Normandy in France was on my wanderlust list for a while, so I was thrilled to be invited to visit the area by The Normandy Tourist Board. The trip included travelling and eating in Normandy: Calvados, Orne, Manche, Seafood festival in Granville, ‘Toute la Mer Sur un Plateau’ and a day trip to Chausey archipelago. Normandy is located in the northern part of beautiful France. It is divided into five departments (France’s version of counties): Calvados, Orne, Manche, Eure, and Seine-Maritime.
Normandy is linked to WWII beachheads including Omaha Beach, the site of the famous D-Day landing. It’s also home to the famous rocky island of Mont-Saint-Michel, which is topped by a Gothic abbey, the most visited site in Normandy. The city of Rouen is the capital of the region and is where the military leader and Catholic Saint Joan of Arc was executed in 1431. However, on this press trip, I visited another part of Normandy and enjoyed a food tour of Calvados (Pays D’Auge), Orne, and Manche (Granville and Chausey Islands) departments.
Normandy is Calvados country, the reason being that there are a lot of apple and pear orchards in the region. It also produces an array of tasty AOP cheeses, and on the coast, you can find the most amazing and fresh seafood.
While there, I attended the seafood festival that takes place every year in Granville, one of the most picturesque and beautiful coastal cities I’ve seen in France. Don’t expect the glitz and glam of the South of France; there’s an understated elegance about this place. The sea views are just stunning! A walk around town is a must
Granville is the birthplace of fashion designer Christian Dior (1905). There are plenty of steps to be climbed around town. One of the staircases (well-signalled) leads to the gardens and the 19th century Villa Les Rhumbs, where Christian Dior and family spent the summer. There’s always an exhibition on, and the garden is lovely and fragrant. It’s worth a visit.
Rue d’Estouteville | Rue d’Estouteville, 50400 Granville, France
Top food and drink to try in Normandy
Cheeses in Normandy
Livarot, Pont-l’Eveque, Camembert, and Neufchâtel are all cheeses of the region, and AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée)is a title guaranteeing unquestionable quality. These cheeses are produced with high-quality unpasteurised milk from Normandy cows and are manufactured in compliance with established AOP regulations.
We visited the Graindorge cheese dairy in Livarot in Pays D’Auge, founded in 1910; it’s a very successful local family business that’s been running for over three generations. We took a tour, and it was apparent that they are very passionate cheesemakers. A tasting session followed the visit, and while we were tasting the cheeses, we watched videos with suggestions for recipes for each cheese; these were very creative recipes, too.
Fromagerie GRAINDORGE – 42, rue Général-Leclerc – 14140 LIVAROT
A quick stop at Camembert – a tiny village at most 10 houses!
Apples and Pears
It turns out that apples are not just for eating at Spom, a quaint local spa where all treatments are apple-based; it’s set in a former apple press in the Pays d’Auge. I enjoyed a fantastic back apple scrub treatment followed by a marvelous body massage. The smell of apples chased me the whole day. Bliss!
Saint-Aubin de Bonneval
La Vallée du Manoir, 61470 Saint Aubin de Bonneval
A visit to La Maison Périgault cider farm in Pays D’Auge
This region is well known for its exceptional cider apple orchids. La Maison Périgault is a small family business, and they have been producing cider the traditional way for the last three generations. The farm is located in the Pays d’Auge in Normandy, which is renowned for the exceptional quality of its cider apples. At the La Maison Périgault, they produce around 15,000 bottles of cider, 3,000 liters of Calvados, 3,000 liters of Pommeau, 6,000 liters of apple juice, and other aperitifs. They are considered a top artisanal producer but still a small-scale production in comparison to commercial producers.
An interesting fact about cider apple farming is that apple trees work in a cycle of one generation to plant, one generation to grow the plant, one generation to produce the fruit, and lastly, one generation to die—that is the lifespan of an apple tree. There’s rotation around the farm as the apples are planted for that reason. One generation is equivalent to about 10–15 years.
The apples fall from the trees and then are collected after a few days for pressing in September and pressed in November. The juice is kept 5–6 months in Normandy oak barrels for fermentation.
On the very informative farm tour, which takes about 40 minutes, we learned about the press, cellar ageing, pot stills, and more. At the end of the visit, we had a degustation of ciders and Calvados.
La Maison Périgault cider farm
Les Mers de Say, Silly en Gouffern,
61310 Gouffern en Auge t:+33233671185
Pacory pear cider farm near Domfront
At Pacory, they grow apples and pears trees. But, they grow more pears than apple trees as they thrive better in this region of Normandy. A pear tree takes about 20 years to give good quality fruit—so a lot of patience for a good harvest. A pear tree can produce 400kg of fruit per year. The pears start to fall in August, continuing to mid-November. The region has 80 different varieties of pears that are inedible, astringent, bitter or acid – great for Calvados and other drinks.
Poiré is a local alcoholic beverage made from fermented pears, similarly to the way cider is made from apples. The area surrounding the town of Domfront is renowned for its pear trees, and alongside their excellent AOP poiré, the Pacory family produces AOC Calvados Domfrontais, using apples and lots of pears! (not to be mistaken for Calvados Pays d’Auge), as well as traditional Norman products like Pommeau and cider. It’s worth the trip!
Pacory pear cider farm
in Mantilly near Domfront
Les Grimaux, 61350 Mantilly
Seafood in La Manche
By day three, we had reached the seaside. The city of Granville is a gem on the Normandy coast. It became fashionable in the 19th century and, today, is one of the most sought-after seaside destinations for Parisians who want to get away to this understated, elegant town.
The ‘Toute la Mer Sur un Plateau‘ [All the Sea on a Plate] festival in the Granville port happens every year. Granville is the number one shellfish port in France and welcomes seafood lovers and enthusiasts looking to discover and taste fish and seafood from 50 exhibitors.
There are demos and live cooking, cooking workshops, and all sorts of seafood and other seafood-related stalls. I attended a seafood cooking master class with Chef Benoît Belbasserue, from the local restaurant Couleurs Saveurs, to learn how to prepare a delicious Norman shellfish dish.
Day trip from Granville: island hopping in the Chausey archipelago
It’s said that, in the eighth century, a storm cut off these tiny islands from the Norman mainland. There are about 365 individual islands at low tide and 52 on high tide, with very precarious access to the small ones. The Grand Île is accessible to visitors via an hour-long ferry ride from Granville or in style, like us, on a private boat tour with experienced sailor Franck Voidie of Voidie Voile. The day started at 6 am as we had to leave the Port de Herel before low tide.
It was a brilliant adventure. The sea was very choppy at times, and almost all of us apart from Franck and his family suffered from some form of seasickness, which my fabulous Glaswegian companion called ‘boaty.’ At no point I felt worried. Franck knew what he was doing, and his wife, Dominique was so cool. They were both very much in control. During lunchtime, the sea was very calm, and we enjoyed seafood straight, with no interference, no frills, just fresh and delicious! Simple is best!
We stopped at Aneret Isle to discover the lush fauna and flora—a very calming experience before heading to the Grand Ile for a couple of hours to investigate what they had to offer. The Grand Ile is an excellent place to get away from it all, small and no frills. Perfect!
How to get to Normandy :
The best way to get to Normandy from the UK is by ferry, Brittany Ferries has an overnight service. For more info: www.brittany-ferries.co.uk
For more info on places to visit: The Normandy Tourist Board
Disclosure: I was a guest of Normandy Tourist Board on this press trip. All opinions are my own.