It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you're driving down to the South of France from England, an overnight stay in a fabulous hotel adds greatly to the pleasures of the open road and sense of a holiday beginning. It's also one of life's happy circumstances that the halfway point lies in the Burgundy region, with its fine wines and rich cooking.
So it was that we turned off the A6, the Autoroute du Soleil, at Avallon, and on towards Vezelay. It was when we made a pit-stop at a country auberge in that village a few years ago that we drove past the moat of the Hotel Château de Vault de Lugny the next morning and thought, one day...
After all the hard work involved in delivering a new book, it seemed fitting for that day to arrive sooner rather than later. The drive down through a sweltering France - including gridlock on the Paris péripherique and various outbreaks of motorway madness - melted away as soon as we arrived at that mysterious green moat and the remote-controlled iron gates swung open to admit us. The seventeenth-century façade of the main building stood across a wide lawn, and a porter driving a golf buggy appeared to take our luggage.
Inside, there's a homely feel to the grand rooms, and the atmosphere is light and friendly - there's none of the stuffiness you can sometimes encounter in establishments that offer something special. It wasn't long before we were showered and changed and drinking a chilled glass of champagne outside on the terrace.
Dinner was served inside by candlelight in a room hung with tapestry. There were some eye-watering prices by some of the vintage burgundies on the wine list, but next time we want to spend 15,000 euros on a bottle of Romanée Conti (ahem, not likely) we'll know where to come.
As it was, we had a superb dinner, including a foie gras crème brûlée, and caramelised onion ravioli, for an extremely reasonable all-in price for an "Escapade Amoureuse": room, dinner and breakfast.
That breakfast was as good as we've ever had, anywhere. There's such pleasure in having breakfast outside, and here it's served on the terrace between the château and the lawns. The croissants and pains chocolats were still warm from the oven and the jams were all homemade. Instead of yoghurt, we were served a kind of pannacotta with berry coulis.
And here's a first - French breakfast tea! It was good, too - rather lighter and fresher than the usual English Breakfast blend.
After breakfast there was time for a stroll around the grounds - though not the hundred acres that comprise the estate - and a look at the tower that once housed a dungeon...
...before crossing over the moat again, back onto the road south.
If you'd like to find out more, you can click this link: Château de Vault de Lugny website.