The Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres

The Cathedral of our Lady of Chartres

Sunday is always a more religious day in such a Catholic country and as we were in the vicinity we decided to visit Chartres. The huge gothic cathedral here is imposing and despite many tourists you do get a sense of the local community as Sunday service is conducted. We stopped for traditional crepes/galette and then car roof down made our way back through the countryside spotting the local Percheron horses, field after field of wheat being cut and chilled back on the Island for the afternoon.

la_perriere

La Perriere in L’Orne

We wanted an authentic traditional French brasserie style meal that evening which should have been the easiest thing in the country to find but somehow it proved illusive. We had a list of a few places and couldn’t get them on the phone to book so imposed once more on the brilliance of the sat nav, Doris, to find these far flung places. Firstly to La Perriere which was the most picturesque of villages and home of La Maison d’Horbe. Well it was not to be our maison for that evening as we were clearly told there was no room at the inn so onwards to Le Pin la Garenne and their offering of La Croix d’Or. Neither of us were feeling that experience to be a good thing so feeling ever more hungry we ventured to Saint Langis les Mortagne and the well named Les Pieds dans l’Eau. Once again we were not meant to dangle our feet in any water or anything at all as we were clearly told there was no room here either. Now what? We eventually ended up at a place that the couple at D’Une Ile had mentioned which was apparently going to offer us a traditional experience.

Moulin de Villeray started off with so much promise. They had a table! and a water mill and a bridge and a pretty setting. They were crazy full and very large. But then the meal began. I am not sure if the service is a true representation of the authentic French experience but a good 6 minute wait to be seated followed by a further 10 or so minutes before anyone even tried to come near us with anything like a menu and then a further 15 or so minutes before we could even order anything just finished us off. And did I mention we were starving hungry? We were genuinely hysterical by the time the first course arrived. The big feature of the meal was most definitely the bread and not for all the right traditions of the well known baguette du Perche recipe. I say this because the lady who had clearly been told it was her responsibility to replenish the bread took her job very seriously. She couldn’t offer a menu, or a drink, or a plate of food, but bread – oh yes, she was an expert here. If you carried on eating said side plate then she carried on filling it. One could eat a whole baguette and more if that way inclined. We became like children giggling away at the preposterous experience. No food, or bad food but certainly baguette!

After that the evening deteriorated into a Fawlty Towers-esque experience. Words cannot describe the catalogue of issues that prevailed. And at those prices, it should have been the best thing we had eaten. Sadly the only saving grace was the memory of the experience and the stomach muscles that worked so hard through the laughter. I am sure we were perceived as crazy Brits but if that’s an authentic French experience then I would rather never repeat it thank you very much.

On our return, the D’Une Ile chef told us he agreed the food was not great. But that there is little in the area to impress, which is such a shame as the raw ingredient is there. Why that old fashioned classic French cooking has not remained with the tradition of the area is a mystery to me.

Monet's House peeking through the immense gardens

Monet’s House peeking through the immense gardens

Our last day meant a need to venture back up the country to Calais but we had one last stop to fit in and we thought a quiet Monday would be the perfect way to do it. Our route up North took a detour to Giverny and the home of Claude Monet. He lived here for the final 43 years of his life and created a home and a garden that proved to be his inspiration. The house and more importantly the gardens were designed and created by him over these forty odd years and he was able to develop spaces and colours that were the essence of some of his most famous pieces. The water lillies and Japanese gardens are probably the most famous and we meandered along the motorway to have our moment connecting with these.

Sadly, it seemed that the whole world had the same idea. I know that everyone should have the opportunity of the same experience but it really did take away from any sort of spiritual connection when you are queuing for an hour to get into the garden itself and then battling with coach loads of British school kids who are on a day expedition and clearly not all that interested in what makes this all so special.

Despite the crowds, despite the grey weather and despite the time pressure we were under, there is no doubt that this is a place to visit and I would come back to do it differently next time. Book tickets in advance. Go early to avoid the crowds. Give yourself time to explore the whole place. But most of all do go. In the same way that Venice shows itself as the inspiration to great Italian masters, so this once family home in a small town in Normandy shows itself to be the home of Impressionism and you can’t help but feel it in your soul.

The famous water lily pond taken from an angle trying to avoid tourist central

The famous water lily pond taken from an angle trying to avoid tourist central-

So our journey ended on the motorway up to Calais and the ferry back across the 20.6 miles to the UK harbour. Even the drizzling rain couldn’t dampen our spirits and we parted knowing that we would most definitely do this again. It is highly recommended as long as you book dinner!

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