The most visited French monument outside Paris, the Mont-Saint-Michel enchants travellers from across the world with its narrow winding streets, panoramic viewpoints and imposing hilltop abbey. Surrounded by water at high tide, its unmistakable outline is visible from miles away, a landmark for pilgrims since medieval times. But this glorious corner of Normandy is also a delight for lovers of slow food. Take a break around the Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel and you can enjoy maximum taste with minimum food miles, not to mention some unique regional fare.
Before you leave the Mount, be sure to taste the famous omelette from La Mère Poulard omelette. In 1888, Annette and Victor Poulard opened an inn for pilgrims just inside the main gate. Mère Poulard became famous for her food, but especially for her famous fluffy omelette. Cooked on an open wood fire, they are still served daily, from 11:30am to 9:30pm.
Move away from the Mount and the salt marshes surrounding the bay are the source of delicious salt marsh lamb. Sheep graze on plants washed regularly by the high tide, imparting a very special flavour to the succulent meat.
But it’s not all about sheep here. Normandy’s signature cattle can be seen all over the region with their distinctive brown eye patches, but at Vains, close to the Maison de la Baie discovery centre, I came across a delicious dairy diversification. The Lefranc family have raised cattle here for four generations, but the milk crisis of 2009 led them to cut out the middle-men and take back control. Now this organic farm is autonomous from meadow to customer, and out of the crisis came Cara-Meuh – cara for caramel, meuh for ‘moo’ – a range of caramel toffees, spreads and syrups, all made on site from their own butter and cream. The shop is open daily from April to September from 9am to 7pm, and from 10:30am to 6:30pm, October through March. See cara-meuh.com for details of guided visits to the farm and toffee production unit.
Just a few kilometres away at Bacilly near Avranches, I enjoyed an unforgettable stay in the elegant Château de Chantore, Built in the 18th century this stylish chambres d’hôte is set in a glorious park with lakes and wild fowl, and offers distant views of Mont Saint-Michel through the trees. The estate is also home to 150 different varieties of apple trees, producing its own organic cider and apple juice by traditional methods. B&B guests can buy at any time, and non-residents can visit the park shop any day in July and August between 2:30pm and 6:30pm when the grounds are open.
If apple drinks aren’t your thing, browse the local shops for Meuh-Cola, brainchild of soft drinks producer Sebastien Belletoile of Solbulles, the last artisan lemonade producer in Normandy. Made at Saint Pair Sur Mer, near Granville, the craft cola is free of caffeine, phosphoric acid and gluten..
Fashion fans won’t want to miss this summer’s exhibition at the Christian Dior Museum in Granville, Grace de Monaco, Princesse en Dior. But leave time to sample a selection of local produce at La Bonne Aventure, the charming new tea room in the scented garden ()
And if you can’t resist a plate of smoked salmon, don’t leave Granville without a visit to Le Saumonier Granville, an award-winning artisan smoke-house. You can also buy their produce on Saturday mornings at Granville’s colourful covered market–perfect picnic fare or as an edible souvenir to take home.
About our guest writer: Gillian Thornton is widely known in the travel journalism industry as a France specialist. Particular interests include gastronomy, history, heritage, walking, nature and wildlife. Regular commissions include Women’s Weekly, The People’s Friend, France Today, Voyage and Silver Travel Advisor. To read more of Gillian’s work, visit her website.
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © T. Houyel | Text: G. Thornton