Archives for posts with tag: Le Perche
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 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!

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!