Whenever my wife and I are planning a long drive from the Channel coast to the south of France, or vice versa, we always try to break the journey with an overnight stop en route.
There are dozens of impersonal motels on the French motorways, but it’s much more fun to branch out into the surrounding countryside. La Cimentelle, in Burgundy’s Vassy les Avallon, is one of my favourites. It’s ideally sited about halfway between Paris and Lyon, and is only a few miles from Exit 22 on the Autoroute du Soleil.
The fine old house (first picture), set in rolling farmland, is a proper family home and, as there are only six very comfortable rooms or suites, you need to book well in advance. The high point of the stay is dinner. The co-owner, Stephane, cooks up mouthwatering four-course meals of proper, traditional French dishes such as foie gras, poulet de Bresse and grenadin de veau façon Rossini (second picture), and they are accompanied by a great selection of local chablis and burgundy.
I almost prefer staying at La Cimentelle out of season. Last January, there was a log fire in our room and dinner was served around a big table within sight of the kitchen. Stephane’s wife and sister moved around, chatting to everyone in both English and French and, if you are lucky, you may be offered the same delicious homemade mini-macaroons we were given with our digestif (third picture).
Don’t rush off the following morning. Take a short detour to the gorgeous hill town and medieval abbey of Vezelay, 20 minutes away. It’s one of the most atmospheric spots in France.