Walking in a Winter Wonderland (January 4th, 2011 by Roger)

Having lived most of my life in the South of England, I am, of course, thoroughly unaccustomed to the sight of snow. I remember the odd winter snow shower, followed by enormous traffic jams and the resulting chaos. But I can never recall actually enjoying the stuff. It was always such a gross inconvenience!

So it came as something of a shock to find my Normandy home temporarily hidden one morning by a blanket of heavy snow that turned the whole scene into an astonishingly beautiful winter wonderland. No need to worry about any traffic chaos. The road was closed and that was that!

For the village children the snow brought great news as there was no sight of the early morning school bus. By lunchtime, with every farmer and his dog nowadays in possession of the very latest in farm vehicles and equipment, a few heavy tractors were heard churning their way down the lane followed by a clutch of grateful cars taking advantage of an unsolicited act of road clearance. Despite the passing of a few brave drivers and their vehicles, the snow settled and the village was virtually cut off for three or four days. It was gloriously sunny and the snow was so soft in our temporary village hideaway.

The winters tend to be long over here in Normandy and the pace of life always seems so relaxed that it seems inconceivable that things could get any slower. But when the snow falls, everything comes to a standstill. For a few days it is possible to do absolutely nothing and just sit back and enjoy a fabulous landscape and a few days of complete solitude. Never thought you would hear me say it - but I just love to see the snow and a chance to go walking in my winter wonderland.


A visit to Villedieu-les-Poêles (January 3rd, 2011 by Roger)

With its granite architecture and picturesque quaint cobbled passageways and courtyards, Villedieu is a fascinating place to visit. The original copper techniques are still used today and it is possible to visit the Bell Foundry, the Atelier du Cuivre (Copper Workshop) and the Maison de l'Etain (House of Pewter), all of which are both interesting and educational.

It is always a pleasure to return to this quaint little town which displays a large variety of antique shops and some of the best cafés and eating places in Lower Normandy. There is so much to see that you could well spend the whole day there. If you have the time it is recommended that you visit the working copper shop. We saw this sign and had to go in - Atelier du Cuivre. It was a combination museum and workshop and was in full swing with men pounding madly on sheets of copper while others were melting and pouring it. We signed up for the tour which was very interesting. I must admit a highlight was the owner's dog. He had a tennis ball had free run of the workshop. He was amazing and he never went where he wasn't allowed. Great fun!

Every Tuesday throughout the year Villedieu has one of the best markets in Manche. At the height of the summer season the town is packed with both locals and visitors, and there are stalls selling everything from local farm produce to mens' and ladies' clothes! The market finishes around lunchtime with the smell of barbecued food usually proving irresistable.

There are plenty of good eating places in the town. Le Fruitier is just one example. This large hotel now boasts a Bistrot serving excellent lunchtime snacks and a restaurant that offers both comfort and some excellent local Normandy cuisine. If you get the chance, sample the lamb. A real treat!

Le Fruitier in Villedieu-les-Poêles


A Happy New Year from La Merveille (December 31st, 2010 by Roger)

Another year disappears with frightening speed. Where did it go?

At La Merveille we had a record summer and welcomed guests from many parts of the world. Even a few fellow English managed to escape their ravaged economy to pay respect to Miss Ronald and her Michelin standard cooking. The French, bless them, have at last recognized that we are here to stay and they seem to be booking in ever increasing numbers.

The animal population grew when two delighful little goaties were engaged to demolish the weed jungle around the boulangerie. Mission accomplished, the male decided that the swimming pool was now the place to be. Sadly goats are not good swimmers and the local goat population was reduced by exactly 50%.

Probably the most pleasing reaction from guests in 2010 was to the food. We took a risk and offered evening meals throughout the year and even to larger groups. The menu combined the best of local produce with a few fond memories from Angleterre. Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes crossed the Channel to a chorus of approval. The Ronald Apple Crumble has already became a local legend.

There is an old saying that goes, "Don't cry because it is over, smile because it happened". I can do more than smile - I can look forward to the future with renewed optimism and a strong desire to make La Merveille simply the best Chambres d'hôtes in Normandy.

A very Happy New Year to all those that have visited us in recent years - we hope that you will come again. To the rest of you - what the hell are you waiting for?!!!


Colleville-sur-Mer: Where the brain can't register what your eyes are trying to tell you (December 30th, 2010 by Roger)

Most first time visitors to Normandy manage to take in at least some of the historical areas associated with the D-Day landings. I have been to many of the WW2 sites that commemorate the actions of thousands of brave fighting men. When I reached the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer it became almost impossible to comprehend the scale of the madness that these guys were forced into - where for many it would prove to be the final action of their young lives.

The visitor's centre at the cemetery includes a short film depicting the life and death of just a few of those that remained behind when the fortunate few returned to their homeland to celebrate peace. The experience helps clear the mind of your own problems and pretty grumbles. It is a deeply emotional experience and one that I shall never forget.

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France is located on the site of the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 and the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The cemetery site, at the north end of its 1/2 mile access road, covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of the military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. On the Walls of the Missing in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.

The memorial consists of a semicircular colonnade with a loggia at each end containing large maps and narratives of the military operations; at the center is the bronze statue, "Spirit of American Youth." An orientation table overlooking the beach depicts the landings in Normandy. Facing west at the memorial, one sees in the foreground the reflecting pool; beyond is the burial area with a circular chapel and, at the far end, granite statues representing the U.S. and France.

It was a time when men were thrust into situations they could not really comprehend - when some soldiers drowned (or were shot) before they ever reached the Normandy shore. As one D-Day fighter, an American named Albert Nervo, told a reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal in 1965: "Your mind blanks out in times like that. Your brain can't register what your eyes are trying to tell you."

The cemetery is open to the public daily except on December 25 and January 1. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April 15 to September 15, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.


Saint Malo - Many welcome surprises (December 29th, 2010 by Roger)

If you ask a local where they are from, the reply will be: "Saint Malo", then "Brittany", followed by "Well, I am French". It's almost the official slogan of the town. A Gaulish monk formed the town in the 6th century, and the inhabitants had to fortify the town to defend it from the Norman invasions. Stuck inside their "town*fort", the Malouins chose to ignore most of what was going on nationally throughout the ages with regard to the Brittany/France question, or the international conflicts between France and the rest of the world.

Between 1590 and 1594, Saint Malo declared itself a republic. This independent spirit has given Brittany a large number of famous figures, adventurers, sailors, and writers. Jacques Cartier, the 'discoverer' of Quebec, took the local architecture to the Canadian province. The town became prosperous thanks to the feats of its explorers, such as Duguay-Trouin, Surcouf, and others. Chateaubriand, who is buried not far from the ramparts, made his hometown famous on the artistic level; he is widely acknowledged as the father of literary romanticism.

It was only in the Second World War that Saint Malo suffered its first real defeat, being totally destroyed by bombing and fire in 1944. However, the Malouins proved their tenacity once again, and simply rebuilt the town, stone by stone, once the war was over. It was practically identical once they'd finished. So it's paradoxically a recent town, but very traditional to look at. And the locals are very proud of it. It still resembled a rather austere fortified town, within the ramparts, from which you can get a fine view, maybe making out the king's ships sailing into port?

On a recent visit to the town, I explored the shops and houses inside the old walled town. There were so many welcome surprises with some splendid shops selling all that Brittany has to offer. The cafés and restaurants suit every taste. When you need to relax for a while, just mount the ramparts and look out to see and admire the view. It really makes for a most wonderful day out.

Saint Malo is also a major ferry port, for destinations such as England and Ireland. It has a long beach, numerous off-lying islands, a fine castle, and a beautiful centre of town. It's one of the most visited towns in Brittany, and its doors are wide open to you!


Exploring the Mont Saint Michel (December 27th, 2010 by Roger)

Spend a full day exploring The Mount

A trip to Mont St Michel starts with driving over 1km causeway that links the island to mainland. The original thin natural land-bridge used to be covered during high tide, isolating the Mount, but following construction of the causeway you're now safely directed to the appropriate car park by the walls where there's no danger your car will get washed away! Well not if they get it right.

On entering the Mount's protective walls through the Boulevard Gate, and then the King's Gate fortified with its portcullis, you continue up the narrow winding Grande Rue (Main Street) which leads up through the medieval 15th and 16th century village. Along both sides are arrayed a variety of boutique and souvenir shops as well as several restaurants including traditional pancake snack-bars right up to 5-star silver service with stunning views overlooking Mont Saint Michel bay. There are also a few hotels tucked into the walls if you fancy a truly memorable overnight stay.

Further up you reach the 15th century parish church of St Pierre (the patron saint of fishermen) and then four different museums within the walls of the Mount:

  • Archéoscope - The construction and history of Mont St Michel;
  • Maritime Museum - Discover the 12m tidal range in the bay and the massive works to restore the maritime character of the Mont Saint Michel;
  • Museum of History - A series of collections of weapons, paintings, sculptures in some of the prisons and dungeons of the Mount;
  • Tiphaine's house - Furniture's, paintings and tapestries from the 14th century residence that Bertrand Duguesclin had built for his wife Tiphaine.

Finally you reach the Grande Degre (Grand Staircase) which leads up to the Merveille (literally 'marvel') the 3-storey 12th century monastery and abbey that crowns the hilltop. You can walk round the abbey either unaccompanied using the supplied guide booklet, or for a small supplement there's an audio-guide tour available in English as well as French.

Mont St Michel is open every day of the year apart from the 1st of January, the 1st of May and the 25th of December.


Le Mont Saint Michel repels the English! (December 27th, 2010 by Roger)

According to a 10th century manuscript the first shrine to Saint Michael was created at what is now Mont Saint Michel after the Archangel Michael came to Bishop Aubert of Avranches in 708AD and commanded him to build a church on the rock. When the Bishop expressed doubts, the angel pierced a hole in his skull with his finger!

In the 10th century the Benedictine monks settled in the abbey, constructing the Romanesque abbey church with its high vaulted ceilings and moulded arches, monastery and crypts at the apex of the rock, whilst a village grew up below its walls at the bottom of the mount.

Through successive centuries of the Middle Ages and with increasing numbers of monks and pilgrims both the abbey and village were extended until in the 13th century they stretched down to the foot of the rock.

By the 14th century and the Hundred Years war, the abbey had to be protected behind a massive set of military ramparts, enabling it to successfully hold out through many English sieges lasting over 30 years and in doing so the Mount became a symbol of French national identity.

In 1421 the original Romanesque chancel (choir) of the abbey church collapsed and was replaced in the 15th century by a flamboyant Gothic structure, marking completion of the last major construction works at the mount. The abbey today is thus an exceptional example of the full range of medieval architecture.

Over the 16th and 17th centuries religious ideals waned and the number of monks dwindled until by 1790 the monastery was disbanded and the monks left the mount. This paved the way for the fortress to be turned into a prison in 1793, a situation which lasted through the days of the French Revolution and Empire until imperial decree in 1863 finally overturned the sacrilege.

In 1874 Mont Saint Michel was designated as a French historical monument and major works have continued now for over a century to restore the mount to its former splendour, improving both the abbey interior and exterior. With the celebration of the monastery's 1000th anniversary in the year 1966, a religious community returned to the mount, perpetuating spiritual prayer and welcoming the mount's original vocation.


The Mont Saint Michel (December 27th, 2010 by Roger)

No visit to Normandy would be complete without a visit to the Mont St Michel. I have been so many times but always managed to find something new to catch the imagination and make the visit worthwhile. The tourists shops are inevitable but a nuisance. So I often take the second entrance to the Mont and avoid these distractions and arrive at the foot of the Castle and Abbey.

It's only about 25 minutes drive from our B&B. If you take the river road from the A84 you are rewarded with some amazing views of the Mont as it gets ever closer. The Mont Saint Michel towers over the countryside for miles arounf like a mythical creature rising out of the sea and it is not surprising that there are over three million tourists visiting each year. From my experience about half of them - Japanese!!

Situated one kilometre off the coast of Normandy, the rocky island houses the famous eighth-century Norman Benedictine Abbey of St-Michel that over the centuries has been both a site of spiritual pilgrimage and battle.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the island is one of the most exceptional examples of religious and military architecture from the Middle Ages - hardly surprising therefore that Le Mont Saint Michel became the inspiration of the mystical Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings movies!

During the tourist season, try and get there in the early morning if you don't want to queue for hours. The Mont will surely provide you with a unique and memorable experience.


Come Dine With Us! (December 21st, 2010 by Roger)

At La Merveille we want you to enjoy every minute of your stay with us and that includes joining us at least once for an evening meal. We usually offer four courses that we hope will appeal to all ages and all members of the family.

Normandy is well known for its food and drink. The cooking is normally uncomplicated and the emphasis is always on local produce. Many French restaurants seem reluctant to dish out all those lovely vegetables in any real quantity. We beg to differ and can promise a variety of delicious fresh local vegetables with every meal.

Our main courses include a variation of chicken in a cream sauce and pork in cider another dish which originated in Calvados. If you are really lucky you could be with us the evening we serve 'Pre Sale' lamb, probably reared on the salt plains around the Bay of Mont St Michel giving the meat a delicate extra taste. A roast dinner might seem a little out of place here in Normandy, but served with delicious local vegetables it is still a great way to provide a hearty meal that everyone will enjoy.

Normandy is famous for its cheeses. Camembert is probably the best known internationally and is produced throughout the Region. We offer a selection of cheeses before serving our delicious desserts. Although the most famous Normandy dessert is apple tart, the most popular with our customers has been Chef' Ronald's apple crumble special! We are also very fortunate to be located next to the strawberry fields of Sainte Pience. Wash all this down with a glass of Cider or our popular red Chenet, and you are bound to leave more than satisfied. Bon appetite!