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Journey Through Normandy

July 7, 2008 By: Anne Sophie Guerin Travel Agent

This French city offers more to remember than D-Day

One of the world’s most unforgettable sights is the monastery island of Mont St-Michel rising up from the sea. Equally as enticing are the Norman seaside resorts of Honfleur and Deauville, which have long lured artists, such as Impressionists Monet, Renoir and Pisarro, to its shores. To the west of Cabourg, thousands of Allied troops descended on Normandy’s shores on June 6, 1944, to liberate Europe from the Nazis. Visitors flock to the D-Day landing beaches each year to pay homage to the fallen heroes.

chateau la cheneviere

The verdant, rolling grounds of Château La Chenevière evoke the feeling of an 18th-century manor

But Normandy’s coastline is not the only thing that will fascinate your clients. Named for the Viking Norsemen, who voyaged up the Seine in the 9th century, Normandy offers a pastoral landscape that’s postcard perfect: cow-dotted pastures, ancient apple orchards and rural hamlets of half-timbered houses with thatched roofs. Moreover, Normandy is so celebrated for its rich gastronomy (think Camembert cheese and Calvados apple brandy) that some travel agencies and tour operators create original culinary tours just to explore Normandy’s epicurean delights. For instance, Kathy Morton of Tour de Forks—named a certified France specialist at ASTA’s International Destination Expo—will be showcasing the culinary traditions of this magical destination in October 2008 with insider experiences including mushroom-hunting and -cooking classes, cheese-making and aperitif-tasting with Norman farmers.

chateau la cheneviere

A Deluxe Room with its own outdoor patio at Château La Chenevière will make guests feel as if they are part of traditional Norman life

Start your client’s itinerary at the Château La Chenevière, in Port-en-Bessin next to Omaha Beach. A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, this four-star hotel offers 29 guest rooms in an 18th-century, traditional chateau set on 30 acres of gardens and landscaped grounds. Since 1738, this vast farmstead was owned by the Gosset family until it was sold to the Dicker family (the present-day owners) in 1988, who converted it into a hotel. Occupied by the Germans during Word War II, the chateau was found empty after the landing and reclaimed by the Royal Army Service Corps.

There are 15 guest rooms in the chateau and an additional 14 rooms in the converted outbuildings (the Forge and La Commanderie), which have air conditioning and Jacuzzi tubs. Note that the rooms in the chateau itself are not air conditioned, but summers in Normandy are pleasant and mild and rarely require air conditioning. All rooms have garden views, TVs and minibars; the three suites have DVD/CD players. Bathrooms are stocked with L’Occitane amenities and plush bathrobes. There is wireless Internet in the public lounge areas.

Your clients will enjoy lounging by the heated outdoor pool, biking or jogging on the hotel’s trails, and playing a round of golf at the nearby Omaha Beach Golf Course, one of the best in Normandy. Contact Aurélie, Martina or Becky on the reception team ([email protected], 011-33-02-3151-2525) to arrange personalized tours for your clients with professional, English-speaking guides. In addition to excursions to Mont St-Michel and the D-Day landing beaches, the reception team can organize airport transfers, yachting and kayaking, horseback riding, hot-air balloon rides and tours of local cider breweries. At the Chenevière’s restaurant, Chef Didier Robin changes his menu seasonally to highlight the best local products like the famous red-label scallops from Port-en-Bessin. Vegetables are plucked from the Chef’s Garden on the hotel grounds.

Ten minutes away in the town of Bayeux—famous for its 11th-century tapestry depicting William the Conqueror’s invasion of England —the Lion d’Or presents a more affordable, three-star option. In close proximity to the D-Day beachheads, this picturesque hotel offers 28 rooms priced from $140. The building itself dates from 1734, and the Lion d’Or retains the air of an Old World inn.

Down by the Sea
Continue your clients’ Norman odyssey with a stay at the coastal port towns to the east. Deauville is the essence of chic, founded by the Duc de Normandy (Emperor Napoleon III’s half brother) in 1861. A seaside haven for well-heeled Parisian weekenders, Deauville was where Coco Chanel first opened a fashion boutique with her signature hats. On the beachside promenade, the rich and famous strut the boardwalk and Hollywood A-listers hang out during the American Film Festival in September.


An elegant bedroom at Normandy-Barrière

The place to stay is the legendary Normandy-Barrière, the landmark luxury hotel revamped by celebrity interior designer Jacques Garcia with sumptuous fabrics and furniture. Not as opulent as its sister hotel (the Royal-Barrière), the Normandy offers a heated swimming pool with a transparent roof opening to the sky, fitness center with a Turkish bath and saunas and complimentary bikes. The building itself is simply magical—with half-timbering painted green, fairytale turrets and a lovely courtyard. For the best views, choose the Deluxe Seaview or Deluxe Seaview Suites categories, the most requested accommodations. Each of the 290 rooms (including 25 suites) is individually decorated, and the Deluxe Terrace category boasts spacious outdoor terraces ideal for the summer months. For families traveling together, the two-bedroom Family Suites (and Family Apartments) are perfect. Notably, more than 50 percent of the hotel’s rooms are connecting. Children are well-entertained at the Normandy-Barrière: There is a nursery onsite for children under four years old, the Diwi & Co. club for kids under the age of 12 (with activities and art workshops galore) and a club for adolescents.

The Normandy-Barrière, managed by Fabrice Moizan, is celebrated for its attentive service. The head concierge, a member of the Clés d’Or association, oversees a dedicated team that can arrange just about anything imaginable for your clients. A meal at La Belle Époque restaurant is not to be missed. Your clients can indulge in Chef André Plunian’s specialties—like Normandy sole in a soufflée stuffed with spinach and fruits de mer, duck tartare with foie gras and apple tart—in a grand dining room overlooking the courtyard filled with apple trees and wisteria.

l'absinthe hotel

A room at L'Absinthe exudes rustic charm with its beamed ceilings, parquet floors, exposed stonework and cozy decor

For a mid-priced alternative in the historic port town of Honfleur, book L’Absinthe Hotel, where room rates start at $178 per night. Housed in a 16th-century presbytery, the charming seven-room hotel is renowned for its restaurant, also called L’Absinthe, considered to be one of the best in Normandy. The hotel is owned by Antoine Ceffrey (011-33-02-3189-2323), and Madame Oliviera and Madame Ceffrey greet your clients at reception. Insiders tell us that the hotel will have an additional five guest rooms on the portside of the building in the coming months. Bathrooms are spacious with Jacuzzi baths, and the top-floor suite has a private living room with a sofa bed. Beamed ceilings, exposed stonework and parquet floors add to the historic ambiance in this three-star gem. Reserve tables at the restaurant as far in advance as possible. There are two dining rooms—one dating from the 15th century and the other from the 17th—and the seasonal menu features foie gras with caramelized apples, oysters, magnificent seafood platters, lobster and other mouthwatering items straight from the sea. Your clients can also grab a bite at the hotel’s simpler brasserie called Grenouille.


Agent Advice

Sandy McDowell, owner of France Journeys, is a France Certified Agent/Destination Specialist and thus travels to France several times each year to connect with suppliers, expand her expertise and renew her passion for France. It is this passion that she shares with clients in creating customized travel experiences for the simplest to the most sophisticated of travelers. Sandy explains that Normandy offers a variety of not-to-miss experiences.

“Many travelers make the mistake of not allowing enough time for this region,” she says. “One of the first things that come to mind when thinking of Normandy is the D-Day landing beaches or perhaps the American Military Cemetery where some 9,000 soldiers are buried. Whether you take a guided tour or travel independently, this is a sobering reminder of the price of freedom and is a must for Americans and Europeans alike. I often suggest that clients use Bayeux as a base for their D-Day explorations and advise that they make sure to visit the famous Bayeux Tapestry that recounts the Norman invasion of England.”

McDowell says that it’s fantastic to visit Mont St-Michel, not just for its abbey, but also for the spectacular changing tides. “These tides are best viewed at the new moon or full moon to see them at their highest and most dramatic. It is said that the tides change with the speed of a galloping horse. Take the winding stroll up the Grand Rue to see the many shops, restaurants and hotels; your reward once [you get to the top of the] abbey is a fantastic view of the Normandy coast.

“Of course, it goes without saying that the renowned restaurant Mère Poulard is worth a try,” McDowell adds. “Choose their omelets or salt marsh-fed lamb. However, if it is a view of the Mont you prefer, stop before the causeway at the Relais Saint Michel hotel and dine with a breathtaking view. Other regional specialties include Camembert and Neufchâtel soft cheeses, dishes prepared with apples or cooked in cider and Calvados brandy."

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