Travel: How's this for starters?: You are driving from Calais to the south. You plan to stop for dinner after about six hours. But where? Richard Binns recommends 20 restaurants a day's drive from the port

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The Independent Travel
1. Rendez-vous des Pecheurs, Blois

Comfortable restaurant. Very good cooking

Even the lowest-price menu (Fr140) shows off the innovative skills of the young master chef, Eric Reithler. This menu is not always in written form, so ask him (he speaks English) to tell you what delights he is cooking that day. These might include rouelles de cabillaud aux pommes de terre en anchoade and a nougat glace sur beurre d'oranges. There are several hotels within a 10-minute walk: Mercure, Anne de Bretagne, Ibis and Savoie.

Menus Fr140 and Fr200-300 (a la carte). Cards: Access, AE, Visa. Closed Feb during French school hols; first three weeks Aug; Sun; Mon midday; public hols.

27 rue Foix, 41000 Blois, Loir-et-Cher (54 74 67 48; fax: 54 74 47 67).

2. Auberge du Centre, Chitenay

Comfortable hotel. Good cooking

Terrace/gardens/parking

Giles Martinet was born in the auberge in 1951, the year his grandmother started the business. The English-speaking chef/patron and his wife, Brigitte, do a first-class job; a colourful freshness permeates the place, inside and out. Ambitious classical and bourgeois cooking.

Menus Fr100-275. Rooms (23) Fr285-400. (Rooms for disabled.) Cards: Access, Visa. Closed 14 Feb to 7 Mar; Sun eve and Mon (out of season). 41120 Chitenay, Loir-et-Cher (54 70 42 11; fax: 54 70 35 03).

3. Auberge de la Brenne, Neuille-le- Lierre

Simple restaurant. Good cooking

Parking

Francois Salle is the helpful host (ask him to fix up a nearby chambre d'hote); his wife, Ghislaine, cooks a range of unfussy classical and regional dishes - among them salade tourangelle, rillettes of pork, duck and goose cooked slowly over a log fire, and joue de boeuf mijotee, with an unctuous black sauce made with vin de Bourgueil.

Menus Fr78-199. Cards: Access, AE, Visa. Closed 25 Jan to 15 Mar; Tues eve; Wed. 37380 Neuille-le-Lierre, Indre-et-Loire (47 52 95 05).

4. Mere Hamard, Semblancay

Simple hotel. Good cooking

Gardens/parking

An elegant dining-room, and friendly owners - Patrick and Monique Pegue, who both speak English. The gardens and rear aspect are more attractive than the modest facade. Nothing modest about the food, though: a satisfying menu of terrine de canard au foie gras, rognons de veau au Bourgueil et a l'echalote, salade au Ste-Maure chaud (cheese), and a chocolate dessert.

Menus Fr98-220. Rooms (9) Fr185-240. Cards: Access, Visa. Closed school hols Feb and Nov; Sun eve and Mon. Place Eglise, 37360 Semblancay, Indre-et-Loire (47 56 62 04; fax: 47 56 53 61).

5. Esperance, Le Grand-Pressigny

Comfortable restaurant with basic rooms

Good cooking

Parking

With its white-jacketed waiters and a plague of plate covers, this once informal place could be called grand. Some of Bernard Torset's neo-classical and modern repertoire is pretty grand, too, but old favourites remain: terrine de lapereau and brochet au beurre blanc are a Fr100 menu duo, and the patronne, Pauline Torset, still makes her own delicious jam.

Menus Fr100-190. Rooms (10) Fr150-200. Cards: Access, DC, Visa. Closed 6 Jan to 6 Feb; Mon (except public hols). Route Descartes, 37350 Le Grand-Pressigny, Indre-et- Loire (47 94 90 12).

6. La Solognote, Brignon-sur-Sauldre

Comfortable hotel. Very good cooking

Quiet/gardens/parking

Andree Girard is a warm-hearted, smiling patronne and her husband, Dominique, a classical specialist who makes fine use of local produce. Beamed dining-room in old Sologne cottages; bedrooms in modern extension at rear. A typical Fr160 menu could be feuillete de lotte au fenouil; hearty joues de porc braisees au Menetou rouge; fromage blanc; sorbets.

Menus Fr160-320. Rooms (13) Fr290-400. Cards: Access, Visa. Closed mid-Feb to mid- Mar; 24 May to 2 June; 13-23 Sept; Tues eve (Oct to June); Wed. Post 18410 Brinon-sur- Sauldre, Cher (48 58 50 29; fax: 48 58 56 00).

7. Moulin de Villiers, Nouan-le-Fuzelier

Hotel. Simple cooking

Secluded/gardens/parking

An ancient mill, in 17 acres of private woodland with streams and marshes. Owners Gerard and Gladys Andrieux take good care of clients (her grandfather bought the property in 1929). Do not expect miracles on the cooking front: basic, down-to-earth bourgeois.

Menus Fr78-190. Rooms (19) Fr190-350. Cards: Access, Visa. Closed 3 Jan to 25 Mar; 31 Aug to 15 Sept; Tues eve & Wed (Nov and Dec). Route Chaon, (D44 to NE), 41600 Nouan-le-Fuzelier, Loir-et-Cher (54 88 72 27).

8. Le Dahu, Nouan-le-Fuzelier

Comfortable restaurant. Good/very good cooking

Terrace/gardens/parking

An evocative beamed and cleverly glassed-in dining-room in an old Solognote farm with an English-style garden and an English-speaking chef, Jean-Luc Germain. Specialities include salade Nordique au saumon fume, soupe de moules au thym, sandre aux poireaux and magret de canard a la moutarde. Marie-Therese Germain is a friendly, efficient hostess. For bedrooms, use Charmilles, a short walk away.

Menus Fr125-230. Cards: Access, AE, Visa. Closed 20 Feb to 20 Mar; Tues eve and Wed (except July and Aug). 14 rue H Chapron, 41600 Nouan-le-Fuzelier, Loir-et- Cher (54 88 72 88).

9. Grand Hotel Lion d'Or, Romorantin-Lanthenay

Luxury hotel. Excellent cooking

Terrace/lift/parking

No family foursome comes more talented than Colette and Alain Barrat, their daughter Marie- Christine and her husband, chef Didier Clement. Clement's modern style is delicate, unassertive and full of invention; his wife is a gifted young woman, who speaks English and is deeply involved in her husband's metier. Her studies of medieval cooking have played a significant part in Clement's repertoire (witness the use of spices, aromatics and flavourings). Expensive.

Menus Fr400 (lunch)

to Fr630. Rooms (13) Fr600-1,800. (Rooms for disabled.) Cards: all. Closed Jan to mid Feb. 69 rue Clemenceau, 41200 Romorantin-Lanthenay, Loir-et-Cher (54 76 00 28; fax: 54 88 24 87).

10. Le Boeuf Couronne, St-Amand- Montrond

Simple restaurant. Good cooking

Parking

There are three dining-rooms and a vast choice of food in this small restaurant at a busy junction. The Fr125 menu has six starters, four main courses and 11 desserts. Typical bounty could include saumon fume (home-smoked and very good), gutsy confit de canard maison aux cepes, and creme caramel to finish. For bedrooms use Le Noirlac, 2km towards Bourges.

Menus Fr90-210. Cards: Access, Visa. Closed 3-17 Jan; 29 June to 13 July; Tues eve; Wed. 86 rue Juranville, 18200 St-Amand-Montrond, Cher (48 96 42 72).

11. Morvan, Avallon

Very comfortable restaurant. Good cooking

Terrace/gardens/parking

Step back to France as it used to be. Jean (chef) and Marinette Breton are regional and classical troupers; dig into a duo de terrine, jambon sec de pays, saucisson chaud au canard fume and filets de lapin farcis Bourguignon. For bedrooms use Hotel Avallon- Vauban, a five-minute walk away.

Menus Fr128-225. Cards: all. Closed 3 Jan to 26 Feb; Sun eve and Mon (except public holidays). Route de Paris (N6), 89200 Avallon, Yonne (86 34 18 20).

12. Le Pre des Marguerites, St-Pere- Sous-Vezelay

Comfortable restaurant. Good cooking

Terrace/gardens/parking

Marc Meneau's three-star bistro is one of the better ones. How's this for a Fr130 menu? Galantine de canard or saucisson chaud pommes; oreilles de porc aux lentilles; sable aux pommes, creme anglaise or tarte aux raisins de vendange. For bedrooms use the Hotel La Renommee in the village.

Menus Fr95-180. Cards: all. Closed Mon (except public hols). Grande-Rue, 89450 St-Pere- sous-Vezelay, Yonne (86 33 33 33; fax: 86 33 34 73).

13. Lac, Semur-en-Auxois

Simple hotel. Simple cooking

Quiet/parking

The label 'quiet' applies only during the week. Michel Laurencon's logis is alongside a lake and near a camping site; at weekends youngsters can kick up quite a racket. Bourgeois cuisine with only the odd Burgundian dish. Not far from an A6 autoroute exit.

Menus Fr90-240. Rooms (23) Fr180-330. Cards: Access, DC, Visa. Closed 18-31 Jan; Sun eve (except July/Aug). Mon (Oct to April). Au lac de Pont, 21140 Semur-en-Auxois, Cote- d'Or. (80 97 11 11; fax: 80 97 29 25).

14. Bernard Morillon, Beaune

Comfortable restaurant. Good cooking

Terrace

One of the supreme outposts of authentic classical cuisine. Bernard Morillon, trained by the legendary Eugenie Brazier (who once ran two three-star restaurants), is a supporter of classical glories such as rognon de veau Alexandre Dumaine, gratin de barbue Brillat- Savarin and homard facon Mere Brazier. Martine Morillon, meanwhile, is another big plus: one of the most vivacious, larger- than-life hostesses you will ever encounter in France. There are several hotels located nearby, sans restaurants, including Le Cep, which is actually above the restaurant.

Menus Fr160-420. Cards: all. Closed 29 Jan to 1 Mar; Mon; Tues midday. 31 rue Mafoux, 21200 Beaune, Cote-d'Or (80 24 12 06; fax: 80 22 66 22).

15. Hotellerie du Val d'Or, Mercurey

Comfortable accommodation. Very good cooking

Gardens/garage

The Cogny family is typical of the best French hotelier families. Chef Jean-Claude has a ready smile and is always eager to help clients; his wife, Monique, is a quiet, unassuming soul. Classical, modern and Burgundian specialities - not prissy, tarted-up interpretations. Super Rully and Mercurey wines - among them Delorme and Juillot vintages.

Menus Fr160-370. Rooms (13) Fr310-390. Cards: Access, Visa. Closed 29 Aug to 5 Sept; 18 Dec to 18 Jan; Mon; Tues midday. Grande-Rue, 71640 Mercurey, Saone-et-Loire (85 45 13 70; fax: 85 45 18 45).

16. Grand Hotel Europe, Langres

Comfortable hotel. Simple/good cooking

Parking

A 17th-century town house at the heart of the walled town. A taste of nostalgia in the rooms, furnishings and cooking. Relish such treats as terrine maison, bavarois de saumon fume and poulet roti a la broche.

Menus Fr68-190. Rooms (28) Fr225-275. Cards: all. Closed 8-22 May; 20-24 Oct; Sun eve; Mon midday; Mon eve (Nov to April). 23 rue Diderot, 52200 Langres, Haute-Marne (25 87 10 88; fax: 25 87 60 65).

17. Le Bonbistrot, Gevrey-Chambertin

Simple restaurant. Simple/good cooking

Terrace/parking

Pierre Menneveau's bistro is at ground level, above his famed Rotisserie restaurant (see next entry), and is served by the same kitchen. Admire the 19th-century pewter bar and chuckle at the toilets' washbasin. Emphatic regional flavours: jambon persille, fricassee de coq au vin a l'ancienne, and ami du Chambertin cheese. Wines by the glass. For bedrooms use Les Grands Crus hotel, five minutes away.

Menus about Fr125 (a la carte). Cards: Access, Visa. Closed Feb; 1-7 Aug; Sun eve; Mon (except public hols). 21220 Gevrey-Chambertin, Cote-d'Or (80 34 33 20; fax: 80 34 12 30).

18. La Rotisserie du Chambertin

Comfortable restaurant. Good cooking

Parking

The underground restaurant is an air-conditioned marvel. The chef, Jean-Pierre Nicolas, mixes his culinary styles but is primarily classical: witness his coq au vin a l'ancienne comme Celine Menneveau. The wine list is a roll call of Gevrey-Chambertin's finest vintages. For bedrooms use Les Grands Crus (see above).

Menus Fr200-410. Cards: Access, Visa. Closed Feb; 1-7 Aug; Sun eve; Mon (except public hols). Post 21220 Gevrey-Chambertin, Cote-d'Or (80 34 33 20; fax: 80 34 12 30).

19. Rey, Echigey

Comfortable restaurant with basic rooms. Simple/good cooking

Gardens/parking

A quiet village south-east of Dijon. The logis (which has 'Place' painted on its facade) is well-appointed and has adequate rooms. Chef Dany Rey offers a good choice for each course: shrimp and avocado cocktail; gutsy piece de boeuf a touch spoilt by vegetables overpowered with nutmeg; top-notch cheese chariot; and dessert trolley (all on the cheaper menus).

Menus Fr68-205. Rooms (13) Fr110-190. Cards: Access, DC, Visa. Closed 2 Jan to 1 Feb; 1-8 Aug; Sun eve; Mon (except public hols). Echigey, 21110 Genlis, Cote-d'Or (80 29 74 00; fax: 80 29 79 55).

20. Relais de la Diligence, Meursault

Comfortable restaurant. Good cooking

Parking

On the D23, south-east of the N74 and near the railway line. A modern building with four dining rooms and fine views. Several menus, efficient service and pleasing ambience. Typical dishes include a tasty mousse d'avocat with fresh shrimps, a panache de poisson aux deux sauces, and a multi-choice plateau de fromages. For bedrooms, use one of two hotels, Les Magnolias and Les Charmes, in Meursault.

Menus Fr66-158. Cards: All. Closed 22 Dec to 11 Feb; Tues eve; Wed. Rue de la Gare, 21190 Meursault, Cote-d'Or (80 21 21 32; fax: 80 21 64 69).

Richard Binns's latest 480-page pocket guide, French Leave Encore (Chiltern House, 9.99)

(Photograph omitted)

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