It seems incredible for someone who loves food as much as I do that I have not really discovered France in the way a true gourmet should have. But this weekend all that changed.

M & I decided to do a road trip. Just the two of us, the car roof down and the open road ahead. Admittedly the run to Calais was a very different experience, but once we escaped the tourist track, we could relax and the weather made it even more enjoyable with the sun shining down on us.

Entrance to the tearoom

Entrance to the tearoom

Our first stop was to see the wonderful Judy of Tea Together and her jams. What an incredible couple she makes with her husband. They have created a life that is like something out of a film. In the tiny village of St Remy au Bois stands their home and kitchen supporting what looks to be an idyllic lifestyle. All the jams are made traditionally in copper pans and the fruit is brought back over from the orchards of Kent. Somewhere amongst the horses, the chickens, the maran eggs, the hydrangeas, the dogs and the stunningly eclectic house of theirs we enjoyed tea together and came away with the energy and vibrancy that this team instil. Their new tearooms are a destination that you must look up. Just fabulous.

Honfleur harbour

Honfleur harbour

Judy gave us lots of recommendations and we made our way around the coastline to explore a few but knew that we needed to get to our first pit stop in Honfleur so prioritised that which was a good decision as it was twinkling away in the sunset. This port and harbour have managed to retain their originality and charm despite the tourist trade and we enjoyed a simple fish supper before retiring to bed. The next morning we discovered the shops of the local produce including colourful designer tins of local sardines and shops dedicated to caramels – what’s wrong with that? It is the apples/pears and the dairy in this part of the world that is well known and the butter along with the local salt make the most perfect caramels. It all seemed to make sense.

After that we went on the hunt for cheese. We trundled through Pont L’Eveque and Livarot (neither really worth the trip) towards Camembert where we discovered a museum dedicated to the cheese. In a very basic way this museum brought the history of the cheese to our attention. Created in the 18th century by one woman, Marie Harel, the cheese developed with the onset of penicillin and also the unique wooden box it is transported in. It became the most popular in the country after it was given to all the soldiers in the war and now holds AOC and PDO status for all the obvious reasons. A small cheese tasting seemed in order before we carried on our way.

Home for a few days

Home for a few days

I had discovered an article on a gem of a place to stay in the lesser known region of Le Perche. We were thankful that it was less known to tourists and made our way to D’Une Ile, or The Island as it translates and an idyllic island it certainly is. An old farm estate has been resurrected by a young Dutch couple who have a design and a chef background each. A set of 9 cottages are each uniquely decorated with pared back simplicity and an eye for detail making it the most perfect place to just stop. The estate is so pretty and the rooms so cool and calm it is easy to forget the world for a few days and embrace the countryside in all its natural glory.

Dinner was served in the courtyard that night – one plate, lots of flavours and regional wines to suit. We fell into bed with a smile in our hearts and slept like babies.

VM the French way

VM the French way

The next few days we made a point of discovering the area. Saturday was obviously market day and here we were able to see how the locals shop. No supermarkets here (give or take the odd BonMarche). Just market stall holders selling wares: cheese, meat, roast chicken, fruit, veg, tomatoes, nougat – you name it they have it. In the UK we talk the talk of seasonal local and here it is their way of life. It always has been. Simple. Unpretentious. Often abrupt. But the shoppers, mostly women, know their stuff. They buy their weekly shop here, armed with a basket and a clarity of thought about what is right to buy now, in July.

Our picnic - the before pic

Our picnic – the before pic

We returned that day with Le Pique Nique which we installed overlooking the view across the estate. Simple local cheeses, baguette, a knarly tomato, bottle of Rose…and glorious sunshine. It really doesn’t get much better than this. Does it?

...and after!

…and after!

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