Eat like a king at the Étape Louis XIII

I love a good restaurant recommendation, especially when it comes from a local. I was planning a trip deep into rural Normandy in search of a new Norman foodie trend – red flesh apples – and needed a stop for lunch. My local partner Capucine suggested the restaurant Etape Louis XIII in the village of Beaumesnil, approximately halfway between Lisieux and Bernay. Chef Sébastien is part of a chef’s association, the Toques Normandes, who are passionate about working with Norman produce and exist to promote Norman cuisine.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

No sooner do I arrive in the village when I round a corner and am suddenly awe-struck by the magnificent Château de Beaumesnil. It may be lunchtime but I have to stop for a photo.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I see a sign for a potager (kitchen garden to you and me) just down a path from the entrance to the chateau so I go to have a look. I learn later that they grow over 500 varieties of vegetables here, including some that are near extinction, and they host a vegetable festival every September.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Back in the car and in no time at all, I pass through the main hub of the village, and arrive at my destination. I park up and walk through a beautifully kept garden to reach a very pretty traditional Norman building with half-timbered façades and geraniums spilling out of the window boxes. The building dates from 1612 and was originally intended as a rectory – I then realise that the name alludes to this building dating to the reign of Louis XIII!

I step through the front door into a dimly lit wood-paneled entrance hall and am greeted by the lovely Aurélie, who ushers me into the dining room. A huge fire place dominates the room and acts as a divider between what must once have been two smaller rooms. The fire is lit and the room is cosy and intimate with a touch of sophistication.

There’s a very calm atmosphere as classical music plays gently in the background and the restaurant’s diners have hushed conversations across tables.  The service is equally discreet and attentive.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

There’s a good selection on the menu and the starters and deserts feature quite a few French and Norman classics with a bit of a twist. For starters there are warm oysters with Camembert, Saint-Jacques scallops or Andouille tart with apples and creamy Pommeau sauce, home-made foie gras on toast with a cinnamon biscuit.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I go straight in for the main and choose the plat du jour: salmon with a carrot purée and seasonal vegetables. It is deliciously tender and I detect cumin, a squeeze of orange and a garnish of fennel that liven the accompanying vegetables. It’s rich, flavoursome and just the right amount.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

I would have been more than satisfied to stop there but when I declined a desert, the gentleman on the table next to me intervened and said that I couldn’t leave the restaurant without trying the calvados soufflé – he always orders two! My arm is sufficiently twisted…

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

Wow! I’ve tried calvados is a few culinary forms but this by far tops them all. It’s light, fluffy, melts in your mouth and emits a heavenly aroma. When I meet Chef Sébastien after my meal he tells me that when he took over the restaurant a few years ago, he learnt this recipe from his predecessor as it was a firm favourite with previous clients.

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© M. McNulty / Normandy Tourist Board

So there you have it, the Etape Louis XIII is well worth the journey, if only for the calvados soufflé! I expect you’ll be won over with the rest of the menu too. Two courses are priced at €25 and three are €33. Given the quality of my meal, this strikes me as excellent value.  L’Etape Louis XIII is open for lunch and dinner every day except for Tuesday and Monday evenings. And while you’re there, why not pop by the Château de Beaumesnil? It’s known locally as the little Versailles and with its beautiful gardens, it’s well worth a visit.log_normandie_gb1

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

 

The Tale of the Norman Ale

If you thought that Normandy was all about cider and calvados, then think again! Following the national trend for craft beer, the region has seen several new brands launch in recent years, the most emblematic of which being La MIN (Made In Normandy). With its retro look and its logo representing the Mont-Saint-Michel, it has a real Norman feel to it and is starting to trend in Parisian bars and hip grocery stores.

The story began just two years ago, when childhood friends Julien, Alexandre, Jocelyn and Cédric decided to create a beer that honoured their roots. The bunch grew up in Yvetot, at the heart of the Pays de Caux, a town they still call home despite living and working in Paris now. Whilst travelling around Europe during their studies, they noticed that they were always offered local craft beers in the bars and pubs they visited – something they didn’t encounter much at home. Back in France, they contemplated collaborating on their own ale, and after several months of planning, paperwork and development, La MIN was born.

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© La MIN

What took the boys the most time was trying to get the taste just right. They managed to give the beer a very distinct and individual character, with a clear amber-golden colour and earthy, musty aromas complete with hints of citrus and honey. It comes with an ABV of 6.5% and is neither filtered nor pasteurised. La MIN is currently brewed at the Brasserie De Sutter in Gisors, a small town in the Eure region, but the four friends have big plans for the future. They are planning on buying a spacious farmhouse near Yvetot, in which their own brewery will be built. They will then be able to control the entire production chain, increase volumes and expand business activities.

La MIN is already served from the tap in several Parisian bars and is of course available in numerous cafés, pubs, clubs and grocery stores across Normandy, as well as in Intermarché supermarkets. A great place to get your hands on the brew is at the Fête du Ventre, one of Normandy’s main food festivals, held every October in Rouen. The boys run a stand there each year and serve thirsty customers hundreds of litres of their beer.

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© La MIN

After satisfying the French taste buds, Julien, Alexandre, Jocelyn and Cédric are now hoping to introduce their unique Norman ale to the UK, where demand for new craft beers is high. Keep an eye out for the bottle on the shelves at your local!

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© La MIN

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

La Ferme des Isles, accommodation in the heart of Impressionist Normandy

When property developers Sophie and François viewed a run-down farm in the Eure region of Normandy, they had no intention of leaving their life in Paris for a move to the country. They had come to view the property for commercial reasons but from the moment they arrived, the farm worked its magic on them. It was love at first sight and this chance viewing changed their lives completely.

That was in 2010. After close to two years of renovations they opened the doors to their beautiful B&B in 2012. I was lucky enough to stay and join them last year for one of François’s famously good dinners. Situated on the banks of the Eure River, La Ferme des Isles lies deep in the heart of Normandy’s Impressionist country.

When they bought the property, Sophie told me that the 19 acres of grounds were completely overrun and hadn’t been used as a farm for nearly 50 years. The three buildings – the farmhouse, an old barn and an ancient bread oven – were also in a state of disrepair. Sophie and François could see huge potential with the buildings and they dreamt of transforming the grounds back into a small holding.

Just a few years on, mission accomplished. The farmhouse has been tastefully restored and the barn has been transformed into a spectacular conversion with three guest bedrooms housed around an immense central space that boasts floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pastures and decorative kitchen garden at the front of the property.

I stayed in the spectacular Sun Suite – named after the original headboard that Sophie’s designer daughter and her friends created one weekend when they came across reclaimed wood at antique dealers. Throughout, the rooms are decorated with antique furniture and are very tastefully styled.

Sophie and François wanted to reinstate the farm, create a kitchen garden, grow fruit trees and reintroduce animals. Today they keep geese, ducks, chickens, doves, sheep, goats, donkeys, cats and dogs. François keeps a huge vegetable plot at the back of the property and a more decorative one at the front. The fruit and vegetables he grows inspire his table d’hôtes and ensure that fresh organic produce is always on the table.

When it was time for dinner, I headed over to the main farmhouse and joined Sophie and another couple who were staying at the B&B for an aperitif around the fire. Sophie and Francois are fantastic hosts and take great pleasure spending time with their guests. They create a welcoming and friendly atmosphere and over dinner we exchanged stories and laughed at François’ tales of how he transformed from city slicker to most happiest watching his animals for hours on end!

François is a talented cook and revels in all the fabulous produce at his fingertips in Normandy. What he doesn’t grow himself, he sources from his favourite local suppliers. He told me that he like to keep dishes simple and lets the ingredients do the talking. Since moving to Normandy, word of François’ culinary skills has spread and in 2014 he was invited to join the Confrérie de la Marmite d’Or – a brotherhood that exists to protect traditional cuisine and to promote the use of quality local produce.

Our meal started with a cream of pumpkin soup served with foie gras followed by stuffed squid, a Norman cheese board, and to end, a delicious caramelised apple tart. Accompanied by choice wines and to end, tea with herbs from the garden, this was a dinner of kings!

The Ferme des Isles is conveniently located on the Impressionist trail, just 50 minutes west of Paris, 25 minutes from Claude Monet’s enchanting home in Giverny where he painted his famous waterlilies, and 30 minutes from the historic city of Rouen. Why not take advantage of Sophie and François’ five-day ‘French language, culture and cuisine’ break, which combines French lessons, accommodation, cultural trips and great food? Visit www.lafermedesisles.com for more details.log_normandie_gb1

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

Cidre de Glace, the new Norman aperitif

Cidre de Glace is the new aperitif that’s been taking the Normandy foodie world by storm. Originating in Quebec, this new apple tipple is stronger than traditional Norman cider, is lightly syrupy in texture and has a delicious aromatic flavour.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

In the Eure and Seine-Maritime regions of Normandy, an association of cider farmers has been working together to develop and promote a Norman Cidre de Glace. I visited two of these producers – Gérard Lenormand at his farm, Le Clos des Citots in Heurteauville across the Seine River from Jumièges Abbey and Marie Bourut at le Manoir du Val farm near Beaumesnil – to find out more about the new drink that everyone’s talking about.

The association produced its first line of Cidre de Glace in 2013. Marie explained that part of their motivation for developing this new drink was that cidre fermier is always popular in Normandy but is considered a rustic, country drink and sales remain static. With Cidre de Glace, the association wanted to create a high-end product that would spark a new interest in apple-based drinks.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Cidre de Glace was first discovered in Quebec in the 1990s when, instead of picking apples in the autumn before the frosts came, the apples were left on the tree to endure temperatures that could fall as low as -40°C. In January, the apples were picked in still freezing conditions, by which time the fruit was completely dehydrated. When the frozen apples were pressed and the juice slowly fermented, the result was a more concentrated, alcoholic cider.

With Norman winters much milder than in Quebec, the association worked on an alternative way to create a similar product. In late autumn, the apples are picked and pressed. Their juice is then frozen to -22°C and left for three weeks to form a giant ice cube where the water settles in the centre and the apple concentrate forms an outer layer. When this is slowly defrosted, the apple concentrate is collected and then slowly fermented cold to produce an alcohol at 11.4%.

When seven of the association’s cider farmers worked together to launch Upper Normandy’s Cidre de Glace in 2013, they produced 3,000 bottles. Two months later, they were sold out. Gérard told me that the success was in part, thanks to the French media taking great interest in their product. When people tried it for themselves, they loved it.

In 2014, another three farmers from the association joined the Cidre de Glace campaign and this time round, they collectively produced 10,000 bottles to sell in farm shops, restaurants and shops throughout the region.

All farmers in the association use the same packaging and work collaboratively on the promotion of the drink, but their farm is clearly identified on the label. From one farm to another, the flavour of the drink can vary greatly. Gérard told me that in his second year of production, he experimented by producing the concentrated alcohol of three separate types of apple – sweet, bitter and sharp – and finally mixed them together to create a balanced and harmonious flavour.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Finally, it was time to try some Cidre de Glace and see for myself what made it so special. Light, delicious, rich and yet not too sweet, I could imagine drinking this very chilled, yet Gérard assured me that it is best served between 8°C and 10°C and is particularly good paired with foie gras, cheese or an appley dessert. I brought back several bottles and friends have been thrilled with this new discovery. I just hope stocks last for my next visit to Normandy!log_normandie_gb1

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

An Anglo-Norman stay at the Vieille Abbaye

La Vieille Abbaye is a self-catering gite and B&B boasting fantastic foodie credentials. British lass Kate moved to Normandy 15 years ago when she married Stéphane, a Norman dairy farmer. When they came across this farm with its beautiful seventeenth-century farmhouse in the Suisse Normande, they fell in love with it immediately and quickly snapped it up.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

Neither Stéphanie nor Kate do things by halves and for Stéphane, having his own farm was his opportunity not only to grow a herd of Norman dairy cows but to produce his own cream, yoghurt and butter too. Kate had a vision of transforming the large farmhouse and adjoining stone barn building into luxury accommodation where families of all sizes would be welcome.

The accommodation is superb. The exposed stone walls and chintzy patchwork quilts give that cosy country farmhouse feel while the four-poster bed, twinkling chandelier and roll top bath add a good dose of luxury. I stayed in one of the vast B&B suites in the main farmhouse, overlooking the courtyard and garden on one side and the cow shed on the other.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

For guests who want to learn more about farming, Stéphane will happily show you his cows and tell you about his love of farming.

Kate is a keen cook and offers guests an evening meal so of course, I had to sign up and sample her fare. Kate invited me into her kitchen to see how she prepares some of her signature dishes and tell me a little bit more about her Anglo-Norman cooking. She is passionate about cooking with fresh, local ingredients and keeps food-miles to a minimum. At the farm, she grows her own vegetables and herbs, the farm provides all her dairy produce and when the meat doesn’t come from their own livestock, it comes from neighbouring farms never more than 10km away.

Kate tells me that she’s always been keen on cooking quality, healthy food. Since moving to Normandy her cooking is at its core healthy, but admittedly, there’s a good dose of cream involved!

My meal starts off with a delicious cream of tomato soup with basil, all the tomatoes coming from Kate’s vegetable garden.

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

When guests book a meal at la Vielle Abbaye, they’re offed a few choices for each course but the pork tenderloin with cream and calvados is the most popular, Kate thinks because it incorporates some of the best Norman produce. The deliciously creamy tender pork is served alongside fresh vegetables from the garden and some delicious roast potatoes which Kate tells me are popular with both her French and English guests.

For a demo of how to make this delicious dish, watch the video below:

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

And then on to dessert… this was pure indulgence! One of the latest trends in Normandy restaurants is a “café gourmand.” The concept is simple; the torture of having to choose just one item of a dessert menu is overturned and instead you can sample a few mini sweet treats. Kate’s café gourmand included a home-made crème brulée, a mini meringue and a French flan – all sinfully good!

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

The following morning, once again I had the good fortune to enjoy some more breakfast cooking before hitting the road. Kate prepared one of her regular breakfast dishes – eggs à la Normande. She cracks a couple of eggs (laid by Cheryl the chicken) over lardons, adds home-made crème fraiche, a sprinkle of grated cheese, salt and pepper, and then pops it into the oven for ten minutes. This is definitely a recipe I’ll be taking home with me!

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

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Photo credit: M. McNulty

For more information on staying at La Vieille Abbaye and prices, click here.

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

 

How about a glass of poiré this Xmas? Normandy’s take on bubbly…

A picturesque medieval walled town overlooking the Varenne river, Domfront grew up around the strategically situated stronghold Domfront Castle in the sixth century. It was here that the dispossessed Henry Beauclerc, youngest son of William the Conqueror, rallied support among local lords and was eventually crowned Henry I of England in 1100 and Duke of Normandy in 1106.

At the crossroads where the regions of Normandy, Brittany and the Pays de la Loire meet, the Pays de Domfront is Normandy’s cider country and is known for its pear orchards, which are unique in Europe. Poiré (pear cider) produced in the Pays de Domfront is classified as AOP. It is the perfect accompaniment to every course from aperitif through to dessert and is particularly popular as an alternative to champagne/crémant during the festive period! I decided to visit one of the 20 producers of Poiré Domfront, Frédéric Pacory, who runs the Ferme des Grimaux cider farm with his wife Cathérine, to see what all the fuss was about.

These days, the surname ‘Pacory’ is inextricably linked to the Ferme des Grimaux, which lies deep in the heart of the Pays de Domfront. Boasting an abundance of apple and pear trees, this 49-acre plot of land was bought by Calvados connoisseur Marcel Pacory , Frédéric’s great-great grandfather, in 1939. So self-sufficent and impassioned by cider production was Marcel Pacory that he actually built his own tractor from scratch!

Marcel’s three sons, Paul, Claude and Marcel, were brought up running the family business alongside their father, and in 1953, Claude and Paul took over the farm. The Ferme des Grimaux was originally famed for the production of Calvados Domfrontais, which is very different from the Pays d’Auge Calvados that you might see on supermarket shelves in the UK, on account of the high percentage of poiré pears used along with cider apples, the soil (granite ad schist) and the single-pass distillation process. Domfront Calvados also differs from other Calvados appellations, thanks to its floral, fruity, mineral character. In 1971, the Fermes des Grimaux won the coveted first prize for Calvados production across all of Normandy. Six delicious Calvados samples, ranging from 1 to 12 years in age were judged by an expert panel, and the grand prize was presented by the President of the French Republic himself!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

In 1960, Claude’s son Frédéric was born. By this point, farmers across France were beginning to hope that their offspring would embark on careers that didn’t involve farming, and Claude was no different. Frédéric studied a Baccaauréat in Science; however, his love for his heritage and and the family business led him back to agriculture, and he went on to study at Le Robillard Agricultural College near Caen. It was here that he met fellow cider enthusiast and future wife Catherine, who was also from the Pays de Domfront! Frédéric bought his uncle Paul’s share of the farm and in 1986 he took over the Ferme des Grimaux with Cathérine. The Ferme des Grimaux has since received several awards, in particular for its Calvados Domfrontais and its Poiré Domfront.

It is the Poiré Domfront that I have come to try today. Arriving late one afternoon in September, Frédéric greets me with a big smile and takes me on a tour of the orchards. ‘We must always remember that these pear trees are not ours but those of the generations who came before us,’ he tells me. ‘We are moving into modernity, but we must always respect and appreciate this rich heritage that came before us. Sometimes, when I am kneeling down, collecting and sorting pears, I think to myself how those who came before me did exactly the same over a century ago!’

It certainly would seem that the Ferme des Grimaux has moved with the times while retaining those all-important links to its past. Today, the farm has 800 pear trees and 600 apple trees, spread across 247 acres of land. This includes the original 49-acre plot where the oldest trees can be found, some of which are approaching 300 years old! As Frédéric tells me, the proverb goes: ‘100 years to mature, 100 years to bear fruit, 100 years to die’.

Poiré Domfront is a traditional drink which is the result of fermenting pear juice. There are 90 varieties of poiré pears, but the variety that surpasses them all is the plant de blanc. Juicy and acidic, Frédéric tells me that the Ferme des Grimaux uses mostly this variety, which gives Poiré Domfront its distinct flavour: fruity, aromatic, slightly acidic and naturally sparkling.

Stages of production (taken from the Poiré Domfront website)

1. During October and November, the pears fall from the trees and are collected by hand or by machine.
2. After sorting and crushing, the pears are pressed to produce a pale gold juice with a distinctive floral bouquet.
3. Placed in vats, the poiré slowly ferments over a period of three to four months under the watchful eye of the producer.
4. Fermentation continues in the bottle where the pears’ natural yeasts create the bubbles.
5. To be accredited the AOP label, batches of Poiré Domfront are tested by a panel of experts.

After my tour of the orchards, Frédéric treats me to a tasting session. I try out four types of Poiré Domfront produced at the Ferme des Grimaux, ranging in taste, quality and price, from the Poiré Fermier, tasty, fruity and not unlike good old scrumpy, to the more refined Poiré Domfront, which can only be described as refreshing, fruity and sparkling, not unlike a glass of bubbly!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

‘Your favourite?’ asks Frédéric. ‘It has to be the most expensive one!’ I reply. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted. I had always imagined Normandy pear cider to be like the pear cider you’d find in a pub in the UK: synthetic-tasting, overly sweet and not very pear-like. This was the complete opposite. It dawned on me that there was a whole world of poiré-related fun out there – poiré as an aperatif, poiré with fish or chicken, poiré with dessert, poiré for special occasions…! The possibilities stretched out before me. I promptly bought a bottle of each type of poiré for good measure.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

So there you have it, Poiré Domfront in a nutshell, the drink I never knew about that I now can’t get enough of! I simply can’t wait for my glass of poiré on Christmas Day now…

The Ferme des Grimaux cider farm is open all year round. Simply email Frédéric and Catherine in advance to arrange your visit – f-et-c.pacory@wanadoo.fr – and stock up on poiré, cider, aperitifs, juices and Calvados galore!

log_normandie_gb1For more information on the Ferme des Grimaux, visit: http://www.pacory.eu

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

Bénédictine, made by the monks

Normandy is famous not only for the production of delicious cider and Calvados, but it is also home to the world-renowned Bénédictine liqueur. The origins and preparation of this tipple are shrouded in mystery, so I popped along to the Palais Bénédictine in Fécamp to see if I could shed some light on the puzzle.

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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp

In spite of its name and grandeur, the Palais Bénédictine is not a palace in the normal sense of the word, nor is it an abbey. Instead, this fabulously Gothic-Renaissance self-appointed Palais is where the famous herbal digestif Bénédictine is distilled.

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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp

The Palais also operates as a museum showcasing not only the production of Benedictine but a huge part of the building is dedicated to an eclectic collection of artwork. Alexandre le Grand, the man behind today’s Bénédictine, amassed this collection when he struck gold and discovered the recipe for this drink.

The story of Bénédictine began in 1510 when a Venetian monk, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, came to stay at the abbey in Fécamp. Vincelli brought with him the recipe for an elixir that used 27 herbs and spices available in Venice, the 16th-century gateway to the Orient. Thanks to their friendship with the monks of Venice, the abbey in Fécamp continued to make this herbal syrup until the monks were chased out during the French Revolution in 1789.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Alexandre le Grand’s grandfather had been the accountant of the abbey in Fécamp and the last monk to flee entrusted many of the abbey’s books to him. Nearly a century later, in 1863, Alexandre le Grand discovered, in his family library, the book that contained this mysterious recipe.

After hunting down the 27 herbs and after many attempts, le Grand successfully recreated this liqueur. He called it Bénédictine in memory of the monks. A savvy businessman, le Grand wasted no time in patenting the name, recipe,bottle and label and in marketing Benedictine around the world. When profits started rolling in, he started work on the Palais to house the distillery and his growing collection of religious artwork and relics. The original Palais burnt down in 1892, just four years after its inauguration. This only fuelled le Grand’s ambition to build a bigger and better Palais, completed in 1898, which is where I came to find out more.

I toured the Palais with the brilliant guide Françoise. We started with the religious artworks and the Palais’ stained glass windows that told the story of Bénédictine.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Next, we headed down into the lower ground floor to discover part of the distillery. Today three different variations of Bénédictine are produced here and just a handful of people know the recipes and method – Françoise names only a few of the 27 herbs used in the original – angelica, hyssop, cloves, cinnamon, arnica. Françoise talked me through the process: four different herbal preparations are infused for up to fifteen hours and then distilled or double-distilled depending on the ingredients. These four preparations, now known as ésprits, are then mixed together and blended with water, honey, sugar, caramel and an infusion of saffron. This final mixture is double heated before being aged in large oak barrels for four months, filtered and then bottled.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The visit of the distillery takes you through a room with the giant copper stills that date back to Alexandre le Grand’s time. We passed several alembics and went through one of the twelve cellar rooms where the oak barrels are working their magic for the ageing process. I asked Françoise  how much Bénédictine is produced each year but for fear of industry spies, she was not allowed to reveal trade secrets.

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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp


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© Palais Benedictine, Fécamp

Once we’d left the distillery, it was on to the bar, where I sampled three different variants of Bénédictine. The original Bénédictine is the sweetest, next is B&B Brandy, devised in 1937 – this is a little dryer but is still the original 40%. Finally, there was the B&B Gold Stamp – it’s much more oaky in flavour after being aged six years longer in smaller, younger casks. Sold only at the boutique in Fécamp, it’s much more exclusive. All three variants were deliciously herbal and incredibly Christmassy.

With that in mind, a few months later, back in London with Christmas fast approaching, I received a call from Caroline, Marketing Director for Bénédictine in the UK. Caroline was keen to take me to a French restaurant near Hyde Park which served fabulous food and drink, and most importantly, Bénédictine cocktails!

In the name of research, I headed down to Angelus (nearest tube station Lancaster Gate) to see what all the excitement was about. I joined Caroline at the bar, where a rather delicious Bénédictine Sours, complete with glacé cherries, was being prepared by the bartender and cocktail connoisseur, Christophe.

I had never tasted anything like it! Lemon and lime juice, mixed with a couple of drops of angostura bitters, a drop of syrup to offset the bitterness, followed by three shots of Bénédictine and one shot of Maker’s Mark bourbon. The result was an incredibly tasty, thirst-quenching drink that was neither too sweet nor too sour, but just right. Best of all, it was perfect for the festive season. I jotted the recipe down and made a mental note to try it at home, adding an optional egg white before shaking it all up.

So, if you fancy a fabulously festive Bénédictine cocktail this Christmas period and can’t make it over to Fécamp, never fear, you can also savour the delights of Bénédictine right here in the UK!

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© Normandy Tourist Board

For more information on the Palais Bénédictine, visit: http://benedictinedom.com

log_normandie_gb1For more information on Angelus London, visit: www.angelusrestaurant.co.uk

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

 

Give a Xmas cheer, Rouen Givré’s almost here

Rouen is a firm favourite with tourists to Normandy. There’s just something about those multi-coloured, half-timbered houses, and gothic churches on every street corner. As French cities go, the ‘city of 100 bell towers’ (as Rouen was once called by French writer Victor Hugo) is up there with the prettiest of them.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

For that reason, it came as no surprise to me to learn that Rouen pulls out all the stops when it comes to Noël. The festive fun, known as ‘Rouen Givré’ [Frosty Rouen] takes place over one week on 24‑31 December, and is well worth the ferry crossing/train journey. We’re talking masses of magical street lights here, all over the medieval city centre. In fact, more than eighty streets and squares are lit up for Christmas in Rouen. That’s a lot of light bulbs!

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

Best of all is the traditional Christmas market which takes place in front of Rouen Cathedral. This is Rouen at its finest – around 70 chalets selling local produce (cheese, cider, caramels…) as well as traditional arts and crafts, jewellery, nativity figurines and Christmas tree decorations galore. Have you ever wanted to hang a miniature Camembert on your Christmas tree? Well, now you can.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

And mulled wine? Forget mulled wine.* At a Normandy Christmas market, there’s mulled cider in abundance, made with delicious apple juice and just the right amount of cinnamon. Those feeling brave could even go for hot Calvados and honey, a somewhat Norman take on a hot Toddy.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

Having exhausted the foodie options at the market, I then headed over to the Place du Vieux Marché. Dominated by the huge modern church of Saint Joan of Arc, this square is where the doomed Maid of Orléans met her fiery fate. Between 24 November and 8 January, it is also home to a big wheel, from which you can enjoy a breath-taking panorama over Rouen’s higgledy-piggledy rooftops, the Gros Horloge (Rouen’s ornate astronomical clock) and the gothic towers of Rouen Cathedral.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès

The big wheel also has the added bonus of being on the same square as the oldest inn in Rouen, in fact, the oldest inn in France, La Couronne, which dates all the way back to 1345! Hiding behind a traditional half-timbered façade is a medieval world of wooden beamed ceilings, lead framed windows, worn upholstered chairs and heavy red curtains. It was like stepping back in time. Picking up the menu, I realised why the place had been such a hit with Sartre, Dalí, John Wayne and Princess Grace of Monaco, and why it’s so popular to this day! Lobster, langoustine, lamb… my mouth was watering just looking at the options.

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès

I decided to go with the menu recommended to me by Rouen Tourism Office, the ‘Saveurs Impressionnistes’ [Impressionist flavours] taster menu. Dishes included Normandy beef, some more of that famous Camembert, oysters caught in the Manche, Rouen-style duck marinated in the popular Normandy aperitif Pommeau, and they just kept on coming.

I left the restaurant, and Rouen Givré, feeling fulfilled, full and slightly thankful that I didn’t live in foodie Rouen all year round… I would certainly be considerably larger if I did!

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© Rouen Normandie Tourisme & Congrès / J.F. Lange

For a full list of activities going on during Rouen Givré, visit: www.rouen.fr/rg2016 (website in French only)

log_normandie_gb1For information on travelling to Normandy, visit: http://bit.ly/howtogettonormandy

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

*For those with an aversion to appley goodness, there is mulled wine as well.

Planning a New Year detox? Look no further than Spom, the Apple Spa!

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As one of France’s most important regions for apple production, Normandy cuisine transforms the ubiquitous apple into a myriad of drinks and dishes. At Spom (the Apple Spa) in the heart of the Pays d’Auge region, a whole range of spa treatments have been created around the mighty apple. In the name of research, I went to investigate – and sample – some treatments…

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Monsieur Tuel is the thirteenth generation to live on his family’s estate, located just outside the village of Saint-Aubin-de-Bonneval. Having always been surrounded by his family heritage, he is a true history buff. When he heard that a seventeenth-century half-timbered cider press not far from his family home was being flogged, he decided to buy the property and surrounding land.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The wattle and daub building had once been a cider press and even though it was in a state of ruin when Monsieur Tuel bought it, the original press remained. After much research and careful thought, it dawned upon him to restore the building and transform it into an apple spa. Surrounded by acres of woods, meadows and apple orchards, this idyllic setting seemed the perfect spot for people to enjoy relaxing spa treatments.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The cider press building was sympathetically restored using traditional techniques and natural materials. When I visited, Monsieur Tuel explained that even the colour of the walls was derived from a natural dye. Inside, the furniture is beautiful antique furniture that continues a sense of history.

Monsieur Tuel’s research revealed that not only is the age old theory ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ true but that the humble apple has a great many properties that have been proven to be beneficial for the skin. He came across several local organic apple beauty products and so the concept of ‘Spom’ was born.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

After a tour of the grounds and the spa, it was time for my treatment. I was taken through all of the various options and after much deliberation, I decided on a very Normandy-themed spa session.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

I started off with a body scrub of ground organic apple pips. This I told, would banish dead skin cells and leave my skin hydrated. It did all this but the best bit was the heavenly smell – imagine a heady aroma of the sweetest apples and you’re not even close!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Reluctantly, I showered off the resin of my deliciously appley body scrub. Next up was a unique take on the hot-stone massage, as devised by Monsieur Tuel. Instead of hot stones, steamed apple halves were used to massage out the knots and tension from my back. I was then left to relax by candlelight with a line of hot apples down my spine.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The final treatment was another of Monsieur Tuel’s creative takes on the spa treatment – a crème fraîche and honey wrap. I’d never had a wrap treatment before and had never imagined they could possibly smell as yummy as this!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

After another blissful few minutes left to cook in Normandy’s finest crème fraîche, it was time to shower off and to enjoy an organic apple juice in the relaxation space overlooking the valley.

Spom (the Apple Spa) is open every day (reservation only) from 9:30am to 7pm.

Interested in a New Year detox to blow the Christmas cobwebs away? Why not enjoy a Week of Winter Cures at Spom in January or February 2017? Experience a week of total rest, with relaxing treatments such as Ayurvedic massages from Valérie Bondle and Eric Bailly (graduates of the Tapovan Open University, founded in 1983 by Kiran Vyas) and delicious organic veggie meals, all in beautifully wintery surroundings. Detox weeks run on Sunday 15-Saturday 21 January and Friday 17-Thursday 23 February 2017.log_normandie_gb1

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

10 things to eat & drink on a cycling holiday in Normandy

  1. Marmite dieppoise in Dieppe

Legend has it this Normandy classic was created in the 1960s in a mariners and sailors’ tavern called La Marmite Dieppoise on the quays of Dieppe. The owner, Madame Maurice, was renowned in the region for her delicious fish dishes à la dieppoise (Dieppe-style). Named after the restaurant in which it was invented, Madame Maurice’s dish is to this day prepared using local fish and seafood: sole, red mullet, turbot, prawns and mussels, which are complemented with fresh celery, parsley, leek, onions and spices such as paprika and cayenne pepper. This rich and hearty Norman fish stew could certainly give its Provençal counterpart bouillabaisse a run for its money!

Cycling tip: Dieppe is situated on both the Avenue Verte and EuroVelo 4 cycle routes so why not stop off for a bite at La Marmite Dieppoise en route?

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Calvados in the Pays d’Auge

The Busnel Distillery is one of the oldest producers of calvados (apple brandy) in the Pays d’Auges, a ‘controlled designation of origin’ (AOC), meaning that anything produced in this area receives a quality label. The distillery arguably performs nothing short of a miracle, turning apples into cider, then distilling cider to producing eau de vie, then distilling eau de vie in oak casks for years until it becomes the golden calva that is used to make calvados. The Busnel Distillery runs guided tours in English which lets visitors see the different stages of distilling and sample a selection of the distillery’s best-selling products – but best have a break before you hop on your bike again!

Cycling tip: The Busnel Distillery is located in the town of Cormeilles, which is 12km away from Saint‑André-d’Hébertot on the EuroVelo 4 cycle route. Why not combine your tour of the distillery with a lunch break at nearby foodie hotspot and brainchild of Chef Alexis Osmont, Gourmandises?

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Chitterling sausage in Vire

Chitterling sausage (known in French as andouille) is a Norman specialty. Made from pig intestines, regarded as somewhat of a local delicacy, and seasoned with Guérande sea salt, andouille was first cooked by local butchers in the town of Vire, and its distinctive earthy taste has contributed to the popularity of this French region with foodies! A staple dish in many Norman restaurants, this tasty sausage has been perpetuating the traditions of gastronomy in the region for centuries. Enjoy it cold with farmhouse bread or warm with a salad, caramelised onions or apples. For lovers of simple, rustic French food, sampling andouille is a must!

Cycling tip: Vire is located on the Tour de Manche, EuroVelo 4 and Plages du débarquement>Mont-Saint-Michel cycle routes. Why not visit the annual andouille festival late October/early November or visit a local producer to discover the secrets of its production?

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© Calvados Tourisme

  1. Poiré in the Pays de Domfront 

Poiré (or perry) is apple cider’s more refined cousin. A pale yellow, lightly sparkling beverage, poiré may not be as popular as cider but has earned itself the nickname ‘Normandy’s answer to champagne’ thanks to its light, bubbly character. Poiré has been produced in Normandy for hundreds of years; in fact, the first records of pears growing in the region date back to the 11th century! With more than 100,000 pear trees and almost 100 varieties, the Pays de Domfront produces around 25,000 tonnes of pears that are then used to make poiré.

Cycling tip: Domfront is situated right on the crossroads of the Vélo Francette and the Véloscénie so is a great place for an overnight stop-off. Be sure to sample the local tipple at a nearby poiré farm such as the Ferme des Grimaux and explore Domfront’s beautiful medieval town centre!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Mère Poulard’s omelette on the Mont-Saint-Michel

The Restaurant de la Mère Poulard on the Mont-Saint-Michel is somewhat of an institution and its famous fluffy omelette is the stuff of legends. Founded in 1888 by Annette Poulard, the restaurant was originally an inn where pilgrims visiting the mount would stay, and among a multitude of other delicious dishes, she would make them an omelette that had been cooked over a wood fire. To this day, chefs at the restaurant still follow her secret recipe, and visitors from all over the world come to the restaurant to sample Mère Poulard’s omelette, roast lamb, fish, seafood, and other delicacies.

Cycling tip: The Mont-Saint-Michel is conveniently situated at the end of the Vélocénie and D-Day Beaches>Mont-Saint-Michel cycle routes, and is also on the EuroVelo 4 and Le Tour de Manche cycle routes, so there’s plenty of scope to incorporate a trip to the mount into your itinerary!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Neufchâtel, the heart-shaped cheese

Made from cow’s milk, this soft, slightly crumbly, mould-ripened cheese is one of France’s oldest varieties, dating back as far as 1035. Usually sold in the shape of a heart, legend has it that the young farm girls of Neufchâtel-en-Bray fell in love with English soldiers during the Hundred Years War and started making heart shaped cheeses for them to show their affection. Neufchâtel’s taste and texture is reminiscent of its more famous cousin Camembert, only with tones of nuts and mushrooms, and it is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of cider or red wine.

Cycling tip: Neufchâtel-en-Bray is situated on the Avenue Verte route, about 35km inland from Dieppe. Why not go for the full-on cheese experience and visit the annual Neufchâtel-en-Bray Cheese Festival held every autumn, or see how Neufchâtel is made at one of the local cheese factories?

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© Normandy Tourist Board / D. Dumas

  1. Saffron at the Domaine de Gauville

Saffron production became very important in the 17th and 18th centuries in France, and between then and now, several saffron farms have cropped up in Normandy. The Domaine de Gauville is one such farm. Founded by Myriam Duteuil, who in 2014 quit the hustle and bustle of Paris to embark on a more rural way of life, this organic saffron farm has gone from strength to strength, and Myriam’s delicious saffron is even served up at restaurants in the area. Take a guided tour of the farm, enjoy a saffron‑themed weekend away in Myriam’s gite, do a saffron cooking class, and take full advantage of all the tasty saffron treats on sale in the farm shop!

Cycling tip: The Domaine de Gauville is located just 8km off the local cycle track that runs from the city of Evreux (which has direct train links to Paris) up to the town of Pont‑Authou. Why not stop off at restaurant Le Logis de Brionne on your way back to the cycle route and try Chef Alain Depoix’s famous scallops, prepared with saffron from the farm?

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F.Lambert

  1. A seafood platter in Ouistreham

There’s no better place to enjoy all that the sea has to offer than on the coast, and when it comes to seafood, Le Channel in Ouistreham has it all sussed out. This restaurant, situated just five minutes from the ferry terminal, has brought together an impressive medley of mouth-watering dishes, such as oysters with shallots, mussels served in a choice of wine, cider or camembert sauce, and of course, the flagship seafood platter, all caught that day! Always happy to recommend a calvados aperitif or small glass of pommeau to go with your scallops, manager Pascale Charpentier and her team give a warm welcome and a wide selection of all the Norman classics.

Cycling tip: Ouistreham is situated on both the Vélo Francette and EuroVelo 4 cycle routes so is perfect for a post-ferry overnight stop-off or simply a bite to eat before you head off again!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

  1. Black pudding in Mortagne-au-Perche

Mortagne in the Perche Regional Natural Park is surely the world’s black pudding capital. Said to be the oldest refined meat product in Europe, the story goes that boudin noir, the French’s superior version of black pudding, was first made by ancient Celts out of the blood of their enemies. When it’s done right, as it certainly is in Mortagne – boudin noir is gloriously rich, tender and flavoursome, and thanks to the Black Pudding Festival which has been held in the town every March since 1963, it is well and truly an integral part of any Norman menu. It even has a dedicated fraternity with their very own robes: the Brotherhood of Black Pudding Knights.

Cycling tips: Mortagne-au-Perche is situated just 2km off the Véloscénie cycle route where it passes Saint-Langis-lès-Mortagne. Spend the night at the beautiful former courthouse, the Hôtel du Tribunal and try Chef Freddy Pommier’s delicious take on the famous boudin noir of Mortagne!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

  1. Oysters in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue

Did you know that oyster farmers in Normandy produce roughly a quarter of all oysters produced in France? If you’re a lover of oysters, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue in the north-east corner of the Cotentin Pensinsula is a particularly good place to go. Saint-Vaast oysters are well known for their subtle nutty flavour, and are delicious eaten raw, whether with zingy lemon juice or sharp shallot vinegar. Particularly popular in the winter months, no Christmas table in Normandy is complete without them. In summer months, local oyster farms run tours of the oyster farms in the area, and visitors flock to the pretty harbour area of Saint-Vaast to enjoy oysters outside on the restaurant terraces.

Cycling tip: Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is located on the EuroVelo 4 cycling route and is the perfect place for an overnight stop-off. Sample oysters at Le Débarcadère, enjoy the views out over the harbour and taste the sea!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

log_normandie_gb1For 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.