Normandy & Brittany Itinerary

10 days along The Country Roads of Normandy & Brittany

September 13 – 23, 2018 (4 openings)

Country Road in the Bay of Mont St. Michel
Country road in the Bay of Mont St. Michel

Daily Itinerary Description

Day 1: Bienvenue en Normandie ~ 17th century harbor city of Honfleur. I will greet your at your hotel, and together we will begin our journey from Paris’ Gare Saint Lazare, gateway to Normandy, to take the 2-hour direct train ride to Deauville. Spend the afternoon exploring beautiful Honfleur, an enchanting harbor situated on the Seine Estuary in Northwest France. The town has long been favored for its attractive picturesque port, with houses of slate-covered frontages, so often painted by well-known artists such as Courbet, Boudin, and Monet.  These artists and others formed the École de Honfleur, which contributed to the beginning of the Impressionist movement. The Église Sainte-Catherine, just two blocks away from our dwelling, is impressive in that it is the largest church in France made out of wood.  On the opposite side of the picturesque harbor, the Tourist Office provides 1.5-hour self-paced audio guided walking tours. Settle in to the artistic comfort of your bed & breakfast, La Petite Folie. Your American hostess, Penny, and her French husband Thierry, welcome you into their residence. Delight in a top-notch dinner at an authentic bistro just two doors down from our B&B.  Overnight Honfleur, Normandy (B, D)

Day 2:  Welcome to the Pays d’Auge ~ Land of Cheese & Apples. Delve into the scenic Normandy countryside, witnessing picturesque villages, such as Beuvron-en-Auge, classified as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France,” and La Roque Baignard, as we meander along the “Route du Cidre”. Delight in a 1-hour private tour at family estate & apple orchard Domaine Dupont, producers of world-renowned ciders & Calvados (apple brandy); visit the orchard, press, distillery, and cellars, concluding the tour with several tastings. Savor authentic home-style Norman cuisine at a quaint family-run restaurant known for its regional specialties and AOC products in the village of Cambremer. Enjoy a free evening and dinner on your own in Honfleur; you will be provided a list of Penny’s favorite restaurants. Overnight Honfleur, Normandy (B, L)

Day 3: Bayeux ~ 11th century Tapestry depicting the Norman conquest of England. Head west to the historic town of Bayeux, straddling the picturesque River Aure. Discover our bed & breakfast, Hotel Particulier Poppa, housed in a late 18th century private mansion situated in the heart of historic Bayeux.   Hosts Philippe and Sophie will store our luggage in the lounge (check-in time is between 5-7pm).  Enjoy a lunch on the terrace of a pretty waterside crêperie, followed by a visit to the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux to witness the astonishing 70-meter long tapestry embroidered in the 11th century. The tapestry tells the story of William the Conqueror’s rise from Duke of Normandy to King of England, and shows his victory over Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Delight in free time for the remainder of the afternoon and evening ~ explore the narrow cobbled streets of the old town, admire elegant private manor houses from the 16th to 18th century, stroll the pretty river walk with its old water mills, and behold the magnificent Romanesque Bayeux Cathedral with Gothic touches (don’t miss the crypt, appreciated for the 15th century frescos depicting musician angels.) The cathedral was consecrated in 1077; it was here that William forced Harold to take the oath, the breaking of which led to the Norman conquest of England 11 years prior. For those who wish, there is a nightly mass during the week at 6:30pm. Our hosts will provide restaurant recommendations for dinner. Overnight Bayeux, Normandy (B)

Day 4:  Private guided Tour of Battle of Normandy and D-Day landing beaches with Major General.  Relish a full day tour with retired Major General Graham Hollands to explore the most historic moments of our modern history.  This outing can be customized according to your interests. Visit, for example, Saint-Côme-du-Mont, and hear the intriguing story of one of our paratroopers, witness the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the German & American memorial cemeteries. Time permitting, witness remnants of Winston Churchill’s artificial harbor (demonstrating engineering ingenuity, leadership, and resolve; this prefabricated harbor, bigger than Dover harbor, was built in secret, towed across the English Channel, and constructed in 11 days).  In addition to examining the US and European perspectives, Mr. Hollands provides thought-provoking insight of history leading up to the war, as well as the manner in which the war effort was executed, and how Americans as victors wrote the history (as with all victors from the dawn of time), and all which that implies.  Mr. Hollands brings a passion to this topic, which fascinates & stimulates. Dinner on your own tonight. Overnight Bayeux, Normandy (B, L)

Day 5:  Traditional Norman dairy & Christian Dior Villa & Gardens. Relish a 1-hour tour & tasting at the Réaux dairy, specializing in traditional AOC Camembert, crème fraîche, and sweet cream butter, “beurre de baratte” made from raw cow’s milk from the Normande cattle breed; witness the hand-ladling process mandated by law for the production of Camembert, and understand why this delightful cheese can never be as good when shipped abroad as when eaten in France.  Head to the coast to eat well in a rustic shack perched on a sandy beach dune, known for their preparations of “moules de bouchots”, mussels produced in the Bay of Mont St. Michel recently awarded the AOC status. As we head down the coast, visit the Christian Dior Museum and Gardens in coastal Granville. The Belle Epoque 19th century villa, perched on a cliff top overlooking the sea, was Dior’s childhood home; it is the only “Musée de France” dedicated to a couturier. Continue on to Brittany, and settle in for a 4-night’s stay at a charming & serene “maison d’hôtes,” a beautifully restored 19th century residence at the base of Mont Dol, the extraordinary granite outcrop in the bay of Mont St. Michel.  Your elegant host, Yannick, will show you to your room in the newly renovated presbytère (priest’s house), aptly named “Le Jardin des Simples(“simples” was the name of the grouping of medicinal herbs used by monks, which Yannick has researched and planted in the garden in an effort to pay homage to the building’s origins). This evening, savor an exquisite in-house dinner, in which Chef Yannick passionately prepares ingredients fresh from the surrounding area and his own robust kitchen garden.  Overnight Mont Dol, Brittany (B, D)

Day 6:  18th century ship owner’s mansion, Fortified Port City of St. Malo.  Witness St. Malo’s origin in the Cité d’Alet situated in the St. Servan district; from here, take a short hike from the Solidor Tower along the gorgeous coastal walking path for breathtaking views of the walled city. Delight in a 2-hour privately guided walking tour inside the walls of St. Malo. Throughout history, this fortified port city, sheltered from battering winds by its ramparts, has maintained a fierce spirit of independence, with locals referring to themselves as “not French, not Breton, but Malouin”.  Its indomitable seamen have sailed the high seas in search of undiscovered lands and exotic goods that could be traded for a high return in Europe.  Both privateers and ship-owners made their fortunes here, and in the 17th and 18th centuries, the kings of France, as well as St. Malo itself, also profited handsomely.  The private residences and malouniers (grand country residences) that can be seen today are proof of this fabulous success.  Within the city walls, witness the mansion Hotel d’Asfeld, once the residence of Auguste Magon de La Lande, head of the French East India Company in 1715; it was used as a prison during the Revolution, and Chateaubriand’s mother was incarcerated here. Taste “la crêpe autrement” (non-traditional) at a Japanese-inspired Breton crêperie “bar”. Following lunch, drive into the nearby countryside for a 1.5-hour privately guided tour of the Malouinière de la Ville-Bague, an 18th century mansion which served the country residence to privateers and wealthy “Malouin” ship owners who began to feel stifled within the city walls of St. Malo.  Current owner, Marie-Hélène Chauveau, will guide us through the estate where we will see authentic period furnishings, a “Classified Historic Monument” art wall panorama, a collection of privateers’ weapons, the chest where precious gems and jewels were hidden (to avoid having to pay taxes), among other treasures.  There are dozens of “malouinières” within a 12-mile radius of St. Malo, but the one at la Ville Bague is among the largest and most important. On our way back home, stop for a treat at exquisite pastry shop & tea salon, where you can find local specialties of the highest quality, including Kouign Amann (a pastry specialty of Brittany comprised of caramelized puff pastry and pure butter), Le Millefeuille, and handmade all-natural ice cream. Overnight Mont Dol, Brittany (B, L)

Day 7: Cancale Outdoor Market, Quaint Fishing Village & Medieval Dinan. Enjoy 1.5 hours of free time in the town of Cancale. Stroll the comprehensive outdoor market on the picturesque church square. Such markets are the perfect place to find unique gift items from Brittany, such sailor’s sweaters or shirts (originally adorned by Coco Chanel who developed a love for the style), and the Kabig (Breton waterproof hooded jacket) ~ be sure to look for the ones made in France.  You will also find delicacies, such as the famous salted-butter caramels, the famous Celtic sea salt from Guérande, or even canned sardines (par excellence!). On our way to historic medieval Dinan, stop for lunch at a top-notch crêperie in the quaint fishing village of Saint Suliac. Discover Dinan’s exceptionally rich architectural heritage as we walk through the old town: Place des Merciers, lined with medieval timber-framed houses; a castle with a 14th century keep; the oldest tower in the town’s 13th century walls, Tour Sainte Catherine, from which a splendid panorama of the port and Rance River valley can be seen. On our way home, stop in nearby Dol-de-Bretagne to select items for a casual picnic dinner at your leisure this evening (either in the garden or in the salon of our residence) ~ the butcher, baker, deli, and wine shop are conveniently located on the same corner. Overnight Mont Dol, Brittany (B, L)

Day 8:  Mont St. Michel Abbey and Michelin 1-star. Enjoy a leisurely morning to explore Mont Dol at your own pace. If you’re feeling spunky, climb the Notre Dame tower at the top of the “mount” to behold stunning views across northeast Brittany, the picturesque patchwork of fields below, and the Mont St. Michel Bay.  Excavations at the foot of Mont Dol revealed the bones of lions, rhinos, and even mammoths hunted by prehistoric men, dating some 70,000 years ago.  Drive to the Bay of Mont St. Michel where the coastline flattens out into a wide expanse of sand from which, almost magically, the Mont-St-Michel abbey rises proudly. Windmills and low thatched houses dot the coast. Dine in the pastoral bay setting at a rural inn, recommended by Yannick, where agneau de pré-salé, salt meadow lamb, graze ~ It’s no surprise that the house specialty is the renowned lamb.   Following lunch, visit the remarkable abbey dedicated to Archangel Michael built atop rocky Mont St. Michel during a 2-hour privately guided tour.  The Benedictine Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most extraordinary examples of medieval religious and military architecture, and was one of Christianity’s most important pilgrimage sites from the 8th to the 18th century. Designated a world heritage site by UNESCO, the Abbey comprises a superb ensemble of clerical buildings, known since the 12th century as the Merveille, the “Wonder”, including the famous cloister surrounded by a double row of delicately carved arches resting on granite pillars, the barrel-roofed refectory illuminated by a wall of recessed windows (remarkable, given that the sheer drop precluded the use of flying buttresses), the monks’ ambulatory featuring one of the oldest ribbed vaulted ceilings in Europe, not forgetting the underground chapel (one of the abbey’s oldest rooms), the abbey church and gardens. Experience a magical evening of dining at a Michelin starred restaurant housed in an elegant seaside château owned by the applauded Chef Olivier Roellinger and his wife Jane. Formerly awarded the highest honor of three Michelin stars, Chef Roellinger has chosen to simplify his cuisine, atmosphere, and his life. Pursued for his knowledge of spices and the sea, Mr. Roellinger recently collaborated in the creation of Épice Marine, a men’s fragrance by Hermès.  Overnight Mont Dol, Brittany (B, D)

Day 8: Medieval town & château of Fougères. Collect picnic items for lunch in Dol-de-Bretagne, than say ‘au revoir’ to the coast as we head to the department of the Ile et Vilaine in inland Brittany, named after the two rivers that converge in the area. Discover medieval Fougères and its imposing castle. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, the Château de Fougères is a masterpiece of medieval military architecture. Visit the chateau and walk the remparts at your own pace.Witness one of Europe’s best-preserved dolmen, La-Roche-aux-Fées, a massive stone structure once thought to have been built by fairies. Tonight, reside in a 19th century Renaissance castle, Château des Tesnières, nestled within 15 acres of park & woodland. Your hosts Seibren & John will make you feel at home.  Enjoy some down time at your leisure ~ take a walk along the country road or within the château’s park & woodland, read, or sip a cocktail at the reflecting pool, or relish a nap before dining in the nearby fortified town of Vitré, an unusually well-preserved town with picturesque houses and the Château de Vitré, one of the great fortresses that defended the marches of Brittany.  Dine at a restaurant run by three best friends featuring delicious Breton fare in a Breton atmosphere. Overnight Torcé, Brittany (B, D)

Day 9: Historic city of Rennes, Capital of Brittany, Outdoor Produce Market, Cooking Party in Castle. This morning, visit the largest outdoor food market in Brittany, on the Places des Lices in the historic center of Rennes, the capital city of the region of Brittany.  Tour the bustling Lices Market to choose among the best products ~ cheese & dairy products, charcuterie, fruits & vegetables, fish & seafood ~ for tonight’s dinner in the castle; conclude the visit with a taste of the local specialty, galette saucisse, sausage in a buckwheat crepe, and sample local cider. Enjoy free time to shop or stop for a more ample lunch, then explore Rennes’ heritage during a 2-hour privately guided “Secret Treasures” walking tour highlighting secret interiors of such places as Hôtel de Blossac, (one of the finest mansions in Rennes), Portes Mordelaises (the medieval ceremonial gates used by kings, dukes, and bishops), and two outstanding squares:  Place du Parlement Bretagne, now housing the law courts, and Place de la Mairie with its 18th century town hall, the Hôtel de Ville.  Delight in a Hands-On Cooking Dinner in the château tonight as we prepare dinner together in the castle’s elegant kitchen & dining room.   Overnight Torcé, Brittany (B, D)

Day 10:  “Au Revoir.”  Following breakfast, Karen will drop you at the train station in Rennes, returning the minivan prior to our departure together on the late morning train; arrive Paris at approximately 2pm. (B) As they say in French, “Bon retour et Merci” (“Have a good return and THANK YOU!”)

Celtic Sea Salt Marshes in Guérande:  2-Day Optional Add-on:  September 23 – 25, 2018

Activities, guided visits, and entrance fees included in trip price, unless otherwise stated.