Monday 11 December 2017

Fab rooms, fab food, shame about the beds

Lucinda O'Sullivan took Brittany Ferries 'Pont Aven' to France in total luxury, setting the tone for her invasion of Normandy

THE French think they're very chi-chi -- but they have yet to cotton on to decent beds. We take for granted our high-off-the-floor superking beds with orthopedic mattresses, but it's only after scrambling up out of a low-lying scratcher that you thank god for King Coil!

We took our annual run around Brittany and Normandy recently and covered quite a bit of mileage. Our first port of call was close to Cherbourg to visit Hotel de La Marine at Barneville-Carteret. It has been in the Cesne family for five generations and Laurent Cesne's food is superb -- not cheap, but superb. Accommodation on the other hand is reasonable.

From there we moved down to Mireille and Raymond Delisle's Chateau de la Roque at Saint Lo, an old favourite of ours. It is a small 17th-Century chateau on extensive, beautiful grounds, and offers really good value. The main attraction for us is their communal dinner each night at around €25, which kicks off with aperitifs. The long table seats about 25 people and big platters of rustic food are passed around -- maybe a country terrine with cornichons, country chicken or rabbit, dessert, and cheese. All drinks are included.

Another little spot we like is Hotel des Bains at Saint Jean Le Thomas, near Avranches. The rooms are very basic but inexpensive at around €60 for a double, €75 for a triple.

A great find was Annie and Thierry Lefort's Auberge du Terroir at Servon, a small historic village tucked away near Mont St Michel.

Annie Lefort is meticulous about her restaurant and hotel. There are rooms in the main house and in a comfortable converted stable block.

We were on a good value demi-pension rate of €69 per person sharing, and had superb foie gras, salt marsh lamb, apricot tart, and cheese. This place is a rare gem.

Our next port of call was Cancale, beside St Malo, a seafood town a tad like Kinsale. Another hot Cancale restaurant is Cote Mer. It's tipped for a Michelin star so book in advance -- we didn't! However, we dined very happily nearby at Le Grand Large, a bustling spot specialising in seafood platters, really decent fish, plenty of French life and really well-behaved doggies. At €20 for mussels followed by half-lobster salad, this is the sort of place I like over fine dining. They also have good value rooms with parking.

We moved over to nearby Dinard, a sophisticated seaside town with a casino. We had a very good lunch at a smart restaurant called L'Abri des Flots, offering three courses for €15. We started with a salad of Bayonne ham on celeriac with orange and tomato, followed by salmon and a lovely apple tart tatin.

That night we stayed in Hotel L'Ecrin at Plancoet, an inland town down the road. It was pleasant and comfortable with a big bed, but not cheap at €120 for a double room, but the real killer was €15 a pop for Continental breakfast.

Dinner had starters at €20/€35 and mains €30+. Table d'hote menus were €65 or €85 each and wines were very expensive. We paid €39 for a pretty rough vin de pays and received a bill in the morning of €336. This place needs to adapt to the times.

Not everywhere in France is wonderful, and sometimes "quirkiness" is just "run down". We drove up around the Emerald Coast looking at two hotels at Trevou-Tregannic and Tregastel, both of which looked tired, and later saw one had been described by a French tourist as being like the Bates motel in Psycho.

Perros Guirec is a smart holiday town with lots of good shops, restaurants and hotels. If you want somewhere really nice and upmarket try Ti Al Lannec at Treburden, which is lovely, with stunning views and excellent food. We also looked at two rural places: Au Charabanc, which we passed on; and La Grange at Coatelan, whose restaurant is mentioned in the Michelin Guide.

We headed for the Hostellerie De La Pointe Saint-Mathieu outside Brest. This is owned by the Corre family and they have kept up with the times, with smart bedrooms and beautiful food. A lovely spot. Go see the little neighbouring town of Le Conquet.

For our last night or two we always move up to the Morlaix area and do our shopping.

We have stayed in a number of places in the area. Top of the range would be the eponymously named l'Hotel de Carantec overlooking the Bay of Morlaix, which featured in the old 1953 Jacques Tati movie Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. Now a smart spot, the main attraction is owner Patrick Jeffroy's two-star Michelin restaurant. Expensive, but an experience.

A pleasant place is Auberge Saint-Thegonnec not far from Morlaix, run by Anne-Laure and Matthieu Perroud. It offers comfortable rooms, nice food, and decent prices.

A great B&B is Manoir de Roch ar Brini -- a beautiful tall house in vast grounds run by Etienne and Armelle Delaisi with considerable style.

This year we stayed in Hotel de l'Europe behind the town hall. Our room was dark and a bit cell-like, but reasonable at €70, and they did a jolly good breakfast for €8.50.

There is a cute, cheap little Vietnamese restaurant across the road called Saigon. This year we went Moroccan at Le Marrakech, where a charming man with no English served us lamb and chicken tagine with preserved lemon and green olives at €15 each.

On our last night we moved up to Saint Pol de Leon, a very pretty town where we stayed at Hotel de France. It does B&B -- very efficiently: functional, clean rooms and a good breakfast. Our room was €64, plus a good breakfast at €10.

At the end of the street there is an excellent auberge, La Pomme d'Api, but we headed for a Chinese Vietnamese restaurant called the Dragon Phoenix where Monsieur had chicken curry for €6.60 and I had calamari piquant for €8.90, and a bottle of Muscadet at €12.50 -- and we were looked after like royalty. There is also a big Leclerc here.

A final point: Ireland now has every bit as good to offer as our neighbours when it comes to comfortable hotels and food -- a message that is not getting out there. We saw an ad for Ireland on French TV marketing Connemara, showing lovely scenery and a group of grim-faced people in historic costumes while a fella banged a bodhran. The French love to eat, yet there was not one mention of food.

Sunday Independent

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