Internal flights in France

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, Air France Illustration

Information on domestic flights in France is not easy to come by, one reason being that Air France has such a dominant position in France and already have flights on most internal routes.
Plus the French market is not as competitive. The French Railway system between major cities is both fast and competitive, especially if starting from Paris.

hop! logoAir France now has a budget subsidiary which operates from many regional French airports – Hop!

http://www.easyjet.com/Toulouse to Lyon, Paris, Nice to Paris; Lyon to Biarritz, Bordeaux; Biarritz to Pariseasyjet100

twinjet logohttp://www.twinjet.net/
Toulouse (32 Haute-Garonne, Midi-Pyrenees) to Metz/Nancy, Mulhouse, Brest; Marseille to Metz/Nancy, Mulhouse; Paris Perigueux, Cherbourg

Ryanair now also has links from Marseille (13 Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence) to Lille (59 Nord, Nord-Pas de Calais) and Brest (29 Finistere, Brittany)

Eastern Airways has routes from its base in Dijon (21 Vote d’Or, Burgundy) to Toulouse (31 Haute Garonne, Midi-Pyrenees) and Bordeaux (33 Gironde, Aquitaine )CLOSES JUNE 2014

You can try sites like http://www.expedia.fr/ but even a price comparison site like http://www.baisse-de-prix.com/voyages.php seems to offer little new – it looks like Air France have cornered the market with little opportunity for discounting.

Is your Camembert Cheese the real thing?

camembertaoc.jpg

An interesting little video on the Guardian Online site about the struggle to protect the genuine Camembert cheese from Normandy. I had not realised that the name Camembert is not protected in the same way as Champagne wine or Pont l’Eveque cheese, so almost anyone can make a soft cows milk cheese and call it Camembert. The only product which is protected is the raw-milk (lait cru) Camembert de Normandie AOC, which is strictly controlled and limited to only 5 producers in Normandy.

I must admit I have just checked the Camembert I had for lunch yesterday (very nice and in that perfect state of gloopiness before the ammonia kicks in) – but it is not an AOC, despite being made by a reputable (but big) French producer in Normandy!

Camembert is the king of Normandy cheeses, made from cows milk to produce a soft round cheese with a soft white rind, but there appears to be come internal squabbling between small local producers and the big dairy companies – battles that are being fought over the methods of making traditional raw milk Camembert

The raw milk version has a richer flavour and better texture than the pasteurised version, which is the most common. However, because the milk in the traditional version is unpasteurised, there is a small risk of food poisoning, particularly for the young, old and infirm. Fortunately to date, the raw milk version has not been banned in the interests of health and safety, but this spat between producers cannot help.

* How do you know when your Camembert is ready to eat?

  • The traditional saying in Normandy is that “a ripe Camembert squeezes like a woman’s breast”. But there is a more scientific test.
  • Cut into the cheese and look at the width of the crusty layer in the centre. If it is “as thick as a knife blade”, the Camembert is perfect. If it is thicker, the cheese is not quite at its best. If there is no crusty layer, it is a little too ripe.
  • A Camembert should always be stored upside down, to preserve the beauty of the top of the cheese when served. Ideally, a Camembert should never be put in the fridge. If you do, take it out at least an hour before eating.
  • Gourmets say that the best time for eating Camembert is during the late spring and early summer. This means that you will then be eating, via the cow and the factory, the rich flush of Norman spring grass.

For more info on Camembert, see the website of producer Fromagerie Gillot

Le Vieux Chateau B&B

Just 3 miles from Camembert at Le Renouard you could stay at the B&B Le Vieux Chateau – a traditional castle within with B&B accommodation,a garden, terrace and shared lounge. Parts of the castle date back 1000 years!

On your bicyclette! City bike schemes in France

Velib Cycle Scheme in ParisIt all started in Paris with the Velib’ Scheme – an amalgam of Velo (cycle) and Liberte (free), which has been a tremendous success.

The latest we’ve come across is the Velomagg in Montepellier (34 Herault, Languedoc-Roussillon).

Vélib’ is a Self Service “bike hire” system available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Multi pick up and drop off location allows you to pick up your bike from one service point and drop off to another.

. You need to subscribe, but for visitors there are 1-day and 7-day subscriptions and after the first 30 minutes you pay by the half-hour – e.g. a 90-minute hire will cost just €3 and you can pick up and drop off your bike at any of the hundreds of self-service stations across the city.VeloVelib'

The Velib’ scheme has been based on a similar scheme VeloV in Lyon (69 Rhone, Rhone-Alpes) France’s second city. The combination of these eco-friendly and fitness focussed schemes is now spreading throughout France:-
VeloCite in Mulhouse (68 Haut-Rhin, Alsace) and Besancon (25 Doubs, Franche-Comté)
Vhello in Aix-en-Provence (13 Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence)
Le Velo in Marseille (13 Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence)
Velo in Toulouse (34 Haut Garonne, Midi-Pyrenees)
Nantes (44 Loire-Atlantique, Val de Loire)
Rouen (76 Seine Maritime, Normandy)
Bordeaux (33 Gironde, Aquitaine)
Velostan in Nancy (54 Meurthe et Moselle, Lorraine)
Velo+
in Orleans (45 Loiret, Centre)

This is clearly a popular scheme, mainly aimed at local residents but may also offer a different way of seeing some of France’s major cities from a different perspective. However, I would recommend choosing a city with good cycle lanes and paths – you do get the impression that traffic in many of France’s cities is not very forgiving with errant cyclists – so do not try cycling around the rond-point of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris!!

Toll Free Autoroutes in France

Autoroute signMost French autoroutes between major towns and cities are toll motorways, which whilst often offering fast and uncrowded dual-carriageways, can nevertheless add significantly to the cost of a trip through France – e.g over €107 (over £90) on a one-way trip from Calais to Nice (1226km of motorway driving about 760 miles).

However there are significant sections of autoroute which are toll free – most often these are around major towns and Cities (Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon etc).

In the North, the A16 is toll-free from Boulogne (J29) to the Belgian border (J36) via Calais and Dunkerque. The A25 from Dunkerque (J20) to Lille is free, so you can reach Lille from the main Channel ports without paying a toll!. Also all routes from Lille to the Belgian border.
The following autoroutes are toll free (as at September 2007)

  • A16 (part of the Autoroute des Estuaires (estuaries)) from Boulogne-sur-Mer (J29) to the Belgian border(J36)
  • A20 (L’Occitane) from Vierzon (J6 junction with A71) to Brive-la-Gaillarde (J53) via Chateauroux, Argenton and Limoges
  • A25 from Dunkerque (J20 with A16) to Lille
  • A28 from Abbeville (J1) to Rouen (J14)
  • A30/A31 (Autoroute de la Vallée de la Fensch) from Thionville (J1) to Toul (J12) via Metz and Nancy
  • A38 from Dijon (J33) to Pouilly-sur-Auxois (J24 and the junction with the A6
  • A63 (Autoroute de la Cote Basque) from Bordeaux to Bellin-Bellet (J20)
  • A64 (la Pyreneenne) from St Martory (J20) to Muret (J25)
  • A68 (la Tarnaise) from Monastruc (J3 NE of Toulouse) to Albi (J11) via Gaillac
  • A75 (la Meridienne) from Clermont-Ferrand (J15) to Pezenas (J59) (except for the Millau Bridge) via Issoire
  • A750 (L’Héraultaise) – the branch which connects the A75 to Montpellier from Saint Felix-de-Lodez
  • A77 (Autoroute de l’Arbre (trees)) from Pouilly (J26) to Nevers (J37)
  • A84 from Caen (J46) to Rennes (J25) via Avranches

ITelepeage symbolf you have to use a toll autoroute in France consider getting a Télépéage badge

Toll Free autoroutes in France

Autoroute signMost French autoroutes between major towns and cities are toll motorways, which whilst often offering fast and uncrowded dual-carriageways, can nevertheless add significantly to the cost of a trip through France – e.g over €90 (over £60) on a one-way trip from Calais to Nice (1226km of motorway driving about 760 miles).

However there are significant sections of autoroute which are toll free – most often these are around major towns and Cities (Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon etc).

In the North, the A16 is toll-free from Boulogne (J29) to the Belgian border (J36) via Calais and Dunkerque. The A25 from Dunkerque (J20) to Lille is free, so you can reach Lille from the main Channel ports without paying a toll!. Also all routes from Lille to the Belgian border.
The following autoroutes are toll free (as at September 2007)
A16 (part of the Autoroute des Estuaires (estuaries)) from Boulogne-sur-Mer (J29) to the Belgian border(J36)
A20 (L’Occitane) from Vierzon (J6 junction with A71) to Brive-la-Gaillarde (J53) via Chateauroux, Argenton and Limoges
A25 from Dunkerque (J20 with A16) to Lille
A28 from Abbeville (J1) to Rouen (J14)
A30/A31 (Autoroute de la Vallée de la Fensch) from Thionville (J1) to Toul (J12) via Metz and Nancy
A38 from Dijon (J33) to Pouilly-sur-Auxois (J24 and the junction with the A6)
A63 (Autoroute de la Cote Basque) from Bordeaux to Bellin-Bellet (J20)
A64 (la Pyreneenne) from St Martory (J20) to Muret (J25)
A68 (la Tarnaise) from Monastruc (J3 NE of Toulouse) to Albi (J11) via Gaillac
A75 (la Meridienne) from Clermont-Ferrand (J15) to Pezenas (J59) (except for the Millau Bridge) via Issoire
A77 (Autoroute de l’Arbre (trees)) from Pouilly (J26) to Nevers (J37)
A84 from Caen (J46) to Rennes (J25) via Avranches

French Food – regional influences and cooking styles

Brochette de canard
Understanding and appreciating the styles of cuisine in France can enhance the enjoyment of what you are eating (or cooking) – much like wine, where I find a little additional knowledge can helps me be more discriminating in my choices and combinations of dishes and wines.
Doug Stewart at www.france-property-and-information.com offers some insights into some of the nuances behind the rich variety of French Food

Regional influences
Each region of France has ingredients, recipes and style of cooking specific to that region. Although they may be exported to other regions of France (and the world), production is largely local and consumption is highest in the region of origin. For example, in Provence the food typically features olive oil, herbs and tomatoes; these are all locally produced and they feature in a surprising large variety of different recipes.
The evolution of regional cooking styles has been influenced by:
Local availability. The French, a nation of gourmets, prefer to use local ingredients. Consequently, coastal regions (such as Brittany and Normandy, on the northwest coast of France) will favor sea fish and will use it more often and in more varied ways than inland areas. Likewise, areas where fruit or herbs grow easily, will incorporate these into their local cuisine.
Neighbouring countries and immigration. Near the borders with other countries, the local cuisine incorporates certain dishes and ingredients of the neighbouring countries. It is not surprising to find Italian dishes near the Italian border. More notably, the French region of Alsace is similar to Germany in its food (sauerkraut is popular) and wine, partly due to it currently bordering on Germany and partly due to it having been part of Germany at various points in its history (the border has moved back and forth with various wars). In parts of the south which have a large North African immigrant population one can enjoy the cuisine which they have imported from their original countries.
History and economic conditions. The culture, lifestyle and economic conditions over a long period of time have formed the development of local food traditions. The rich meat dishes and cream sauces of Burgundy are not only due to Burgundian excellence in raising cattle, but in large part to the economic prosperity of this region over several centuries. On the other hand, mountain regions excel in firm cheeses, which allow food to be preserved over the long and difficult winters, and can be produced from mountain livestock which historically were the main means of support for many families in economically limited areas.
Of course, throughout France one can find a range of dishes, both in restaurants and at home, which extends well beyond regional specialities. However, at the same time, the regional influences in terms of ingredients and style of cooking is marked. Consequently, for those who move to France, the choice of region will influence the types of food one will find.
Italian Influence
Culinary historians generally associate the development of high cuisine in France (as opposed to the existing rural traditions) with the marriage in 1533 of Catherine De Medicis (a Florentine princess) to Henry duc d’Orleans (who became King Henry II or France). At this point, France was not know for its food or food culture. Catherine brought an entourage of Italian chefs with her to France, who introduced to France a variety of dishes, food preparation and dining practices. Although France and Italy obviously have evolved very different food cultures, both before and since this contribution, much of France’s current food culture can be traced back to this time.

Cooking styles
As discussed above, each region of France has its own distinctive traditions in terms of ingredients and preparation. On top of this, there are three general approaches which compete with each other:
Classical French cuisine (also known in France as cuisine bourgeoise). This includes all the classical French dishes which were at one time regional, but are no longer specifically regional. Food is rich and filling, with many dishes using cream-based sauces.
Haute cuisine is classical French cuisine taken to its most sophisticated and extreme. Food is elegant, elaborate and generally rich. Meals tend to be heavy, especially due to the use of cream and either large portions or many smaller portions. There is a strong emphasis on presentation (in particular, vegetables tend to be cut with compulsive precision and uniformity). The finest ingredients are used, and the meal is correspondingly expensive.
Cuisine Nouvelle. This style developed in the 1970s, as a reaction against the classical school of cooking. The food is simpler and lighter. Portions are smaller and less rich; the heavy cream sauces of the classical approach are particularly avoided. Cooking is less elaborate and quicker, with more emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients.
Cuisine du terroir. This focuses on regional specialities and is somewhat more rustic in nature. Local produce and food traditions are the main focus.
Each of these traditions is strongly represented in France, each having its supporters and specialist restaurants. At the moment, Cuisine Nouvelle is less popular than it was, while Cuisine du terroir has grown in popularity in recent years.
For more on French Food see Doug Stweart’s site at www.france-property-and-information.com/easy-french-food-recipes.htm

Livarot – smelly cheese from Normandy!

Livarot cheeseNormandy is rightly famous for its cheeses – indeed think of Normandy and I immediately think of apples, cows and lush green fields, thatched cottages and cream – cider and Calvados (apple brandy), Camembert, Pont l’Eveque and wonderfully creamy butter.
Livarot is another of the great cows milk cheeses to come from the region, nicknamed the Colonel due to the straps of rush which hold it together and which look like military stripes.
It does of course belong to the family of seriously smelly French cheese, and has a strong distinctive taste and when properly ripe has a glutinous texture – yet it dissolves in the mouth.

Livarot (14 Calvados, Normandie) holds its annual cheese festival (Foire aux Fromages) in August 3 – 4 August 2019(see www.agendafromage.com)

This is definitely the type of cheese to be purchased from a proper cheesemonger rather than most local supermarkets. Online you can buy from the Teddington Cheese Company who describe the cheese as:“a full and assertive flavour, a supple texture and a pungent aroma…. excellent on the cheese board although it is best tasted after milder cheeses. It is best enjoyed with a full-bodied red wine, a glass of Normandy cider or even a nip of Calvados.”

In the 19th century, livarot was the most widely consumed cheese in Normandy.It was even referred to as the “labourer’s meat” thanks to its great nutritional value.Livarot cheese is, to this very day, produced in its home town, at the Graindorge dairy in Livarot. A cheese fair is organised every year in August.It was awarded an AOC controlled designation of origin in 1975, then an AOP protected designation of origin in 1996. They are both official European quality labels. Livarot is placed under legal protection in all European Union member states.Livarot is a soft washed rind cheese made from cow’s milk, and is reddish in colour.
It is wrapped with 3 to 5 rings, referred to in French as “laîches“. Strips of willow wood were formerly used to help hold the cheese together. Today, they are more aesthetic and are made of reed or paper. Livarot is also referred to as Colonel, for its surrounding rings are reminiscent of a Colonel’s golden stripes.This soft cheese contains at least 40% fat. 5 litres of milk are required to produce a livarot cheese which is matured for 60 days in a cellar.

www.calvados-tourisme.co.uk

Cheese Festival – Livarot, Normandie

Livarot cheese from NormandyLivarot (14 Calvados, Normandie) is one of Normandy’s most distinctive cheeses. The town holds its anual cheese festival in August.
See map

Bayeux Medieval Festival

Bayeux (14 Calvados, Normandie) celebrates its medieval heritage every July with a weekend festival of music, street entertainment etc – see www.bayeux-tourism.com/

Carrot Festival – Créances, Normandy

carrots.jpgI should not be surprised, but the French do seem to have a propensity to celebrate almost anything that is food-related, and claim that it is only their village that can claim to produce the best examples in France, if not the world.
Hence, the humble carrot gets its day of glory at Créances on the Cherbourg peninsula (50 Manche, Normandie) when every 2nd Saturday in August – 10 August 2019 there is a Carrot festival with a large market, tastings, music and fireworks.

Thanks to the persistence of its members, the quality “Label Rouge” mark was awarded in 1962 to carrots grown in Créance’s sandy soil and since 1990 the town has organised a special festival dedicated to its “queen of vegetables”, held every second Saturday in August.
The programme includes a parade of carrot growers, the “Mougeous d’Carottes”, a cooking competition, a fair open to everyone and musical entertainment. Every year about 25,000 visitors come to join in the fun.

Créance’s market garden area produces approximately 35,000 tons of “carottes des sables” and 10,000 tons of leeks every year.

Créance is at the bottom of the Cotentin peninsula opposite the island of Jersey.

Further details from the Syndicat d’Initiative de Créances (in high season) www.canton-lessay.com/web/carrot_festival.html

Camembert and Brie

Camembert and Brie – famous soft cows milk cheeses from northern France

see map

Livarot (14, Calvados, Normandy)

Flying UK to France

Flybe planeThe number of budget airline routes to France from the UK is continuing to grow, as is the number of French destinations – no longer restricted to the major cities. This really does open up some of the less well-known parts of France.
The list below shows the extent of the coverage – and this excludes flights to Paris which are available from most local airports. Some flights are seasonal, so please check with the airline for timetables and availability.

Destination From airline

Honfleur Maritime Festival

Honfleur (14 Calvados, Normandie) is a delightful small harbour town on the Normandy coast just west of the Seine river estuary and Le Havre, now reached after crossing the elegant Pont de Normandie.

Events in Honfleur:

poster8 – 10 May 2019Maritime Festival (Fete des Marins)

Blessing of the Sea on the Sunday followed by a procession through the town on the Monday.

After the industrial and concrete-dominated arrival in Le Havre this comes as a welcome breath of fresh air and you start to feel that you are in the real France (as long as you ignore all the British yachts in the harbour – Honfleur being a favourite weekend cross-channel destination from the south coast marinas).

5 – 6 October 2019 – Shrimp Festivalposter

the town celebrates the Annual Fete de la Crevette et de la Peche (shrimps and fishing) – with music, fireworks, cookery, parade, marine crafts etc. For more info see www.ot-honfleur.fr .

There is plenty of scope for confusion amongst novices on the naming of these crustaceans (in English almost as much as in French) – shrimps, prawns, scampi, crayfish.. Without going into the detailed classifications and natural history we’ll try to summarise..
Crevettes grises (grey) are shrimps – the larger ones also known as Gambas, whilst Crevettes roses (pink) are prawns – tending to be a bit bigger than the shrimp.Ecrivisses are crayfish, whilst langoustines are scampi – Langoustes being larger, more like a small spiny lobster. At the top of the pile is Homard, the lobster.

B&B La Cour Sainte Catherine
B&B La Cour Sainte Catherine

There is a good B&B in Honfleur; La Cour Sainte Catherine a former convent of Augustinian sisters in the 17th Century with typical Normandy buildings clustered around a small enclosed garden – and within easy walking distance of the port.

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On the beach at Villers-sur-Mer

VillervilleVillerville (14 Calvados, Normandie), is a pleasant coastal village on the Côte Fleurie, which hosts its “Summer Fires(Feux de l’Eté) and village festival on 11 August 2018 with fireworks and there is music, dancing and probably even a little drinking – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic as this is a family event.- see www.indeauville.fr

Villers-sur-Mer is on the Channel coast just east of Deauville

VILLERVILLE THE VILLAGE ON THE CLIFF
It’s here where Henri Verneuil placed his camera about 50 years ago to shoot “A Monkey in Winter”. An artistic aura that Villerville keeps alive welcoming every year young actors during the “Villerville Festival” organized at the beginning of September. Originally a fishing village, Villerville is bordered by high and narrow houses leading to the seaside and the Parc des Graves with a breathtaking panorama.
The must-sees: The Sea fair, the Ferme du Château and its centenary beeches, the “A Monkey in winter” guided visit of the film shooting sites, including the famous Cabaret Normand that has preserved his charm from 1962.

Granville, Normandy

  • Granville Carnaval (21 25 February 2020) see Manche Tourisme
  • Shellfish Festival 28 – 29 September 2019

In the small and rather elegant resort of Granville (50 Manche, Normandie) there is now a museum and garden dedicated to the designer Christian Dior.
dior granvilleThis icon of French Haute-Couture had a house in the town – “Villa les Rhumbs” which houses the museum, containing a huge collection of his creations. Yet what is surprising is that his creative purple patch really only covered about 10 years from 1947 to his death in 1957 – when he single-handedly created the “new look” and eternalised the image of the eternal Parisian woman – elegant with fine shoulders and narrow waist. He was clearly also a serious businessman, as the name Dior has been sustained and developed in the 40 years since his passing.

High fashion was his forté, but he was also an enthusiast and creator of fine perfumes, and part of the Villa is dedicated to perfumery – you can experiment and smell your own concoctions in the Perfume Workshop. And in the garden of the house there is an “aromatic” promenade through some of the plants which provide the essential oils for the perfumes.
For more info see www.musee-dior-granville.com Just 30 miles south west via Avranches is the Mont St Michel – see
www.baie-mont-saint-michel.fr/

Carnival of Granville

The Carnival of Granville is a four-day celebration that takes place in the lead up to Shrove Tuesday involving members of the community and nearby communes. Opening with the mayor handing the keys to King Carnival (a papier mache figure), it begins with a series of float processions interspersed with marching bands. The floats, about 40 in total, often take a humorous look at current events, politics and celebrities and involve the work of 2,500 ‘carnivalists’ who spend six months creating them, as well as smaller modules that also feature. Each ‘carnivalist’ is part of a committee representing an area of the town or a group of friends, colleagues or families involved. Local departments also assist, constructing some of the floats and contributing to the overall logistics. Social balls for different age groups are held, as well as a confetti battle in the town square. The festivities finish with a ‘night of intrigues’ when carnival-goers disguised in costume joke with loved ones or settle scores with impunity. Finally, the king is sentenced and cremated in the port. Attracting 100,000 spectators annually, the Carnival of Granville contributes to community unity and a sense of belonging. Associated knowledge is transmitted within families and committees. [Unesco]

In Autumn the town hosts a huge seafood festival around the port with over fifty stalls, tastings and entertainment galore:

Shellfish Festival Toute la Mer sur un Plateau 28 – 29 September 2019

Granville Seafood Festivalsee http://www.tourisme-granville-terre-mer.com

Granville, as the premier shellfish port in France, offers an opportunity for food-lovers at this Shellfish Festival.
You can discover work of the fishermen with exhibitions, 50 exhibitors, demonstrations and cooking workshops led by chefs, sea songs, a sales area of seafood and on-site catering.

For more info see
http://www.tourisme-granville-terre-mer.com

Apartment Mer Baie Mont St Michel near Granville
Apartment Mer Baie Mont St Michel near Granville

B&Bs, self-catering and hotels in Granville such as the Apartment Mer Baie Mont St Michel near Granville(5km) with direct access to the beach and offering a panoramic view of the Mont Saint Michel Bay!

La Basse Cour, B&B in Normandy

la basse cour

Brief Summary:

Property name B&B La Basse Cour
Address Ancinnes (Sarthe, Pays de Loire)
Postcode 72610
nearest town Alencon, 8km (5 miles)
Type B&B, Chambres d’Hote
Location in the countryside
Price in euros From
Description This picturesque 18th century Normandy farmhouse has three guest rooms with modern, private bathrooms. Guests have access to a comfortably furnished sitting room/library, terraces and extensive gardens equipped with tables and chairs by the side of a small fishing lake.Quiet, private setting in the countryside at the edge of a forest yet in walking distance of shops, restaurant and bar. On the border of Normandy and the Sarthe (Pays de Loire) the B&B is in the village of Ancinnes, at the edge of the Forest of Perseigne. Just 10 minutes from Alençon and the A28 (30 minutes north of Le Mans, 80 minutes south of Rouen) this is a wonderful area to explore by car, on foot or by bike and is perfect for a few days or a short stopover en route to the Channel ports. This is an excellent area for activity or sightseeing holidays, blessed with with chateaux, gardens, pretty villages and countryside, horseriding, mountainbiking, canoeing, quad biking, rock climbing and much more.
See our article on “Le weekend in…. ALENCON
Booking and enquiries La Basse Cour

Unless you are lucky enough to live within an hour or so of the English Channel ports, the annual trip to and from France can be a bit of an ordeal. Dover crossings may be short, but tend to leave you with longer to drive on both sides of the Channel. The western Channel crossings are longer, but can be expensive, especially if you reserve a cabin for an overnight crossing. And, whilst parts of northern France don’t always tempt you to pause, the routes through Brittany and Normandy offer a host of places which would be worth a linger! An ideal stop-over to break the journey – just 90 minutes or so (135km) south of the Caen ferry terminal) at Ouistreham. Le Basse Cour is run by Phil and Jude Graham at Ancinnes (72 Sarthe, Pays de Loire) near Alencon (61 Orne, Normandie), just 10 minutes from the new A28 autoroute, and right on the border between Normandy and the Loire Valley (Sarthe).

This picturesque 18th century Normandy farmhouse has three guest rooms with private bathrooms. Guests have access to a sitting room/library, terraces and extensive gardens equipped with tables and chairs by the side of a small fishing lake.

 

“Choose from three comfortable en-suite guest rooms with a three star Gites de France rating. The house is in a peaceful, quiet setting surrounded by wooded and planted gardens on the fringes of the magnificent Forest of Perseigne. You’re welcome to make yourself at home on the terrace with a glass of wine (or try the local Normandy cider) or enjoy a game of boules on the lawn.” As Michael said ” it was so good that we stopped over for two more days on the way back to the port at Caen. Genial hosts, wonderful setting, super rooms.”

A welcoming and friendly area, which is unspoiled by commercial tourism but rich in tradition, with an abundance of interesting places and sights to see.

Basse Cour B&B at Ancinnes

Calvados Apple Brandy

 

boulardA recent article on Armagnac and Cognac prompts a mention of Calvados, the apple brandy from Normandy.- except that in some circumstances it is not just apples that make the brandy, but pears are included!
The best Calvados is the double-distilled Appellation Controllee Calvados Pays d’Auge, which has to be made with apples from the defined region of the Auge – an area between Caen and Rouen which lies south of Honfleur and Deauville towards and beyond Lisieux. Otherwise most of the production is plain Calvados AC which can be double-distilled, or can be made by continuous distillation.

However, it is the little-known AOC Calvados Domfrontais from the immediate region of the town of Domfront (61 Orne, Normandy) which is made of at least 30% pears!

More confusing are the labelling rules which describe the age of the brandy – so 3-star spends a minimum of 2 years in cask;”Vieux” or “Reserve” spend a minimum of 3 years in cask; “Vieux Reserve” or VSOP spend a minimum of 4 years in cask; whilst “Hors Age” (without age) can be applied to any brandy which has been aged for 6 or more years, Sometimes you will see age-specific labels such as 9-year-old, which is about the youngest spirit in the blend. If you find a rare vintage Calvados the year refers to the year of distillation, i.e. the year after harvest.

Another local speciality is Pommeau which is a blend of apple juice and Calvados – a similar idea to Floc de Gascogne or Pineau des Charentes.

Calvados Boulard has an interesting website at www.calvados-boulard.com – Calvados Apple Brandy

In the UK a good source for a wide range of interesting Calvados from a number of excellent producers is www.calvadosonline.co.uk who also feature Dream Calvados Cream!! “a delicious blend of cream and young fruity calvados from Domaine Dupont. To be enjoyed on the rocks, creamy and smooth the taste of caramel, apple and vanilla”. Apples and cream are of course the quintessential Normandy produce, but personally I’ll concentrate on savouring the Calvados!!

Normandy Gardens project

An innovative project has been launched which links 2 attractive regions either side of the channel through their respective abundance of gardens to visit. French gardens are often interesting to visit, especially as some aim to create what they think of as a “jardin anglais” – usually with lawns and “cottage garden” features, whilst others, particularly in the grounds of stately homes and chateaux, can be very formal.

Normandy clearly has a wealth of gardens open to the public – “The parks and gardens of Normandy, whether botanical, landscape or historic have become important points of reference. Connoisseurs as well as novices will be enthralled by the wealth of different species as well as the beauty of the individual sites. You will find 40 sites, all members of the association, which have been selected not only for their beauty but also for their hospitality. Visitors can discover a wide range of surroundings and secret walks which change daily according to the weather, plant cycle and with a little help from man.”

They range includes the famous Monet gardens at Giverny (27 Eure, Haut-Normandie) near the Seine, the magnificently named Jardins de Bellevue at Beaumont le Hareng (the herring?) (76 Seine-Maritime, Normandie) which houses 2 national collections and Agapanthe (“a contemporary garden, burgeoning with plants, takes the form of a series of sharply contrasting intimate spaces ; a botanical walk which also pays tribute to man-made structures, artistically blending the mineral and vegetable kingdoms.”) at Grigneuseville (76 Seine-Maritime, Normandie); and as far west as the Jardin des Plantes at Coutances (50 Manche, Normandie). There are also the gardens at Chateau Champ de Bataille (Castle Battlefield?) at Le Neubourg (27 Eure, Normandie)

Also see our calendar of events in France

A selection of Normandy gardens

Jazz under the apple trees!

jazzpommiers24-31 May 2014 sees the 20th “Jazz sous les Pommiers” Festival at Coutances (50 Manche, Normandy) – the capital of the Cotentin Peninsula, which is the peninsula which juts north with Cherbourg at its head. This promises to be an ideal way of enjoying mellow jazz in late Spring in the heart of Normandy with apple blossom and warm evenings. Whilst the big concerts are held in the Theatre Municipal, there are jazz events throughout the town – some in the open air, some free. Enjoy the Normandy cuisine – cider, pork, cream and butter are the regions gastronomic jewels.
For more info see www.jazzsouslespommiers.com
Situated on an outcrop, the town has a fine 11th/13th Century Cathedral and a “Jardin des Plantes”.

Also see our calendar of events in France