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.

 

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.

The whole of Normandy’s your oyster at Xmas!

The festive season is here, and as all Normans know, there’s nothing better than enjoying a fresh oyster or two at this time of year! A typical family Christmas menu in Normandy begins with oysters, followed by the main course. But did you know that the best way to eat an oyster is to chew it? This was one of the culinary tips I learnt when I paid a visit to Normandy’s major oyster production region, the town of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The one and only time I had previously sampled this delicacy, I’d swallowed it back, as I had thought this was the correct thing to do, and was overwhelmed by slimy texture and salty flavour. Now, years later in an oyster farm in Normandy, I learnt that my tasting method had been all wrong and it was time to have another try.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

I paid a visit to the oyster farm Tatihou GAEC – named after the tiny island that sits just a few hundred metres from the shore at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. I met Stéphanie Lefèvre, one half of the sister-brother team who run the business that they inherited from their parents in 2003.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Stéphanie told me that the sea between Tatihou island and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is the best place for oyster production in Normandy, hence the name of their business. As children, they would swim out to Tatihou and spend summer days exploring and picnicking on the island. Blissful as this sounds, I’d always wanted to visit this tiny island for another reason – every year it hosts an international maritime music festival called Les Traversées de Tatihou, where the public are able to cross to the island on foot at low tide.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Over 40 oyster farms are based on this spot of shore. When the tide’s out, the beach reveals row upon row of tables that stretch out to sea, all laden with sacks all full of oysters. The sacks are made of tough plastic with holes punched through, big enough for vital water to seep in, but small enough to keep predators out.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

As the oysters grow, every few months the sacks are brought back to base. The oysters are washed and sorted into new sacks to correspond with their size.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The youngest oysters are kept in the deepest sea, the oldest in the shallowest so that as they grow, they adapt to being out of water.

Stéphanie tells me that in spite of Normandy being one of France’s biggest oyster producers, the sea here is too cold and the currents too strong to farm baby oysters. Instead, they buy the babies from suppliers from Charente Maritime, further south on France’s west coast. When she first took over the business, Stéphanie remembers that buying baby oysters was the most daunting task. If she hadn’t chosen quality oysters, with three years of farming before being sold at a lower price, it would have been a costly error to make.

Stéphanie asked four different suppliers to come to her office at the same time so she could compare their offers. She tested water samples of each but she said that the final decision was made more based on instinct than science. When, three years later they harvested exceptional quality oysters, she realised that the years of immersion in the art of oyster farming as a child had paid off!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

When I ask Stéphanie what was best about her job, she tells me that she loves the direct contact with nature. Working in-tune with the tides, they pick up the oyster sacks morning and night and can only do this when the tide’s low. At times this can mean extremely long days but as Stephanie says, being alone, watching an extraordinary sunrise over the sea is more than worth that 4am start.log_normandie_gb1

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.

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.

A visit to the market in Bayeux

Over on this side of the Channel, think of Bayeux and I bet your boots that images of its world famous UNESCO listed tapestry come to mind.

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© Ville de Bayeux

For good reason – it’s an incredible 70 metre long eleventh-century piece of embroidery. Depicting the events surrounding the Norman invasion of England in 1066, it could be said to be the first ever comic strip. Alongside the tapestry, there are many other good reasons to visit Bayeux.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The charming town, with its many half-timbered houses, miraculously avoided any devastation when the Allies invaded the nearby beaches on D-Day.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The eleventh-century Norman-Romanesque cathedral is utterly remarkable and is most definitely worth a visit too.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Ask a local and they may well give you another reason to visit this pretty Norman town – the Saturday market. France is famous for its colourful, bustling markets that take over main squares of cities, towns and villages and Bayeux’s version does not disappoint.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Row upon row of sellers display their produce under colourful awnings offering the choicest and freshest cheeses, meat, fruits and vegetables.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

This being Normandy and all, you’ll find a few stalls selling the obligatory local cidre and as many apple and pear products as you can imagine.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Amid the colours, the bustling atmosphere and the sing-song of the stall holders, a fantastic aroma of sizzling saucepans cooking up fresh paella and stews permeates through the air.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

So if you’re in the area, head to the Place Saint Patrice, there’s no better way to buy your groceries!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.

 

Plenty more fish in Dieppe

It’s autumn on the Normandy coast and the air is thick with the delicious smoky smell of fresh, grilled fish. My tour of Normandy has brought me to the maritime city of Dieppe for the annual Herring and Scallop Festival. Every year, visitors flock in their thousands to the Alabaster Coast, as this scenic part of Normandy is known, to sample the hareng (herring), the poisson roi (king of fish) and Saint-Jacques scallops, two products that the bustling port of Dieppe is famous for.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

As I walk around the harbour, admiring how the colourful houses lining the marina are reflected in the water, crowds of people gather enthusiastically around barbecues, waiting for their portions of fresh fish straight off the grill. The harengs are delightfully unfussy, cost only a few euros, and are served in paper cones so you just eat them with your fingers. I stroll past the many stalls set up along the quay, munching on my hareng and browsing anything from textiles to earthenware and delectably fresh seafood caught that morning. Locals call out to me, encouraging me to sample their wares. If you insist, I respond, as my feet carry me to one stall after another. After all, I don’t want to be rude!

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

My belly suitably full, I pass the great many restaurants on the Quai Henri IV and all of a sudden find myself transported back in time in a burrow of narrow streets known as Le Pollet, the old fishing quarter. This part of Dieppe really feels like a village within a town and as I stop off at a souvenir shop to buy a mandatory postcard and chat with the locals, the friendly shop owner tells me that residents of this quarter even call themselves les citoyens du Pollet (the citizens of the Pollet). It’s an interesting reminder of a former age in which Dieppe was the main port linking the Duchy of Normandy with England, and an important hub for trade. Even now, it is clear to see that fishing still plays a huge part in the economy of the town.

Turning up another windy street and I’m back out onto the marina, and met by the fresh salty air and excited hum of voices. It’s hard not to be caught up in the maritime ambiance of this festival, and I just about stop myself from joining the children nearby in a jig as a band kicks off into a merry sea shanty. The town is buzzing with life and it’s not hard to see why this festival attracts people from all over Normandy and beyond. With its promise of tasty grub, festive atmosphere and picture postcard setting, Dieppe truly offers a fun, foodie alternative what probably would have been grey, uneventful November weekend at home!

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© Dieppe-Maritime Tourisme

So if you find yourself at a loose end in November this year, why not hop on a ferry and head to the picturesque town of Dieppe on the Normandy coast for the Herring and Scallop Festival?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.

Gastronomy in Granville

On an October day, my colleague Sophie and I stopped in the charming town of Granville for a spot of lunch and a visit to the medieval town. During the summer months, Granville is busy with holidaymakers enjoying the sandy beach, the casino and the beautiful gardens surrounding the Christian Dior Museum, perched on the hill.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

By the autumn, the town is left to locals and as we made our way, we spotted Monsieur Chamberm standing on a street corner, selling small grey shrimps out of a basket that he’d propped up in front of him. As a Granville local, Sophie told me that Monsieur Chamberm has been selling shrimp on this same street corner for as long as she can remember.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

We stopped to chat and M. Chamberm told us that he’s the third generation of his family to sell these shrimps to locals – he’s been carrying on the family tradition since 1968. He showed us an excellent black and white photo of him standing here as a young boy – clearly very proud of the heritage of his family business.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

The season for low-tide fishing on foot is between the spring and autumn. During this time, M. Chamberm gets up at 3am each day and makes his way down to the shore – it might take him 45 minutes to reach sea that comes up to his waist. He wades through the water, tapping the seafloor in front of him with a stick, dragging a net behind, and collects the shrimp along the way. On a good day, he can leave with several kilos of shrimp, on a bad day, with none. With his fresh catch he then makes his way to this street corner and sets up shop. The shrimp must be sold fresh and alive and M. Chamberm explains that you should cook them with a little salt water. His preferred way to eat them is with a little salad or simply with bread and butter.

We left M. Chamberm and headed to Granville’s bustling shopping street that would delight any foodie; a butcher sells local salt-marsh lamb, a patisserie shows off rows of mouth-watering cakes and the local sweet speciality – chocolate covered pieces of puffed wheat and almonds.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Next we popped into the fishmongers and saw piles of whelks caught off the Granville bay, oysters from nearby Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, pink prawns from the Chaussey islands just a few miles west of Granville and many other varieties of fish and seafood all with the label “fished in the north-west Atlantic.” This tells you something of the importance of the local fishing industry.

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© Normandy Tourist Board / M. McNulty

Indeed, so interwoven into the past and present of Granville, even the town’s biggest annual event, its carnival, has its roots in the sea. The Granville Carnival was first established, centuries ago, to mark the departure of a fishing fleet to Newfoundland in search of cod. As this route became increasing important, by the twentieth century, Granville was one of the most important fishing ports in France. The carnival, the biggest in western France – today attracts more than 100,000 people for a weekend of parades, fancy dress and celebration. That’ll make a good reason to return to this charming towlog_normandie_gb1n!

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.