With no effort at all I’ve got all the crème fraîche, delicious wine, hard cider, tipsy Calvados, gorgeous produce, fine meats, and foie gras whenever I want it. If I want linen goods, made with flax grown practically outside my door, I know where to find them, and if copper is on my mind I can drive right to France’s premier copper town. And this doesn’t take into account the burnished treasures I find in brocantes along the sides of country roads – nor that one treasure that cannot be reproduced anywhere else, the dappled light that plays over the church outside my home and makes the fields and villages around town stand out as though backlit. Normandy – where I make my home – is a feast, from every angle.
Lunch in the Countryside
For a great meal in a beautiful, slightly upscale, but still country auberge setting, go to the Hostellerie d’Acquigny, where Eric Georget and his wife, Fanny, will welcome you. Eric’s cuisine is refined, like a wonderful dish of wild Norman sea bass with lentils and a lighter-than-air onion froth, or a locally raised pigeon with red cabbage braised in cassis, with a little pine-nut flan alongside. Whatever he finds at the market or through his local providers will be, hours later, on your plate for either lunch or dinner. And if you want to spend the night, the Georgets have several beautiful rooms that come with breakfast. Try lunch here, for two. Menus start at €36.
Shopping for Antiques
Au Chin Eure is a rare and fantastic brocante and antique shop, the kind of place that used to be found in every rural town and village, along every country road. Today, shops like Au Chin Eure, filled to the rafters with everything from refurbished furniture to antique crystal, clocks of every type, embroidered linens and more, are rare. Going here is a treasure hunt of the very best kind. I’ve never left empty handed, and the owners will always make your visit worthwhile. I love vintage sheets, embroidered, starting at about €25 each.
Some Rouen Pottery
At Fayencerie Augy, Jo, Alain, and Julien Augy make marvels of faïence de Rouen, the city’s traditional pottery, famed since Louis XIV anointed the pottery makers of Rouen the “royal potters”. The Augys make, bake, and paint everything in their shop – and are the last family to do so. My favourites are the luscious platters with the panier d’abondance painted in the centre, starting at about €300.
A Bottle of Pommeau
At Domaine des Hauts-Vents the Caboulet family husbands apple and pear orchards that have been in the family for three generations. They make cider, Calvados, perry, vinegar, apple syrup and pommeau, a kind of apple sherry. A small shop in an old wine cellar on the property welcomes visitors year round. Their fruity, richly flavoured pommeau tastes like a visit to a flowering orchard, for €13.35 a bottle.
I cook in copper, and I get it where it is made, at Atelier du Cuivre, in Villedieu-les-Poêles, France’s premier copper town. If you stop and listen you can hear the tap-tap of hammer on copper. Owner Etienne Dulin is a professional, and everything he and his workers make over the hot fires in their spacious studio is museum-worthy for its beauty, kitchen-worthy for its quality. My favourite? The tarte Tatin mould, which starts at €80.
The Museum of Louviers, in a richly appointed building of gracious proportions built in 1888, which features a permanent exhibit honouring the textile industry that built Louviers, one of the wealthiest towns in the region until World War II. In its archives are local and ancient archaeological treasures found as the town has been remodelled and resurfaced, and furniture, pottery, and paintings from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Admission is free.
A Visit to the World’s Best Cheese Shop
Fromagerie Olivier is a must-see if you’re in or near Rouen. François Olivier’s grandfather owned the shop before he did, and his uncle is one of the biggest cheese purveyors in France. François is as knowledgeable about every aspect of cheese as he is charming and generous. He has practically grown up with the cheese makers whose wares fill his shop, and he is convinced that by ageing their cheeses to perfection in the two caves beneath his shop he is slowly but surely making the world a better place. Be sure to try the Camembert, made specially for him, at about €5.
Some Wine for Dinner
My favourite wine, spirits and speciality foods shop (La Feuille de Vigne) is a tiny, happily crowded spot right in the heart of the most charming port town in Normandy, Honfleur. Owners Hervé and Régine Lestage specialise in natural wines from small producers throughout France; Calvados and ciders from the top makers in Normandy – Huard, Camut, and Pacory; a handful of very special whiskeys and various foodstuffs from small producers around the Hexagon. When it comes to wines the choices are many, the quality exceptional, and the prices should make you run to be first in line. Wines from €6 to €200 a bottle. My favourite has to be the Muscat Sec from Domaine de Barroubio, €8.
Owned by the same people who have La Feuille de Vigne, Le Bacaretto is another quirky, warm little spot down the street from the Lestages’ shop, where they serve seemingly bottomless – and surprisingly elegant – wines by the glass, gorgeous snacks from their shop including pâté and air-cured ham from the Basque Country (Oteika), andouillette and local, artisanal cheeses. Chef Thierry whips up crêpes and gratins, tarts and whatever else takes his fancy, each designed to complement the wines and all made with local, organic produce. Wines by the glass from €4.50, meals from €8.50.
From France Today magazine