For foodies travelling to Normandy one of the best ways to sample local cuisine and learn about life in the region is by staying at a B&B and dining with your hosts at a table d’hôtes. For those who want to learn how to prepare local specialties for themselves, there are a number of B&Bs that offer cooking workshops.
On a beautiful autumnal morning, I travelled to Château de la Puisaye near the medieval town of Verneuil-sur-Avre to meet B&B owner, British-born Diane, who offers her guests the full foodie experience.
After marrying her French husband Bruno, Diane worked for many years in the French capital as a lawyer in the film industry. Diane had longed to move to the countryside to spend more time horse riding and had a dream of opening a B&B. In 2002, Diane and Bruno bought the beautiful Château de la Puisaye in Normandy and made the move.
The chateau dates back to 1760 and is set in magnificent grounds where guests can explore 27 hectares of parkland and many trails that run through a beech and oak wood. Diane keeps a huge vegetable garden that provides plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables between June and November for her table d’hôtes. When I visited last October we found plenty of ripe fruit on the trees that we picked for Diane to transform into jam.
A keen cook and expert in classic dishes from both sides of the Channel, Diane offers her guests a gourmet table d’hôtes. Wherever possible she uses fresh produce from her garden for delicious soups and salads. What she doesn’t grow herself, she buys locally – she told me that there’s an excellent foie gras farm, free-range pork farm, poultry farm and even an escargot farm in the area. She now also has her own flock of sheep so in season you might be lucky enough to enjoy roast garlic and rosemary lamb that boasts almost zero food miles!
In the autumn, wild mushrooms can be found in the acres of woodland in the grounds. For those lucky enough to be here at the right time of the year, which is completely unpredictable, Diane enjoys taking guests to the best spots to pick fresh mushrooms.
For guests who want to learn how to cook some local dishes much as I believe Diane would be more than qualified, she calls on the services of a bilingual professional chef, Philippe Legrendre. Philippe spends half-day at the chateau teaching guests how to prepare four-courses of Norman specialties that they then dine on. If the class falls on the local market day, guests can also accompany Philippe on a market visit where they will learn how to select the best produce.
So, if you’re looking for a gourmet stay with bags of character, Château de la Puisaye might just be the place for you.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, and for a list of all of the main food festivals in the region, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.