Interesting times in Europe, with an air of uncertainty and “what now?” But on the positive side, the currently strong Kiwi dollar makes travel to France (and the UK) even more appealing!
Normandy, one of the most attractive parts of France, is on our minds, as we prepare for our September tour. The great variety of gardens and architecture (ancient, modern & in-between) are outstanding features of the region. There are also WW2 battle sites, plus a vivid reminder that humans were fighting each other long before the 20th century – the Bayeux Tapestry. If you’re looking for a break from the southern winter, we also have some tempting barging specials. If you have an significant anniversary, reunion etc to celebrate – we’d like to introduce you to the luxury of two big hotel barges for parties of 4 to 8, in Burgundy & Champagne. But first – dinner….
From the Food Diary: Le Bréard, Honfleur
Le Bréard is one of many attractive restaurants in this historic port town at the mouth of the Seine, just across the water from Le Havre. The building is half-timbered, but the interior and the cuisine are very modern. Chef Fabrice Sébire returned home to Honfleur and opened Le Breard in 2004, after working in various stellar Paris restaurants including the Grand Véfour, Tour d’Argent and Lucas Carton.
The Menu Gourmet (€32 for 3 courses, €48 for 4) is small but very tempting. We couldn’t resist the tomato starter – with red, green, yellow and black tomato slices, tomato sorbet, tomato with feta, tomato confit and tomato jelly with basil sauce. It was delicious to eat and dazzling to look at – and I wish I’d taken a photo.
The main courses were equally impressive – Robert chose his favourite bird, guinea fowl. Supreme de Pintade was more traditional than the jazzy tomato starter, but the cooking was equally accomplished – a guinea fowl breast with mushrooms & cabbage and a delicious sauce of reduced cooking juices. My fillet of plaice was garnished with smoked herring eggs and fine slices of red & black radish, with the radish tops pureed into a fresh green sauce. A delicious dish, as fresh and lively as the tomato starter.
We didn’t need really need a third course, but the dessert menu featured another very tempting variation on a theme – chocolate this time. A modern & sophisticated version of the old favourite Death by Chocolate; with dark chocolate wafers, milk chocolate mousse, a dark chocolate tart with white chocolate filling and a chocolate mousse with mint – it was a festival on a plate and a gorgeous end to a memorable dinner.
The thoughtful and friendly service added to the pleasure of the evening too – each dish was carefully described by staff who were obviously proud of the quality of the kitchen and the whole operation.
There are two indoor dining areas, plus a covered garden section, which is very popular in summer and for autumn lunches. As well as the Menu Gourmet, le Breard offers a 4 course, €63 Menu Sensation. (Actually, there are at least six courses, if you count the pre-entree & post dessert nibbles.) Everyone at the table has to have the menu, but, as long as you’ve had a very light lunch, that shouldn’t be too taxing…..
We recommend the restaurant enthusiastically and we’re looking forward to our next meal there in September! Le Breard, 7 rue de Puits, Honfleur
Embroidered History – the Bayeux Tapestry
October this year marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. If we have a clearer image of this ancient battle than we do of many later conflicts, that’s probably because of the Bayeux tapestry.
It’s a unique piece, telling the story of the battle and events leading up to it in 70 metres of embroidery (not tapestry, strictly speaking). There are vivid details of everyday life in the 11th century – military hardware, musical instruments, food, fashion and much more. We’re very lucky it has survived through centuries of wars, and a revolution, and still looks so fresh and alive. It’s had restoration work of course, but hasn’t been overwhelmed by it.
The Tapestry is on display in the Bayeux Museum, and they’ve been very clever in the way they show it – it’s fragile, priceless and also a very popular attraction, so it has to be protected from harsh sunlight, sticky fingers etc, but visitors have to be able to get close enough to see the detail. Each visitor has an audio-guide in the language of their choice and is taken along the length of the work with information and instructions from it. You’re told what you’re looking at, given background information and small, easily missed details are pointed out. It works pretty well, even at busy times.
Normandy is full of interesting things to see and do, but for me the Bayeux Tapestry is at the top of the list – a real treasure. Don’t miss it. ( The little photo is of a paper napkin I bought in Bayeux – it doesn’t do the original justice!)
Update – Domaine de Cromey
New flagstones have been laid, a new kitchen installed, the swimming pool and landscaping is finished, and Domaine de Cromey has welcomed their first group. Their “Mix & Meet” weeks, which are open to individual & small group bookings, are filling, and we already have a booking for next June! For this year, a few rooms are still available for 23-30 October and 30 October-5 November.
Here’s a taste of their itinerary – guests arrive at Cromey in the afternoon and the week starts with an informal wine-tasting and the first of Ellie’s wonderful dinners. Next morning, it’s off to a village market, a château of the former Dukes of Burgundy, and a traditional barrel-maker before returning to the Domaine for lunch. In the afternoon, discover Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, and visit the remarkable Hospices de Beaune, formerly a hospital, now a museum and one of the best examples of 15th century architecture in France. Dinner at a restaurant in Beaune.
A morning trip to the river port of Tournus for lunch and a visit to its elegant 12th century church, then home for a Burgundy wine tasting before another superb dinner from Ellie. The next morning, explore the vineyards and villages of the Cote de Nuits from Vosne Romanee to Gevrey-Chambertin. There’ll be time in Beaune for a spot of shopping, and an afternoon to enjoy the Domaine and its surroundings. The week finishes with an introduction to the wild countryside of the Morvan National Park and the market town of Autun – once a Roman city, which still has an amphitheatre and ancient gates, then a final dinner at the Domaine. Immerse yourself in glorious Burgundy with two of the best hosts we know.
Exploring the Haut Quercy with The Walking Party
The Walking Party takes groups to many lovely parts of France, Italy and England, but their September Haut Quercy tours are special – this is their home territory and one of the best ways to explore it is with a couple of knowledgeable and entertaining hosts like James & Diana. Stay at a private chateau for a couple of nights, then in the beautiful village of St Cirq Lapopie on the above the Lot River. The pace is leisurely, the picnics are delicious and landscape is ancient and dramatic. AND they have a few spaces left on this year’s 17-24 September tour.
For the very appealing itinerary, click here.
Boating News & Specials
European Waterways has a range of special prices on their extensive fleet of hotel barges, on both cabin and charter bookings, for selected weeks in August, September & October. A €1500 per cabin discount is offered on August cruises in Burgundy on the Belle Epoque (August 21) and the Renaissance (August 7 & 14). In Alsace, the Panache also has a €1500 cabin discount on her August 28 departure, as does the Bella Vita in Venice for August 21 & 28. Deposits required soon for these dates. More choices of regions, boats and departure dates with €750 per cabin discounts too. Contact us for more details.
Big barges for small groups
If you’re looking for a luxury barge cruise for a group of four, six or eight, there are a couple of big glossy boats to tempt you. The Finesse is a new barge cruising in Southern Burgundy. It’s 39 metres long, with just four deluxe suites, with private bathrooms of course. When we worked on hotel barges in France, it was usual for boats of this size to accommodate 16-20 passengers and 7 or 8 crew, so there’ll be plenty of room aboard the Finesse. There’s a spa pool on the generous sun-deck, touring bikes, on board WiFi and a crew of five. The barge cruises in southern Burgundy, on the Saone River and the Canal du Centre, between St Julien-sur-Dheune and St Jean de Losne. Guests are met in Lyon and taken to the boat for a champagne welcome. In addition to their classic cruises, the Finesse also offers wine appreciation cruises, with private tours and tastings in a selection of chateaux and vineyards in this famous wine producing region.
The Saroche has new owners and now cruises in Champagne from May to July, then moves to Burgundy for the rest of the season, from August to October. About the same size as the Finesse, she has three very generous staterooms, with ensuite bathrooms, a sun deck with a hot tub, a split level dining & lounge area with big windows and a skylight. There’s a crew of four, including owners Jason and Dawn, to look after you. The Champagne cruises include a tour of Reims and its famous Gothic cathedral, tastings at several champagne houses and visits to WW1 battle sites. The Burgundy itinerary features visits to Clos de Vougeot, an historic Cistercian winery, and Beaune, one of our favourite old walled towns, with fascinating markets and the medieval Hospices de Beaune, or Hotel-Dieu, now one of the best museums of medieval life in the country.
Staterooms are available just two cruises this year (21-27 August & 23-29 October ) but think now about the Saroche for 2017, as four cruise weeks are already booked.
In addition to space, service & comfort, both boats have excellent cellars & lovely food, so if you have something special to celebrate with some special people, treat yourself to the luxury of a small group charter on a big boat!
Contact us for more details, prices, availability etc.
Barbara & Robert