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, or a chambre d’hôtes, as it is known in French. This weekend, we’ll be accompanying four journalists on a foodie-themed press trip and our first night’s stay will be at the Château de la Puisaye, so we thought, what better reason to share our very first experience of this swanky B&B with you?
We first visited the Château de la Puisaye, near the medieval town of Verneuil-sur-Avre, on a beautiful autumnal morning back in 2015. The B&B owner, British-born Diana, offers her guests the full foodie experience, including a delicious table d’hôtes in the evening (available on request), an extensive breakfast and cooking workshops for those wanting to learn how to prepare local specialties for themselves.
After marrying her French husband Bruno, Diana worked for many years in Paris as a lawyer in the film industry. Diana longed to move to the countryside to spend more time horse riding and had a dream of opening a B&B. In 2002, Diana and Bruno bought the beautiful Château de la Puisaye in the Eure département and made the move.
The chateau dates back to 1760 and is set in magnificent grounds where guests can explore 67 acres of parkland and many trails that run through a beech and oak woodland. Diana has a huge garden and an orchard that provides plenty of fresh fruit between June and November for her delicious breakfasts. When we visited, we found plenty of ripe fruit on the trees that we picked for Diana to transform into jam.
A keen cook and expert in classic dishes from both sides of the Channel, Diana 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 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!
For guests wanting to learn how to cook local dishes, Diana calls on the services of bilingual professional chef, Philippe Legrendre. Philippe spends a half-day at the chateau teaching guests how to prepare a four-courses Norman meal, which they can then enjoy. If the cooking workshop falls on market day, guests can also accompany Philippe to the market and learn how to select the best produce.
Text and photos © M. McNulty / Normandy Tourism