away all of the holiday decorations, finally cleaning out your overstuffed closet, getting some groceries in the house, and planning a spring trip. That’s right, spring. Now that the new year has arrived, your thoughts are on sunshine and blooming flowers instead of snow and bulky sweaters. And this year, your sights are set on France.

In April, Paris will already be overcrowded, melting snow halts skiing in the Alps, and it won’t be quite warm enough on the beaches along the Côte d’Azur. But it’s the perfect time to explore the Midi-Pyrénées, the country’s largest region, in southwestern France. As you drive through this quiet area, you’ll find new green grass, budding trees, and baby animals. Fast-moving streams rush into overflowing lakes. Gallo-Roman ruins cling to limestone hills. While an old farmhouse, to which a modern glass structure has been added, now serves some of the most inventive seasonal cuisine in the country.

Photo: Bras
Photo: Bras

But it’s not time for dinner quite yet. First, drive past Laguiole’s—a small town known for its cheese and knives—and up a long driveway to Bras. The hotel and the restaurant are surrounded by a long barn, stone steps, freshly planted gardens, and gorgeous valley views. These views don’t stop when you reach your garden room. Two walls are mostly glass. Gray walls, wooden cabinets, and fine linens fill the rest of the spacious room. A modern bathroom finishes out the space. You settle in with a glass of Chenin Blanc and a new book. For once, you aren’t going to run around on your first day in France.

Your excitement for dinner grows as you start to hear voices and chopping in the distance. The sleek dining room looks like a spaceship hovering above Aveyron. Menus range from seven to 10 courses; the best wines are undoubtedly from the local vineyards whose names you’ve never heard. Each meal begins with the gargouillou, a dish that uses more than 50 vegetables to introduce you to the colors, the flavors, and the textures of the area. The following courses are complex, precise, and simple all at the same time. A perfectly cooked white monkfish with a black olive sauce ends up being your favorite course of the night. While Aveyron sheep’s milk cheese and a warm chocolate biscuit are the ideal caps to the meal. Spring can’t come soon enough.

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