Sarah Reeve discovers a haven of peace and joie de vivre in picturesque Normandy
If you're looking to take it down a notch after the hurly-burly of the big day, then Normandy is the perfect place for a relaxing mini-moon. After a comfortable journey by Eurostar from London to Paris in under two and a half hours, I arrived on a beautiful spring day ready for some much-needed R&R. The pressures of a busy week at work were already starting to dissolve as we left the metropolis behind to head off to our magical rural retreat. Driving into the lush countryside, it wasn't hard to feel instantly at home. The landscape is very similar to our own with quaint buildings, green pastures, picturesque towns and villages. As we approached the luxury four-star hotel Les Manoirs de Tourgeville, the rural idyll was complete. The main half-timbered building is nestled among a cluster of smaller manor houses surrounded by trees, stud farms and fields of grazing horses. The former home of famous French director Claude Lelouch, it was originally built for a film that ended up never being made. A slice of French movie history, the rooms are all named after famous stars of the silver screen and today the stylishly refurbished hotel is much-loved for its welcoming atmosphere and top-notch cuisine. A popular weekend retreat for Parisians, it's ideal as a romantic post-wedding getaway.
Open all year round, I visited in March when it was serenely beautiful and the tranquil atmosphere was a real tonic. The weather was glorious and the only noise to break the early morning silence was the birdsong and sounds of the countryside. Everything moves at a leisurely pace here, with relaxed but attentive staff ready and waiting to see to your every need, even the décor is calming and under-stated. Complete with a spa, sauna, heated indoor pool, fine-dining restaurant, not to mention its own exclusive in-house cinema, you can set your own pace and never leave the cosy confines of the hotel if you don't want to. However, with beautiful walks to enjoy and the famous seaside town of Deauville on the doorstep, it would be a shame not to explore all the area has to offer. If you're staying for a few days, it's well worth hiring a car to see the sights, visit the bustling local markets and get a real feel for the area.
The hotel spa, although small, is a wonderful centre of well-being where you can enjoy some me-time pampering. With three relaxation cubicles you can unwind and take your pick from a menu of bespoke treatments featuring the French brand Esthederm range of beauty products. I was treated to a wonderfully indulgent facial a work out not only for my skin but great for that all-over feel-good factor.
Eat, drink and be merry
You can enjoy an informal meal in the lounge bar and cosy up in front of the roaring log fire afterwards or sample the gourmet delights of the hotel's restaurant 1899. For foodie fans, the chef's menu is an experience not to be missed. We dined on a host of local and seasonal specialities, brought to the table with no fuss or frills, just unpretentious fresh food and fabulous flavours. If, like me, you've got a sweet tooth, make sure to leave room for the mouthwatering hot waffles topped with salted caramel sauce and whipped cream great for two to share!Don't forget to try the local tipples too, especially calvados, the region's famous apple brandy. After an evening's tasting session, even though I'd never been a great fan before, I definitely warmed to it!
If you can prise yourself away from the comforts of Les Manoirs, the iconic seaside town of Deauville is only a short drive away. Famed for its long expanse of beautiful sandy beach, awash with colourful parasols in the summer, and its world-renowned wooden beach boardwalk, you can pose for photos by the galleried changing huts, dedicated to an impressive roll call of famous actors and moviemakers a must for the honeymoon album. Pristine and litter-free, it's like walking into a film set. What was once just a little village and marshes, was transformed into a glamorous resort founded on the pursuit of pleasure in the 1860s the vision of influential Dr Joseph Olliffe and the Duc de Morny. In its heyday, the resort was a mecca for the rich and famous and after the American Film Festival was launched there in1974, it drew in big-name stars and fans of the silver screen.The festival is still held every September and the town is a fascinating reminder of a golden era with its grand hotels, stylish race course and sea-front casino. Horse culture also runs through the town's veins with the internationally renowned La Touques Racecourse at its heart.
For an authentic taste of the region, spend a day in Hornfleur renowned for its picturesque quayside houses and association with celebrated artists like Monet. An enchanting port on the Seine estuary it oozes character. Take a stroll around the Vieux Bassin, the heart of the port, with its tall, slate-clad houses over-looking the dock. The commercial ships and fishing boats of old may have gone replaced by smart yachts but the town retains much of its original charm, with cobbled streets, cafés and busy markets selling local produce. Noteworthy buildings include St Catherine's Church, built entirely of wood by shipwrights. There's plenty of great eateries to choose from too: check out l'Absinthe restaurant (absiththe.fr) for gourmet cuisine with great wine and views of the port to boot.
Don't leave home without sampling some of the local sea food and soft cheeses including the region's famous Camembert or creamy full-flavoured Pont l'Évêque. I bought some at the market in Hornfleur to take home for a 'taste-of-Normandy' night in, accompanied by a glass or two of the local vino delicious! As a major cider-producing region too, apples feature across a range of traditional delicacies including the moorish tarte Normande the perfect sweet treat to indulge in while whiling away time at a street café enjoying a spot of people watching my favourite pastime!Book it
Rates at Les Manoirs de Tourgeville start from 180 euro for a Manor room (excluding breakfast), visit www.lesmanoirstourgeville.com
.For trains from London St Pancras to Gare du Nord station, Paris, check out www.eurostar.com