As I take my first sip of pink champagne in the elegant salon of the Château de Saint-Paterne, I wonder if I could have got away with wearing slippers to dinner. Such is the friendly welcome at Charles-Henry and Ségolène De Valbray’s family castle near Alençon, you’re instantly made to feel at home. This is the joy of ‘eating in’ at a superb B&B, hotel or restaurant-with-rooms, where great food, great wine and great company are just a few paces from a comfortable bedroom. Château de Saint-Paterne is one of my favourites – not just in Normandy, but the whole of France – for its superb food and drink, all enjoyed in the twinkling lights of the romantic dining room. Each time we’ve stayed, we’ve sat by the fire in the salon after dinner sipping digestifs from the honesty bar, browsing the myriad of fascinating books and magazines on the coffee table. If only our own home could be like this.
The château is on the edge of the Perche Regional Natural Park, itself worth exploring, especially for those who love antiques, bric-a-brac and bargain-hunting in flea markets. In the town of Mortagne-au-Perche- famous for its black pudding as well as its own antiques stores – the Hôtel du Tribunal is a small but charming little hotel with a fantastic restaurant, recommended by the Michelin guide. Its cosy restaurant serves a superb menu incorporating the town’s famous boudin noir – and again, just a few paces from a bedroom.
On the north coast, at the family-run Château de la Chenevière in Port-en-Bessin close to Omaha Beach (where commemorations for the 75th anniversary of D-Day will take place this summer), Le Botaniste restaurant is a more formal affair, but the welcome no less friendly – after all, the hotel is a family operation, the pride and joy of Marie-Françoise and Thomas Dicker, who bought it in 1988. Chef Didier Robin’s exquisite menus showcase the fresh fish and seafood from the nearby coast, as well as fresh vegetables and herbs from the château’s own potager garden. The dining room – with its wood panelling and beautiful wooden parquet floors – is decorated as beautifully as the luxurious bedrooms upstairs.
At the Manoir de Surville, a sophisticated chambres d’hôtes set in an expansive garden in the village of Surville south of Rouen, is worth timing a visit on the nights Jordan Fouchet hosts his chef’s table. Jordan brings together the best local and seasonal produce to sublime effect: spring dishes such as roasted duck breast, lemon confit and salt-crusted beetroot, will have you re-booking a visit in summer for his seared quail, with artichoke caviar and candied tomatoes. Unlike bigger restaurants where the chef remains resolutely anonymous, when it comes to a chef’s table or table d’hôtes, there is every opportunity to discuss the food, the produce and the inspiration with the chef himself or herself. Whether you wear slippers or not, is up to you.
About our guest writer: Carolyn Boyd is a travel and food writer specialising in France. For other articles on Normandy and France, visit carolynboyd.net
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © Château de la Chenevière | Text © Carolyn Boyd