Eggcellent omelette at La Mère Poulard

A thousand years of history, faith, and talent have shaped the Mont-Saint-Michel, the ‘Wonder of the West’. Legend has it that in 708, the Archangel Saint-Michel appeared before Bishop Aubert and commanded that a sanctuary be built on Mount Tombe, an island in the middle of the bay that saw some of the highest tides in the world.

Thus the Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel was built, and over the coming centuries a village grew up around it. The Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay has since become a site of spiritual and cultural pilgrimage for Christians and non-believers from all over the world, so much so that in 1972, UNESCO classified them both as a world heritage site.

Today, the famous La Mère Poulard restaurant and inn on the Mont-Saint-Michel is an important part of this world heritage. In 1888, local lass Annette Poulard, previously a chamber maid at the abbey who had married the local baker, opened an inn in the medieval village on the mount. Annette became renowned for her culinary talents, and over her lengthy career at the inn she rustled up some 700 different dishes, from savoury delights (more on that shortly) to her famous biscuits. Her efforts earnt her the title of ‘Mère’, reserved for exceptional cooks. Lo and behold, ‘La Mère Poulard’ was born!

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

One thing in particular for which La Mère Poulard is renowned is her famous omelette, which is somewhat of an institution. But did you know that it was never intended to be anything more than a starter? In the nineteenth century, guests at the inn (for the most part, pilgrims) were only able to reach the mount at low tide, so would arrive at the inn at all hours of the day and night. When they arrived, Annette would quickly prepare her special omelette as an appetiser before cooking her guests a more substantial meal.

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© Christopher Brown / The Curious Collection

That same fluffy, souffléd omelette is served at the restaurant to this day, and anyone can watch the omelettes being made over the open fire. Firstly, eggs are beaten for at least five minutes until they’re light and fluffy. The mixture is poured into a copper skillet and cooked over the open fire until the bottom is browned, but the inside is still slightly frothy. The omelettes are served either plain or with a choice of bacon, potatoes, Camembert (naturally), ratatouille, foie gras, shrimps or lobster.

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© F. Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

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Combining tradition and simplicity, La Mère Poulard’s omelette was surprisingly contemporary for its time, and is still seen as one of the most original French dishes. For this very reason, the restaurant remains one of the most best known in France and across the world. As many as 4 million French and foreign tourists and gourmets come to the Mont-Saint-Michel each year, and most visit either the restaurant to sample La Mère Poulard’s delicious omelette or the biscuit shop across the road to buy her tasty biscuits.

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

 

 

 

 

La Renaissance’s star is rising

It is not often that you get to eat in a Michelin-starred establishment. Which is why, when offered the opportunity to do just that, I jumped at it. On 1 February 2016, Arnaud Viel, chef at La Renaissance restaurant/hotel in Argentan, was awarded his first Michelin star, bringing the total number of Michelin starred restaurants in the Orne département up to three!

Fittingly, Arnaud hails from Argentan. Making his debut in Paris at the 5-star Sofitel Hotel at the Centre of New Industries and Technologies (CNIT), he went on to be a finalist in the French Dessert Championships in 1996 and the Lauréate d’Or in 1997. But he never forgot his roots, and returned to Normandy to work as a chef at Argentan’s Auberge de l’Ancienne Abbaye.

In 1998, Arnaud opened his own restaurant/hotel La Renaissance with wife Cécilia. Together, they came up with a stylish design for the hotel and devised a whole host of delicious specialties to serve at the restaurant.

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So it was that earlier this month I found myself dining with three journalists and my colleague at La Renaissance, enjoying a deliciously refreshing cocktail of Calvados and tonic with lemon and lime, accompanied by what can only described as the most intricate canapé selection of foie gras, carrot purée, feta parcel with caviar and horseradish with soured cream. One word in particular came to mind – yum!IMG_0587 - Copy.JPG

We were then led into the sumptuous dining room, which looked out onto the hotel grounds (and might I add, a rather appealing spa), sat down at our table and were presented with the menu and a delectable sorbet and popcorn amuse-bouche.

And what a menu!

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Tuna tartar served with cold cucumber soup and creamy burrata cheese:

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A choice of either line-caught loin of yellow pollock with fried red onions, artichokes, wild mushrooms, oyster croquette and creamy garlic sauce or the chef’s choice of meat fresh from the market (which was pork on this occasion):

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The ‘pre-dessert’ – praline pastry, chocolate cherry lollipop and pistachio macaroon:

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And to finish, the first Gariguette strawberries of the season served with caramelised rhubard, rose, basil and strawberry and rhubarb sorbet:

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Suffice it to say, Chef Arnaud’s cooking is the epitome of haute cuisine – visually stunning and innovative – and his gourmet menus boast the best quality Normandy produce, all sourced locally and all delicious!

La Renaissance is open seven days a week, lunchtimes and evenings. To book a table online, click here. Or why not make a weekend of it, and eat at the restaurant, stay at the hotel and enjoy the spa and swimming pool? Prices start at €95/night, to reserve a room online, click here.log_normandie_gb1

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

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.

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.

 

Teurgoule: the queen of rice puddings

The ultimate in comfort foods is good old fashioned rice pudding and Normandy’s Teurgoule is no exception. I first came across this yummy local dessert when I moved here to Normandy some twenty years ago. My husband and I were invited at the last minute to stay for a typical family dinner and the highlight was the arrival at the end of the meal of a large, earthenware bowl with a rather off-putting volcanic crust covering the dish. Our hosts laughed at our reaction, broke through the crust to reveal a creamy rice pudding with a definite cinnamon kick. Since then I have been a Teurgoule convert.

The recipe is a simple combination of five basic ingredients and should ideally include Normandy’s unique creamy milk. The secret is to leave the pudding to cook at a low temperature for a good long while in an earthenware dish. Originally the Teurgoule was put in a wood burning bread oven to cook slowly in the embers at the end of the day’s baking. Traditionally the pudding is served with a brioche called fallue and a glass or two of cider.

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© E. Benard

The name mostly likely comes from the expression se tordre la gueule [to pull a face] as the pudding is piping hot when it first comes out of the oven and can catch you unawares!

Nowadays you can buy Teurgoule on most local markets and also from producers who sell direct from their farms in the Bienvenue à la Ferme scheme.

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© E. Benard

Here is the definitive recipe from the Confrérie of Teurgoule, which holds its annual Teurgoule and Fallue competition in Houlgate every September:

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 6 hours

– 2 litres of full fat milk
– 150g rice
– 180g white caster sugar
– 1 pinch of salt
– 2 level teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Put the rice into an earthenware bowl with a 2 litre capacity.

Add in the caster sugar, salt and cinnamon and stir with a spatula.

Gently pour in the milk so that the rice stays put at the bottom of the dish.

Put the dish in a preheated oven at gas mark 5 (150°C) for one hour and then lower the heat to gas mark 3 (110°C) for four hours. The Teurgoule is ready when the dish is crusted over and the excess liquid has evaporated.

Bon appétit !

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© Calvados Tourisme

log_normandie_gb1For more information 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.

A day for Camembert

Today, on what would have been her 256th birthday, Google is paying homage to Marie Harel, the inventor of Camembert. So what better a day to write a post on this most mighty of cheeses?

The most popular story about the creation of Camembert  is that it was developed in 1791 by Marie Harel, the wife of a local farmer. This was at the time of the French Revolution, and it is said Marie was very much helped in her endeavours by a priest hiding out in these parts, but who had fled his native area of Brie outside Paris, which by that point was already known for its cheese production. The priest gave Marie a recipe used in Brie, which resulted in the formation of a crust around the soft cheese. Low and behold, Camembert was born! During the Second World War, Camembert formed part of the rations given to French troops, making it a much‑loved national symbol. Normandy Camembert received its protected appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status in 1983.

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© Francis Cormon / Normandy Tourist Board

What a lot of people don’t realise about Camembert is that it is actually named after the place where it was invented. A visit to the village of Camembert provides a wonderful glimpse of authentic, rural Normandy, as the surrounding areas of the Pays d’Auge and the Pays d’Ouche are predominantly agricultural. With traditional farms surrounded by fields and orchards, and the famous bespectacled cows grazing in the nearby fields, it all makes for an extremely picturesque pastoral scene.

I arrived in Camembert one sunny September afternoon and was greeted by the famous road sign – a photo opp in itself!

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© E. Ursule / D. Dumas / Normandy Tourist Board

Behind the road sign sits a pretty nineteenth-century building known as the Maison de Camembert, which houses a museum. Here I was to discover the process for making Camembert as well as the cheese’s colourful history, from the time of Marie Harel and the priest to the time her grandson served Camembert to Napoleon Bonaparte, from Louis Pasteur to the First World War. My favourite bits of the museum had to be the moment when you stepped into a room with a large window looking out onto the beautiful Pays d’Auge valley, as well as an exhibition of all of the different artwork used on Camembert boxes over the years, which boasted French household names like Lepetit, Lanquetot, Besnier and Buquet. It’s not hard to see why people would collect cheese labels – no-one does food quite like the French!

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© Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

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© Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

After my visit to the museum, my stomach was beginning to rumble and I was keen to taste the real thing. The museum boasts a fantastic souvenir shop where visitors can buy regional products like Camembert (of course), apple juice and chutneys to take home with them. As I eyed up a rather appealing box of Durand Camembert, produced by the last fromagerie in the village to produce AOC Camembert (my next stop in fact), I was rewarded by the sight of a lady approaching me with a plate with not one, but three types of Camembert! This was all part of the Camembert experience, I was told.

Feeling rather content with my lot, I settled down in the sunshine with my cheese and cup of cold apple juice, and got stuck in, making a mental note to grab that Durand cheese on my way out – I’m sure I could make room for it at dinner…

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© Fran Lambert / Normandy Tourist Board

The Maison de Camembert is open between 1 March 2017 and 31 October 2017 and tickets cost €3.50 per person. For opening hours, visit: www.maisonducamembert.com/en/maison-du-camembert-acces.html

The Fromagerie Durand is open all year round from 10 until 6pm (Monday to Saturday) and a tour plus tasting costs €6 per person. For more information, visit: www.facebook.com/pg/FromagerieDurandlog_normandie_gb1

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

The Shepherdess of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

When Stéphanie won a week’s holiday in the Manche département of Normandy in 2004, she didn’t much like the countryside and the only exercise she got was during her commute through the Paris Métro. Today, her life as a shepherdess of the famous salt-marsh lambs in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is a far cry from her former life as a graphic designer in Paris.

When she first came to this area of the Manche during that fateful holiday in 2004, Stéphanie was struck at the unique landscape here  – she was surprised at how beautiful it was. During the week she met a local shepherd who told her about his work and the very traditional and pure approach to raising sheep.

Over the next couple of years, Stéphanie would return to this area at every opportunity until finally it seemed only logical to come and live here on a permanent basis. She attended agricultural college to learn the basics and five years on, had a flock of some 180 sheep over two sites just outside the village of Saint-Germain-sur-Ay at the tip of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.

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© Eric Lorang

The lamb that is raised on the salt-marshes of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel is unique because the animals feed only on the grasses and herbs of the marshland. These herbs are filled with nutrients, vitamin E and iodine from the sea water that regularly floods the land. Raised only on these herbs, the sheep take longer to grow and are strong with long, lean muscles due to all the walking they do in search of the tastiest herbs.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Part of the land where her flock stays is an ecologically protected area of marshland. Here Stéphanie has to regularly move her sheep from one end of the land to the other so that the grass has a chance to grow and attract native birds that are in danger of extinction.

Stéphanie sells her lambs to the butcher when they are about a year old. The result is exceptionally good free range meat that has a very a distinctive taste.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Thierry Houyel

Unlike her life as a designer in Paris, here on the salt marshes, Stéphanie feels a great freedom as a shepherdess. The irony being that her livelihood is completely dependent on her flock and that she can’t leave them even for a night. Missing the social interaction of city life, Stéphanie decided to organise guided walks onto the marshland as a way to meet locals and visitors and explain life as a shepherdess. She was surprised at how many locals have joined her group walks – having never before ventured out onto the salt-marshes for fear that it wasn’t safe, they offer her another view on local life in the Manche.

Embracing her new life and work, Stéphanie has applied her creative side to other aspects of her job. After the sheep’s winter coats are sheared, she dyes the wool and knits colourful wrist warmers and headbands that she sells along with jellies and vinegars that she makes using the herbs from the salt-marshes.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Using the tougher meat that the butchers are not interested in, Stéphanie makes merguez sausages that she sells locally (and eats herself!) She records her life as a shepherdess on a beautifully illustrated blog and on summer evenings, she has been known host parties in her hut, with live music as the tide rolls in across the bay. Sign me up!

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© Eric Legrand

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

 

Foodie Caen

When it comes to food, fun and festivities, the Norman city of Caen ticks every box. Situated in the département of Calvados, famous for its apple brandy of the same name, its cider and its ripe creamy cheeses (Livarot and Pont-l’Evêque), Caen is a lively university town boasting fantastic restaurants, bars, medieval landmarks and much more.

My recent foodie press trip to Caen was organised with two key objectives -to visit the brand new gastronomy exhibition À Table! at the Musée de Normandie and to explore Caen as a foodie destination.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Running until March 2017, the À Table! exhibition focuses on the tradition of food in Normandy from the 17th century up to the 20th century, and the pleasure that the Normans derive from sitting down and enjoying a meal together. My journalists and I were guided through several different sections, which concentrated on everything from the invention of modern and regional cuisines, the relationship between the cook and gourmet eater to the joy of eating in Normandy and even the intricacies of setting the table. A particular highlight was a vast collection of artwork used in food advertising over the years – think of all of the assorted artwork found on Camembert packets and you get the idea. There’s no-one who does food advertising quite like the French!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

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© Archives départementales du Calvados

Following the exhibition we were lucky enough to be invited on a foodie-themed Segway tour of Caen. By this point, the sun had set and the Christmas lights had come on, making it a really festive atmosphere. Anyone who has been on a Segway before will know that it takes a little while to acclimatise but once we had got the hang of it, we were ready and raring to go! We were lucky enough to be seeing the sights with Com’On Gyro, who have just started running guided tours of the city. We opted for the ‘foodie tour’ (naturally)!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Starting at Caen Castle, we headed to the Abbaye aux Hommes, the spectacular Norman abbey commissioned by William Duke of Normandy to appease the Pope, who opposed his decision to marry his cousin Matilda of Flanders. William the Conqueror’s tomb lies in the abbey, and is well worth a visit, although it is unclear as to how much of him is actually buried there as his grave, along with many others, was looted during the Religious Wars in the 17th century.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Stéphane Maurice / SOCORPRESSE

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© Normandy Tourist Board / Stéphane Maurice / SOCORPRESSE

Either way, the Abbey aux Hommes, which sits proudly next to the vast and unmissable Hôtel de Ville, is a glorious example of Norman architecture at its finest, and it is testament to the skill of builders at the time that it remains in such superb condition today. December is a particularly good time to enjoy this part of town as there is a big wheel on the Espanade Jean-Marie Louvel, from which visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Abbaye aux Hommes, the Hôtel de Ville and the ruined church, Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux, a symbol of Caen and poignant reminder of the devastation suffered by the city during the Second World War.

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© Caen Tourisme

On to the beautiful Place Saint-Sauveur, just around the corner. Until 28 December 2016, Caen will be holding a large Christmas Market on this square. As well as all of the staple must-buy Norman products, there is festive mulled cider, crêpes with Camembert and assorted French sweet treats – nougat, macaroons, nuts dipped in toffee, the list goes on…

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© Caen Tourisme

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© Caen Tourisme

We turned right down the Rue Froide, so-named because this is apparently the road down which William had Matilda tied to a horse by her hair and dragged kicking and screaming after he found out that she had been unfaithful. She was allegedly treated with indifference by the street’s inhabitants, leading her to comment on what a ‘cold road’ it was. Surely not, my journalists and I protested, for it was a love match between William and his queen? Our tour guide Florence from the Caen Tourist Office responds that it could just as easily be named Rue Froide because the road runs from south-east to north-west and is a bit of a wind tunnel.

Not wanting our view of the the Conqueror and first Norman King of England to be tarnished, we agreed that it must surely be the latter explanation and were led into a wine merchant’s called BiBoViNo, where local sommelier Benoît Leclerc was waiting for us with a glass of vin chaud, bread and Camembert and some yummy tergoule (Normandy rice pudding).

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

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© Normandy Tourist Board / F. Lambert

Our foodie encounter at BiBoViNo was followed a hop and a skip next door for a glass of cidre glacé and a snifter of Calvados at La Boîte à Calva, a shop specialising in Norman products: Calvados, cider, locally-brewed beer, regional cheese and Isigny caramels, to name but a few. Suitably fed and watered, my journalists and I got back on our Segways (on which we were now quite the experts) and headed back to Caen Castle. Quite how we would now manage the next stage of the foodie press trip, namely a three-course dinner, was beyond us. One thing we were sure of, however, was that Caen was certainly tapping into its true potential as a foodie destination!

The À Table! exhibition is running at the Musée de Normandie until 5 March 2017 (Wednesday to Sunday, entry: €3.50).

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.