During Easter break, we spent 3 days in Normandy and 3 days in Paris. Peter drove 957km to Normandy, the longest road trip in one go. I wish we could stay longer as 3 days in Normandy was rather short, and France is so big that you can only visit one place a day. From A to B, it always take at least an hour to get there. The most important of this trip was to pay a pilgrim visit to Mont St-Michel which I have wanted to visit for many years. If you happen to travel to Paris, it would definitely be a must-visit place to consider for a one or two day excursion. From Paris, it would still need around good 3 hours drive to get there. Mont St-Michel is said to be the Second only to the Eiffel Tower as France’s beloved landmark. Mont St-Michel is situated on the border between Normandy and Brittany, one of the first sites to obtain UNESCO World Heritage listing.
Overall, we were extremely lucky with the weather, as the weather forecast said it would rain most of the time, it did rain but mostly in the morning and then it got cleared up, felt so blessed!
DAY 1 & 2: Mont St-Michel
So here was our brief travel plan, on Day 1, we arrived the hotel very late at Pontorson. We chose to stay here which is 6 km away from Mont St Michel, so we could have more freedom to go in and out and not restricted by the low tide, high tide. The place we stayed is called Hotel Montegromery which belongs to the Best Western group. People there are very helpful and friendly and they have free wi-fi internet access.
On the rocky island, we climbed up to visit the Abbey. It is an architectural with a high-spired, gold plated archangel-topped church and the magificient Gothic buildings known since 1228 as the Merveille. The Abbey inside consists the cloister, Knight’s Hall, Refectory, Guest Hall and cellars. There are now a dozen of nuns and monks from the Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem staying there.
I read that restaurants on the Mont are not impressive at all and worse than almost anywhere in France, I suppose this is similar to many touristic spots. However, there is something which is worth trying, that is the time-honoured legend soufflé omelettes served at the famous hotel, La Mère Poulard which many political leaders and celebrities have visited. By the time we finished the tour in the Abbey, it was almost 2:30pm and they have stopped serving the lunch menu, but this is probably better as I think the lunch menu is not cheap at all, it cost almost EUR 50 for an omelette and a small half lobster. In the afternoon, they offer a menu which consists a choice of omelette and a dessert which costs EUR 28, not so bad. To make the omelettes, the butter was not allowed to go brown, the eggs are beaten vigorously in a copper bowl, possibly separating the yolks and whites first, and stirred continuously as she cooked them in her long-handled pan over the traditional open wood fire. I personally like it as I was very hungry after walking up and down the Abbey, Peter on the other hand was not too impressed, he thought it was too airy for him, and his was a bit undercooked. As for desserts, we had Crème Brulée and Crêpe with apple, salted caramel and topped with almond flakes. I am not big fan of crème brulée but this one was gooood, and the crêpe was also delicious. After the late lunch, we went upstairs to the boutique and I bought Annette Poulard’s cookbook and a box of sablés cookies, hope to try her crème brulée recipe soon. However, later I found out that her cookies are also available in the Carrefour supermarket which are much cheaper so we bought a few more boxes there.
That afternoon, we initially wanted to go to Saint Malo, Brittany for dinner, however, it would take us more than two hours drive back and forth and we are both still recovering from a long day drive the day before, so instead, we had a short cruise just over Brittany to Cancale where it is a fishing village popular with visitors, many of whom are drawn by its reputation as the “oyster capital” of Brittany. Though a small town, it is well served by a large number of restaurants, many specialising in seafood. On our way, we found a relatively big seafood store selling mussels, oysters, purple urchins, crustaceans of all types. We definitely have to pay a separate trip to Brittany in the near future and stay a few days at The Breizh Café Apartment, Cancale. (The Breizh Café serves fabulous Brittany crêpes in Paris.)
That evening, we drove back and had a gourmet dinner at Hotel de Bretagne at Pontorson which is very closed to our hotel. Eating in Normandy is much cheaper than eating in Paris, for about EUR 40 you can experience a very scrumptous gourmet dinner. I did not want to take my big camera with me, I tried not to take pictures at dinner but it was still irresistible so I used my iPhone instead. There was a complimentary appetizer which is made of layers of Tuna, lentils and a foamy cream topping, then I had Langoustine soup to start with and for main course I had the local lamb. However, I felt the lamb tasted a bit strong and overcooked, it was mainly my fault because I need my meat to be more well cooked, rather Peter’s beef filet was done in perfection. For dessert, Peter had sampled various local cheese that the French goes with green salad drizzled with Hibiscus vinegar and Argan oil. I was totally intrigued by this salad dressing, it’s so distinct and unique!!! Be prepare the hibiscus vinegar is pretty sharp! I could not eat the local cheese right now as they are all made by raw unpasteurized milk.
Hotel de Bretagne
59 Rue Couesnon, 50170 Pontorson
Tel: +33 (0)2 3360 1055
DAY 3 &4: D-Day Beaches & Étretat
The following day we drove to the seaside to visit the D-Day Beaches at Arromanches where the Musée du Débarquement is located at the seafront is certainly worthwhile to pay a visit. There are not many restaurants there but anyway we have prepared a little picnic at the seafront, an artisan baguette with some Camembert cheese (pasturized) were already very satisfying.
After an educational afternoon, we drove and stayed a night in Rouen, however, we were not so impressed with this city so we will skip this, we shortened our 2 nights stay to 1 night stay in Rouen and went to Etretat the following day and then drove to Paris a night earlier.
Étretat is a very pretty and neat little village, not until you arrive the coastal area, you would not feel that you are approaching the seafront. That day there were many more tourists then we have expected. It was quite a challenge to find a parking place. The alabaster cliffs are really spectecular where their arches, tunnels may look familar to you in many tourists brochures. It was windly to walk along the seafront but it was very refreshing after a very nice lunch at the panoramic restaurant of Dormy House (picture below shows the starter: Smoked St Jacques with Celery and Apple remoulade) which also offers comfortable and charming accommodation. I strongly recommend this eatery place as in the village, those restaurants are also pretty packed with people and here you can enjoy a relaxing lunch with great view and great food. In the village, there is this old wooden market halles which dominate the main square, the ground floor is occupied with souvenir shops where I have bought two small bottles of calvados and Pommeau de Normandie to be used for Normandy cooking one day. Pommeau is made from freshly squeezed apple juice produced by the addition of young Calvados to prevented from further fermenting. This will get the full apple flavor, fruit and pleasant acidity.
So that’s the highlight of our short stay in Normandy, I definitely would like to visit again and also Brittany. There are still so many places that we could not visit this time, hopefully we could spend a longer holiday in this region next time. Hope you have enjoyed reading : )