IF A SPA HOLIDAY IS ON YOUR AGENDA then the 19th-century town of Eugenie-les-Bains, near Bordeaux and the Atlantic coast, is one of France's finest. There are about 130 thermal bathing stations in France and Eugenie-les-Bains, at the foot of the Pyrenees, has long been revered for its remedial waters. It was named in 1862 after Napoleon's third wife, Empress Eugenie who, the story goes, spent three months a year bathing there to escape the summer heat in Paris. Today the original spa is inside Les Pres d'Eugenie, a 16-hectare landscaped farm owned by celebrity chef Michel Guerard ( www.michelguerard.com ) and his wife Christine (his wife's family were the previous owners). They have created a sanctuary set around the traditional spa. A luxury hotel, a gourmet bistro, Guerard's three-star restaurant, boutique lodgings and La Ferme Thermale D'Eugenie - one of France's most elegant spas. La Ferme is a departure from the usual clinical facilities found in France - picture heated marble slabs perfumed with spices, chestnut wooden cabins with marble baths, hydro-massaging thermal showers and a Turkish hammam (bath). And Eugenie's waters are known for treating arthritis and painful joints and muscles. I opted for its signature ritual that incorporated five 15-minute treatments centred on the revitalising waters. It includes a Vichy spray of mineral water as you lie on a heated marble slab, a steam in the hammam and a dip in a pool where jets pummel your thighs. Also indulge in a thick creamy mud bath made from fine clay known for its ability to draw toxins from the body, and soak in a marble bath by a fireplace where local herbs and flowers are wrapped in cloth for your exfoliation pleasure. In between the five sessions you relax by the fire in a cathedral-style salon to read and sip tea made from freshly cut herbs from the surrounding gardens. After a treatment, guests can lounge about in Louis XV chestnut daybeds in the le jardin room. The journey can take up to three hours. La Ferme also offers curative programmes co-designed by its on-site hydrotherapy doctor and the farm's biologist-herbalist, which explains why many treatments combine homegrown plants with the thermal waters. Some of the ingredients used include lavender, rosebuds, chamomile, orange peel, lime blossom and sweet clover. Cuisine-wise, the region is bursting with bountiful offerings. Most of the food is fresh, local and organic with herbs grown on site. Guerard is regarded for his distinctive nouvelle cuisine that is patented 'cuisine minceur active' or active healthy cuisine. Les Pres d'Eugenie received its third Michelin star in 1977. Located in the original hotel, it comprises four grand dining salons decorated in ivory and ecru but while its decor is rich with tradition, Guerard's creations are more contemporary, a blend of luxury and decadent French classics which won't blow the calorie counter. Meals are butter, cream and sugar free yet delicious - a concept considered revolutionary for France. Try the ravioli filled with duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms) with a slice of truffle. His special, however, is three sumptuous dishes and a glass of wine adding up to just 610 calories. Nearby is the warm and inviting La Ferme aux Grives which is set in a restored barn. Picture long rustic wooden tables piled high with vegetables, wrought-iron chandeliers and generous three-course wholesome meals. At La Maison, guests prefer low-calorie meals such as a soup of baby leek, steamed sole with a light saffron sauce and baked custard with sour cherries. There are also several styles of accommodation, all of which have been tastefully designed by Christine. Les Pres D'Eugenie is a Victorian-style luxury hotel named after Empress Eugenie, and Le Couvent des Herbes is a stylish eight-room country-style residence overlooking rose gardens and La Maison. More recently, the Guerards opened Les Maisons Marines d'Huchet, a four-room French colonial-style guesthouse on the Atlantic coast for guests wanting to spend a few days at the beach to complement their water-therapy vacation. Southwest France is also famed for other healthful offerings, such as Armagnac, a local digestive made from antioxidant-rich grapes that is purer than cognac. Add a few thermal dips and organic produce into the equation and it's no wonder the region is home to the longest-living folk in the country. Not far from Eugenie-les-Bains is Chateau Robert France ( www.chateaurobertfrance.com ), a luxurious 18th-century chateau that has been lovingly restored by Sabrina and Fergus Fleming (previously based in Singapore). Located in the countryside between the vineyards of Bordeaux, beaches of Biarritz and the Pyrenees, the chateau has been launched as a private retreat for up to 18 persons at a time. Built from ancient stone, the 10-bedroom villa feels cosy with its antiques and leather lounge furnishes plus open fireplace and several areas for relaxation including a billiards room, drawing room, TV and games room and a geranium room where guests gather for afternoon tea and cards. Step outside to the 15-metre heated saltwater pool surrounded by organic healing herbal and vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, an outdoor fireplace and several dining pavilions and terraces. Imagine freshly picked yellow raspberries, local wines and ancient 'heirloom' fruits to name a few. 'Our vision was to create a classic French chateau vacation experience yet with an optional wellness component,' says Sabrina. 'We offer bespoke experiences where clients can design their vacations to include yoga, personal training, customised cooking classes, raw food [with cheese and wine], wine tasting, in-house massages, walks through the nearby Pyrenees and hot spring tours as well as spa treatments at Michel Guerard.' 'Food is the heart of the region and wine is the soul,' she adds. 'At the chateau we capture the spirit of this place through market visits, cooking classes, mushroom picking, visits to cheese, honey, pastry, ham and foie gras farms as well as local and Bordeaux wine tours. Our chefs will dream up memorable dishes from seasonal ingredients for all tastes including vegetarian, raw and haute cuisine.' There are specialised retreats centring on food and wine, including 'Men and Meat', a seven-day experience tailored to men that comprises the art of butchery for beef and pork, cooking classes in sauces, stocks, wine, Armagnac tasting, visits to local markets and farms and golf and tennis. Alternatively, 'Modern Bistro Cuisine: Food from the Southwest' is where you learn how to prepare cuisine from the heart of Gascony while 'Raw & Whole Foods in France' is a chance to learn to blend and create their own healing infusions and healing foods. 'Hens Week: Cooking with Love' is where the girls get to cook local aphrodisiacs made from oysters, chocolate, ginger, figs, honey, truffles and wine. For the men, 'Stag Week Golf and Game' includes preparing game and fish, wine tasting, golf at Europe's oldest course in Pau and Mont de Marsan as well as at the beachside course in Biarritz. The chateau can be booked for US$15,000 a week and holds up to 18 guests. This includes airport transfers, chefs, housekeeping, driver and food and wine. A family-style vacation that includes chef and pastry and sous chef, five hours of maid service daily and one meal daily (not including cost of food and wine) starts at US$9,200 for up to 18 guests. French Blissing Les Pres d'Eugenie Hotel: named after Empress Eugenie, opened in 1862. Between US$480-US$550 per night. Les Pres d'Eugenie: Michel Guerard's Michelin three-star restaurant in the original hotel. Les Pres d'Eugenie Spa: the original medicinal water spa established in 1750. La Ferme Thermale D'eugenie: a luxury leisure spa that opened in 1996. La Maison Rose: country inn that costs between US$200-US$300 per night. La Ferme aux Grives: a cosy farmhouse bistro serving contemporary French-style country cooking. Le Couvent des Herbes: a sweet eight-room country-style hotel priced between US$450-US$700 per night.