Happiness at Le Bréard in Honfleur

Many casual visitors to Honfleur congregate on the restaurant terraces around the picturesque Vieux Bassin. You can’t blame them for soaking up that glorious view, but take the trouble to explore the narrow streets that lead gently uphill behind the wooden church of St Catherine and you could be in for a treat, especially if you’re lucky enough to bag a table at Le Bréard at 7 rue du Puits.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

Billed simply as a ‘Restaurant Gastronomique, Le Bréard’s motto translates as ‘Gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness.’ And what happiness! Read the menu beside the door and it’s impossible to imagine the subtle flavours and creativity that chef Fabrice Sébire puts into every dish, a fusion of French and Oriental cuisine.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

Local lad Fabrice trained in Caen before working under some of the top chefs in Paris, but he has also been heavily influenced by time spent in Japan. In 2004, Fabrice and his wife Karine – who manages front-of-house – took over Le Bréard and made it their own. Today it is one of the must-try restaurants in Honfleur.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

The décor is elegant but understated, decorated with soothing, natural colours, but this is an address where all are welcome. A French family with two impeccably behaved small boys ate dinner at the next table to us and we could hear the odd contented gurgle from a baby beyond the partition wall, whilst a solo American businessman tucked in at a nearby table.

Seasonal local produce features prominently on Le Bréard’s menu, which offers sufficient variety without being overwhelming, and spices and textures make every course into a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Menus are priced at 32 euros for three courses and 48 or 58 for four, with amuse-bouche and gourmandises included.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur

I began with salmon with beetroot and radishes a delicate balance of flavours which complemented each other perfectly. To follow, I couldn’t resist the breast of guinea fowl served on a bed of Chinese cabbage and bacon, with vegetable ravioli and ginger – a thoroughly good choice. And after the cheese plate, my hot passion fruit soufflé proved a dream dessert, fluffy and flavourful with a delightful hint of decadence.

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© Restaurant Le Bréard, Honfleur / Honfleur Tourist Office

Le Bréard is closed all day on Monday, as well as lunchtimes from Tuesday to Thursday. Every table was taken when we visited on a Thursday evening, so it clearly pays to book ahead – it would be a real shame to miss out on such satisfying but subtle food!

This post was written by our lovely guest writer, Gillian Thornton. To read more of Gillian’s work, visit her website.log_normandie_gb1

For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

A spot of tea at the Maison du Biscuit

Not far from the D-Day Landing beaches in the heart of Normandy’s scenic Cotentin Peninsula lies the Maison du Biscuit in Sortosville-en-Beaumont. Every year, some 500,000 visitors make a stop here; not for the charms of the quaint village, but in search of the perfect biscuit.

Like something out of a dolls house or film set, the Maison du Biscuit occupies a row of buildings whose façade takes you back to a typical shopping street at the turn of the 19th century. I visited on a grey afternoon in autumn and the warm twinkling light from inside seemed very inviting.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Stepping into the shop, I was greeted with mouth-watering aromas of chocolate and almonds. Inside, the oldie-worldie theme continued. There was a bustle of activity as shoppers explored the nooks and crannies all filled with mouth-watering treats and staff danced around helping customers with their requests.

The family-run Maison du Biscuit has been refining its recipes since 1903, when Paul Burnof first opened his boulangerie in nearby village La Haye du Puits. Over five generations, recipes and techniques have been tried, tested and refined and passed on from father to son. Each generation developed a specialty, from bread, brioche and patisserie to biscuits and chocolate. The business has expanded to today’s huge success but this has not been without its challenges.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Chefs and bakers in Normandy are hugely fortunate to have an abundance of quality produce available from the region. Even in post-war Normandy, when third generation Maxime ran the boulangerie-patisserie, eggs, butter and flour were available and by mixing in a bit of sugar, he started the family’s first line of biscuits. The locals were delighted and the business flourished, becoming the Biscuiterie du Cotentin.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

When son Marc then took over the business, he was approached by a supermarket chain who wanted to stock these biscuits. Soon after the contract was signed, Marc and his wife Carol were faced with a dilemma. The supermarket put pressure on them to add preservatives to their products in order for them to last on supermarket shelves. Unwillingly they obliged but soon felt that this compromised the integrity of their craft and decided to abandon the business that their family had worked so hard to grow.

After a two-year break and plenty of reflection, Marc and Carol were ready to start again. The hallmark of their new business would be quality local ingredients with no additives or preservatives to produce exceptional artisan products made with that family savoir-faire. This all began in their tiny 10m2 garage. With no shop of their own, they travelled around the region selling their cakes and biscuits at farmers’ markets. The all-essential second-hand van in this early operation was even paid for in biscuits! Three years later, Marc and Carol found an old ruined dairy and decided to transform it into their shop.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

The tiny shop opened in 1995 and as word spread, demand grew and they slowly expanded their premises. During renovation works, Marc and Carol happened upon archive photos of the row of village shops in the early 20th century and they decided to renovate the building facades to take it back to how it looked once upon a time. The colourful façade, beautiful interior and quirky details such as an old cash register and piano used as furniture to showcase products, make shopping here a pleasurable experience.

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Want to see the Maison du Biscuit for yourself? Visit their website for information. For more details on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Lunch at Le Bec au Cauchois

Set in lush Normandy countryside between Étretat and Fécamp, Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant is not an address you’d stumble upon. Instead, with a Michelin star and a formidable reputation built by chef and owner Pierre Caillet, this is a spot where foodies make pilgrimage. One Friday night I was lucky enough not only to dine here but to sit at the chef’s table and watch the magic happen…

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The first thing that struck me was how calm and controlled the kitchen was – a far cry from how I’d imagined most professional kitchens. Perhaps I’ve watched too much Gordon Ramsay but there was zero evidence of the hot-headed chef barking orders whilst the rest of the team was gripped with panic.

There were several set menus of differing sizes all the way up to a nine-course tasting menu as well as à la carte. Stuck in a state of indecision, Chef quizzed me on my appetite, checked if there was anything I didn’t like and said that he would take care of my menu choices. Phew.Despite being fully booked on a Friday night, Chef Pierre happily talked me through what he was preparing, discussed how he’d paired flavours and introduced me to the ingredients that he was most excited about.

I was amazed to see that three or four of the team might work on one single dish. Each was plated to perfection and nothing left the kitchen without final approval from Chef Pierre.

After a selection of amuse bouche, I started off with foie gras coated in a jelly of reduced beetroot served with the shaved cedrat zest – a sharp Japanese citrus fruit, and garnished with tiny fresh flowers. It was a beautiful sight – the red round of foie gras looked like a giant sweetie and Chef Pierre explained that the bitter citrus flavour balanced the richness of the paté.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Next came scallop from Fécamp, marinated in the juice of kalamansi – another exotic citrus fruit, lightly poached and served with parsley root mousse and crisps – an old fashioned and nearly forgotten vegetable.

And then another dish came my way, Jerusalem artichoke with a white truffle ice cream. Chef Pierre informed me that truffle season had just started and I was eating part of his order of five Alsatian truffles that would last him three months. I’d not tried a savoury ice cream before and Chef explained that the ice cream mellowed the strong flavours of the truffle and artichoke – and it did!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

After a dalliance with an enormous cheese board, it was onto dessert: a light mousse of baked apple served on a yummy layer of something resembling a biscuit base and served with a cider coulis. It was light, fresh and ridiculously yummy.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Between courses Pierre explained that his cooking is based around reworking the big French classics inspired by exotic and forgotten ingredients. Originally from Paris, after spending two years in Tipperary, Ireland, Pierre and his family returned to France and settled in Normandy to be close to his in-laws. When Le Bec au Cauchois restaurant was for sale, they snatched it up. Pierre explained that along with the advantages of running a country restaurant – he grows much of his own vegetables and all his herbs- it poses challenges too. Building a reputation was key to winning customers and after many years of hard work, in 2011 he was awarded the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France. This national competition, overseen by the French Ministry of Labour, takes place every four years to award outstanding ability in a number of fields. Hundreds of chefs enter but after 18-months of examinations, Pierre was one of only eight chefs to be awarded the life-long title. Soon after in 2012, Le Bec au Cauchois was awarded one Michelin star.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Its reputation is now sealed and Pierre and his team cook for a full house most nights. For an unforgettable culinary experience, be sure to book ahead at Le Bec au Cauchois!

log_normandie_gb1For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Les Saisons, a belle époque bistrot in the beautiful Pays d’Auge

The Normandy countryside is full of surprises and Les Saisons restaurant is definitely one of them. The tiny village of Cambremer is in the heart of the lush Pays d’Auge countryside. This is true picture postcard Normandy, where in spring you’ll spot the native brown and white dairy cows grazing in the blossom-filled apple orchards.

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Normandy cows © Calvados Tourisme

I was touring this beautiful spot with a group of journalists and we were heading to Les Saisons for a spot of lunch on the recommendation of my local tourist partner, Armelle. The road to Cambremer had taken us through villages of pretty half-timbered houses, passing by fields, farms and orchards, and we’d barely seen any traffic for a good twenty minutes. It was 1pm and we were already well into the lengthy French pause déjeuner; no wonder nobody was about!

We arrived in a picturesque and deserted Cambrember, parked up and headed to the village square to find our restaurant. From the outside, Les Saisons looked a like a classy belle époque bistrot that wouldn’t look out of place in the Latin Quarter. A small outside seating area was eagerly awaiting the return of summer and I imagined this would be an idyllic spot for sipping a cider and watching the world go by.

We stepped inside and indeed the front room was like a Parisian brasserie with its high ceiling, benches, red velvet curtains, tiled floor and beautiful wooden bar. We were immediately greeted by the friendly Italian giant, Fabio, who ushered us through to an annex that was much more spacious and, like the first room, packed with chattering locals. Word of this great lunch spot must have spread – it was lucky we’d booked! The second dining room was cosier and more rustic than the first with its ochre-coloured walls, straw baskets hanging from the ceiling and dressers laden with pretty crockery.

The menu was not extensive and by the time we arrived for lunch (late by French standards), there were just two options left for dessert. This was more than made up for by the fact that the dishes changed daily to ensure super fresh and seasonal ingredients. Unusual for a French menu too were the number of vegetarian dishes both for the starters and the mains. And the best bit – three courses would set us back just €18 a head. No wonder it was so busy! We started with a bottle of delicious chilled local cider and ordered our food. I ordered the carpaccio of fresh beetroot served with flakes of toasted almonds and parmesan. It was simple, delicious and felt more like home cooking – a welcome change after so much rich restaurant food on our travels. My fellow diners opted for the pumpkin muffin with salad, which also looked good.

For my main, I’d gone for poached fish, served with braised leeks and fennel and potatoes. It was almost like a stew, packed with flavour so good that I needed to order an extra basket of baguette to soak up all the yummy sauce. My lunch buddies had ordered the Norman smoked andouille (chitterling sausage) stew and vegetarian quiche, and were all very happy with their lot.

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Andouille © Calvados Tourisme

By the time it came to dessert, I was already feeling pretty full. It would normally have been a totally unnecessary indulgence, but in the name of research, I thought I’d better order one! The choice was between chocolate brownie with cream or rice pudding with salted caramel sauce, known in Normandy as teurgoule. I opted for the latter; it came recommended by Fabio, after all. I’m not a habitual rice pudding eater, normally finding them a bit too heavy, but this version was surprisingly light and deliciously creamy, perfectly offset by the salted caramel sauce. By the time we finished our meal, most of the locals had moved on and headed back to work. We finished with an espresso and a chat with the lovely Fabio before hitting the road, happy with our new find.

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Teurgoule © Normandy Tourist Board

So if you’re exploring the Norman countryside, perhaps following the 40-mile cider route that passes through Cambremer, why call in at Les Saisons for a delicious, good-value meal in a charming setting?log_normandie_gb1

For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

A visit to Trouville’s fish market

Last year I took advantage of Ryanair’s summer route from London Stansted to Deauville-Normandie, and took a group of journalists to the beautiful stretch of coastline known as the Côte Fleurie [Flowered Coast]. A trip to the traditional fishing port of Trouville-sur-Mer was on the cards and my local contact on the ground, Virginie, recommended a visit and dégustation [tasting] at the old fish market. A covered market hall type setting and shrimps on plastic plates was the image that came to mind, but Virginie said it was a fantastic experience and assured me that we would have a great time.

And of course, I was completely mistaken! Situated at the mouth of the Touques estuary, the fish market stalls open out onto Trouville’s main street and offer up a colourful display of impeccably presented fish and seafood. Shaded by awnings, and with jets of water spurting out at regular intervals to keep them looking fresh, you’ll find scallops, mackerel, sole, prawns, lobster, crabs, oysters and much more. Although Trouville’s fish market dates back to 1840, today’s Neo-Norman style market was originally built in 1936 and in 1991 was listed as a Historic Monument.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Thierry Houyel

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Emilie Ursule

Fishing has always played a crucial role in daily life in Trouville. Before sea bathing ever became popular, the town lived off the fishing industry. Trouville and the neighbouring town of Deauville have also always been popular getaways for Parisians. The closest seaside resorts to the capital with a direct train link, weekends in both towns are bustling with visitors. For a final taste of the sea, on a Sunday afternoon, Parisians would buy a last sample of fresh seafood to eat on the riverside (indeed, not very French), or on the train journey home.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Jane Norman

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Jane Norman

Sébastien Saiter, skipper, fisherman and owner of one of the fish market’s ten stalls, the Pillet Saiter, decided that there might be an appetite for a dining experience at the market itself. He set up high tables in front of his stall and invited people to enjoy their choice of fresh seafood with a glass of something delicious. So that’s where we found ourselves. It was a sunny June day and the tables filled up fast. There was a buzzy atmosphere and it felt very French as we started with an enormous plate of oysters and shrimps accompanied by a chilled white wine.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Jane Norman

Next it was onto a fish soup that comes with small slices of toasted bread, to be covered in paste called rouille, dunked onto the soup and then covered with grated gruyère cheese; a fishy version of the classic French onion soup which was absolutely delicious! It was Sébastien’s grandmother Jeannette who first devised this popular recipe. Here, it’s served on tap and you can buy it by the jar to take it home as a foodie souvenir. These days, it’s sought after far and wide and exported as far as China.

On the next table along, fellow diners were tucking into huge towers of lobster, crab, oysters and the rest, but we were moving on to the next foodie hot spot… this was just our starter!log_normandie_gb1

Trouville’s fish market is open every day. For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

Eat à la Végetarienne at the Maison du Vert

French cuisine is considered by many to be the best in the world, but for vegetarians, options can often seem limited.

When Debbie and Daniel came to Normandy on holiday just over fifteen years ago, they’d booked a stay at the Maison du Vert in Ticheville, a vegetarian restaurant and hotel. On arrival, they discovered that it was up for sale. When they checked into their room and took one look at the incredible view across the Touques valley, it took Debbie and Daniel approximately five minutes to offer the asking price and buy the place.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

A re-location to France and taking on a hospitality business had not been on the cards for the couple. Shortly before that fateful holiday, they’d bought and moved into a new home back in England. They didn’t speak French and in spite of being keen cooks, they’d never run their own restaurant.

They set to work on modernising La Maison du Vert before moving onto the overgrown garden. As professional horticulturalists they transformed the 6 acres into an idyllic oasis.

When they developed their kitchen garden, they discovered that the soil here was excellent for growing top quality produce. Their organic vegetable and herb garden, berry bushes, apple and pear trees supply most of the salad, vegetables and some of the fruit for their restaurant.

My colleague Carole and I visited the restaurant at lunchtime on a stunning autumnal day. It was so warm and sunny that we opted to eat outside in the beautiful landscaped gardens. In summer I could imagine that the colours of the many flowers planted throughout the garden make a riot of colour but we enjoyed vibrant green and burnt autumnal shades.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

After an aperitif we started our meal with stuffed vine leaves served with fresh salad from the garden and toasted seeds. Far from the usual Norman restaurant fare, Debbie told us that their cooking is inspired from all corners of the globe to keep it deliciously tasty, varied and interesting. Almost everything on the menu is homemade and apart from a few exotic ingredients that they buy on their annual trip back to the UK, they only use local produce.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

Our main course was a potato rosti served with sweet red pepper sauce, grilled courgette, goat’s cheese and sundried tomato. Not only did it look pretty on the plate, it was absolutely delicious.

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Photo credit: La Maison du Vert

For the first three years after opening, the locals were shy to come to the restaurant and try these exotic dishes. Initially their main clientele were visiting Brits, Germans, Belgians and Dutch. Then, the French seemed to arrive, word spread and now they make up almost half of their diners. Debbie had been warned that the French aren’t too keen on spicy food but when they tried it here, they seemed to love it. She soon noticed that local customers would always choose the most unusual dish on the menu and the exotic choice was perhaps the reason they most enjoyed coming.

I continued onto dessert and opted for a ginger and honey ice cream. It was creamy, zingy: exquisite.

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During the summer months they serve afternoon tea and homemade cakes outside. The gardens are immense and are cleverly landscaped with hedges and trees to create lots of small intimate spaces with their own table and chairs.

Maison du Vert is located in Ticheville, not far from Vimoutiers in the Orne region of Normandy. The restaurant and hotel are open everyday from Easter through to mid-September.log_normandie_gb1

For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.

There’s a new pâtissier in town

Over in Blighty, Mary Berry and the Great British Bake Off have sent us all a little cake crazy. Across the Channel in France, sensational patisserie has never been out of fashion. I often witness overwhelmed tourists drooling at the sight and scent of a French patisserie window. I know, I’ve been one of them.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

French patisserie chefs are something of artists. The foundation of their art is made up of the obligatory classics. In Cherbourg, at the tip of Normandy’s Cotentin peninsula, there’s a new chef in town who’s making waves in the patisserie world.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

For Jean-François Foucher, sticking to an orthodox take on the classics is just not enough. His tag-line l’imagination gourmande accurately describes his approach. With bags of imaginative and playful creativity, he reinvents the classics and conjures up a few Foucher originals for good measure.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Originally from Bordeaux, Foucher arrived in Normandy by way of Paris, Japan, the U.S.A and Argentina where he worked in an impressive portfolio of 5* hotels. His sweet creations are the product of these years abroad with exotic ingredients and Japanese minimalism and precision as his hallmark.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

It was a Friday morning when I popped into his shop and salon de the and as I sampled a chocolate or two, there was a steady stream of customers buying cakes, chocolates and macaroons. It seems that a Foucher cake is the ultimate present for a dinner host in these parts and macaroons are favourite gifts at any time.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

On the counter top were piles of fresh and flaky croissants, chauson au pomme and brioche alongside rows of yummy canelé with their dark caramalised crust and gooy custard centre – a delicacy of Foucher’s native Bordeaux.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Under the counter are the more reworked, decadent cakes. A new take on the éclair, a Paris Brest and a Saint-Honoré, Foucher’s most popular creation, are the most recognisable. Their presentation is simple, modern and utterly beautiful – it would seem a shame to eat any of these.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Branching out from patisserie, Foucher has now developed a line of chocolates. Quality cocoa is paired with wasabi, roibos, angelica and cardammon amongst other exotic herbs, flowers and spices. I tried the violet and it was sensational.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The Foucher brand is growing quickly. There’s now another boutique open near Deauville, catering for weddings and events is in high demand throughout the region and Foucher has been solicited for consulting services as far away as Shanghai.

If you’re inspired to learn from the master, Jean-Francois offers half-day workshops where you learn to make the perfect éclair or fruit tart. Just in time for a chance of next season’s Bake Off!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The Patisserie, Chocolaterie and Salon de Thé in Cherbourg is open every day (times vary).log_normandie_gb1

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.