We Brits and our neighbours across the English Channel haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, but I confess that I’m a bit of a Francophile – quite a large bit, actually. I love the language, although I don’t speak it nearly so well as I would like, I love the food, the countryside and the culture, and I dream of one day upping sticks in blighty and finding myself a nice cottage in rural France.
Until then, however, I have to content myself with regular trips to and fro. I’m not a good sailor, so having the Channel Tunnel just under two hours away by car is very convenient.
The destinations we’ve chosen for our recent trips have usually related in some way to a particular place we wanted to see, or things we wanted to do. A couple of years back, my husband – who has been researching his family tree for the past few years – wanted to visit several of the many cemetaries in northern France to find the graves of relatives who died in the First World War. Last year, I wanted to go to Bayeux to see the tapestry (which is amazing), and this year, we decided to re-visit Normandy in order to travel to Falaise which is the birthplace of William the Conqueror, and which we didn’t have the time to visit last year.
We stayed at a lovely gîte, not very far from the small village of Camembert, somewhere you may have heard of ;-)
Falaise castle is a ruin today, but it’s well maintained and the latest technology is in use in the form of “histopads” to help the visitor to get an idea of how the castle would have looked in its heyday. They’ve made virtual models of each of the rooms you can visit, and when you enter, all you have to do is point the “pad” at a trigger point et voilà! There you have the room in 360 degree glory. There are other bits and pieces to discover, plus lots of extra information. I’m sure there are similar things in use at UK sites, but I haven’t come across any yet.
We stayed for a week in Normandy and then moved into Brittany for another two weeks. I didn’t have any particular reason for choosing to go there, other than that we’ve not been there before and it seemed like a good idea and not too far to drive! We stayed at another beautiful gîte – this one with a pool in which the girls spent a great deal of the time! – and discovered we were just 8km away from a beautiful medieval town called Quintin. Unfortunately, the chateau there, which is in a great location by the river, had loads of scaffolding and tarpaulins over it for renovation, so there was no point in taking a photo. Here, however, is what it should have looked like!
As we were only about 45 minutes’ drive from the north coast of Brittany, we took a couple of trips out to the seaside and discovered the rather lovely town of Binic – which, incidentally, has what is quite possibly the best ice cream shop in the world – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many different flavours! The beach was lovely and sandy and even though it was mid-August, it wasn’t busy. On the way to Binic, we discovered the lovely town of Châtelaudren, another of Brittany’s Petite Cités Charactères, of which there are quite a few dotted around.
Another one close to where we stayed was Moncontour – again lots of buff stone and cobbled streets.
One of the most spectacular places we’ve ever been too was Fort La Latte, which is also on Brittany’s northern coast, and which has, apparently, been used as many a film set. It was originally built in the 13th century and although it’s mostly a ruin today, the location is spectacular, almost seeming as though the place is rising from the sea.
I didn’t make it to the top this time – I sent the kids up with the camera instead!
Of course, no visit to France would be complete without a visit to one of their incredibly elegant countryside châteaux, and so we headed off to the Château de Bien-Assis, which originated in the 15th century and was added to in the 17th. All those turrets make it look like something out of a fairy-tale!
Being surrounded by water on three sides, Brittany is of course celebrated for its seafood. Unfortunately, shellfish and I don’t get along, but Mr Caz adores his Moules-Frites and managed several large helpings during the course of our visit! I love shopping for food in the local markets (one of the best things I’ve ever eaten was a rotisserie chicken and potatoes from a market – so simple and yet so tasty). As a family of four, it’s not cheap to eat out and we didn’t do it all that often, but we were quite happy to shop at the local farms and markets and cook for ourselves. Nothing too strenuous – plenty of bread, cheese, omelettes and salads and whatever we’d picked up that day.
Needless to say, I could have stayed out there for weeks longer (even though by the third week, I was really missing my internet access – we like to stay off the beaten track which usually means we’re out of range for mobiles and internet. The thing that astonished me was how quiet the place was. Both this year and last year, I’d thought being in Normandy and Brittany which are both popular holiday destinations for Brits and the locals alike, the roads and attractions would be busy, but that hasn’t been the case. We prefer to keep away from large towns and resorts anyway, but even the coastal areas we visited were fairly quiet which amazed me for the middle of August.
Not that I’m complaining…
So anyway, now I’m planning next year’s trip! I’m not sure exactly what area we’ll be visiting yet, but we will probably stick to Normandy and Brittany again. There’s still a lot to see and do and the weather there won’t be too hot in August, which is one of the reasons we don’t go further south. Having six weeks’ holiday in the summer is all well and good, but it’s not a time of year to go visiting the Mediterranean.
Southern Brittany looks good…
Et maintenant, mes amis, je vous souhaite une bonne journée. Á bientôt!
– Caz AAR