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A Holiday in Normandy

30 Aug

We had a fabulous holiday in Normandy, seeing as many of the sites as we could squeeze into our few days.

We saw a lot of the D-Day landing things.  Utah Beach and its monuments and museum:

The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, near Omaha Beach:

The village of Sainte-Mère-Église, with its church spire from which a paratrooper hung for hours after getting his parachute entangled (that would be Red Buttons in The Longest Day!):

And, finally, the remains of Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches:

It wasn’t all history and seriousness, though. We also had time for some non-war-related things. We saw the Bayeux Tapestry and also had a wander around lovely Bayeux, including a visit to the cathedral:

My favourite day included a visit to Beuvron-en-Auge, a village on the Cider Route. We had a few degustations and came home with a car boot laden with Calvados and Pommeau. Beuvron was definitely one of the prettiest little towns I’ve ever seen:

We also did a bit of shopping at the Isigny Ste. Mère dairy cooperative. Isigny, very near where we were staying, is famous for its dairy products, particularly butter. And, oh, that fame is deserved. My favourite was the very sinful one with salt crystals in it.

And we even had time for a brocante and a day on the beach:

It was my first trip to Normandy, but I know it won’t be my last. There’s so much more to see, so I’m glad we saved a few things for our next visit.

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Le Chateau de Monfreville

29 Aug

Last week we spent a few days camping in Normandy at le Chateau de Monfreville, a superb little campsite in the Calvados countryside.

With 20 acres of land and only 12 pitches for tents (plus two roulottes) but no caravans or camper vans, it’s never crowded.

Paul and Zoe, who own the chateau, have ponies, a donkey, a lovely dog, two cats, some sheep and loads of ducks, geese, chickens and quail, so there’s always company of the furry and feathered variety. My husband and Hector the dog formed a particularly strong bond, perhaps due to the treats that were constantly being tossed Hector’s way.

Our tent was next to the field so Bert the donkey became a close friend.

We were also in the perfect spot to see the glorious sunrises.

One day, the roulottes were both empty, so I took the opportunity to take some sneaky pictures.

One night a week, there’s a family style moules frites meal in one of the barns. Everyone brings a bottle (or two) and gets to know each other, which is absolutely lovely.

Paul and Zoe grow a lot of their own vegetables, all of which can be bought in the little shop in one of the out-buildings. There’s an honesty box for shopping for organic veg, eggs, milk, etc.

There’s a swimming pond, complete with fish and frogs, on the site.

One of the nicest things about the site was that cars aren’t allowed. You park up in a field on the other side of the chateau, and all your gear is brought down to your pitch by an ancient tractor.

And, best of all, every evening, Paul comes round to each tent taking bakery orders for the morning. Then, as if by magic, fresh croissants, brioche, etc. appear outside your tent early the next day.

It was a wonderful holiday and I think we’ll be going back next year!

La Grande Braderie de Lille

9 Sep

During the first weekend of September every year, Lille hosts Europe’s largest flea market. I’ve read that two million people descend on Lille for the Braderie, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I thought it was too crowded – certainly more crowded than the last time I was there, about five years ago.

The Braderie is supposed to begin at 2pm on Saturday, but some sellers had started as early as Friday night! And if you’re there until Sunday afternoon when most stalls are being dismantled, you can get some great bargains.

The Braderie has its origins in the Middle Ages, when servants were granted permission to sell their masters’ old possessions once a year. This merged with the city’s fair where townspeople as well as outsiders could bring their goods to sell. Local poultry merchants then came up with the idea of providing food for vendors and buyers … and voilà! 

You can buy just about anything at the Braderie, from valuable antiques to utter rubbish and everything in between, at over 10,000 stalls covering some 60+ miles. Some sellers are professional dealers/traders and others are just local families who’ve cleared out their houses (car boot style).

As well as the Braderie, there’s food, drink and music non-stop, making for a real festival atmosphere. Most of the restaurants and cafés in Lille scrap their usual menus and serve only moules frites at big family-style tables in the streets. Each restaurant piles up their empty mussel shells outside and there’s a competition to see which has the highest mound of shells by the end of the weekend.

 

To get to Lille, either take the ferry from Dover to Calais (Lille is just over an hour’s drive from Calais), or take the Eurostar from St. Pancras in London directly to Lille. If you decide to go, book your hotel early. You’ll want to be in the heart of things so you can walk easily, and those hotel rooms go very quickly.