24-Hour Room Service: La Ranconniere, Normandy

THE MINUTE you sweep through the Ranconniere's crenellated stone gateway it becomes clear that this is not going to be a holiday down on the farm. The Ferme de la Ranconniere is really a manor house, dating from the 13th century, with a few converted farm buildings added on. The first impression is of a large, rather grand country mansion but inside there is an overriding sense that you are staying with old friends. The hotel is family-run, and the reception area appears to be a desk in the family sitting room.

The hotel doesn't pamper its guests with spas or exotic gardens: the luxury is in the gastronomic experience. The restaurant at La Ranconniere is an exception to the rule that hotel food should be avoided at all costs: it is so popular with locals that, even if you are staying there, you will need to book a table. Not exactly low in calories, the emphasis is on butter, cream and local cheeses - as you would expect in Normandy. If a five-course dinner and a huge breakfast are not enough, the farm shop in the courtyard sells local produce that is ideal fare if you fancy a lunchtime picnic.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Ferme de la Ranconniere, Route d'Arromanches, 14480 Crepon-Creully, France (00 332 31 22 21 73, fax 00 332 31 22 98 39). Transport: take your own, although this is good walking country for the energetic. Crepon is about 40 minutes' drive west of the ferry port of Ouistreham, or half an hour from Caen-Carpiquet airport. Alternatively, the nearest railway station is to be found eight miles away, in Bayeux.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

What to expect: the rooms are rustic, rather than streamlined, and part of the charm is that they are all slightly different. Regular visitors tend to have their favourites, but most have wooden beams, and there are some lovely views over the surrounding Normandy fields. The beds are comfortable, and the doubles have proper double mattresses. All the rooms have private bathrooms; they're not very fancy, but they have all the essentials, including masses of hot water.

Freebies: nothing out of the ordinary here: just the usual selection of soap, shampoo and so on. If you want to be pampered, you'll have to take your own supplies.

Keeping in touch: come here to get away from it all, not to keep in contact with the outside world. All the rooms have phones and satellite TV and, if you really must, there's also a fax machine at reception.

IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS

Who stays here: Francophiles, history buffs, and English couples on weekend breaks. But don't be put off by the preponderance of overnight guests from across the Channel; this is a great base for exploring one of the most interesting regions of France.

What to take with you: a pair of good walking shoes, and a copy of Overlord, Max Hastings' very detailed but readable account of the D-Day landings. This part of Normandy is right in the middle of the Second World War battlefields, and will probably look familiar if you have seen Saving Private Ryan or The Longest Day.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms start at 295FF (pounds 30) with a larger-than-normal French breakfast costing an extra 48FF (pounds 5) per person; the largest rooms are 480FF (pounds 50) for two people.

I'm not paying that: A gastronomic break, which includes a double room, 2 five-course dinners and 2 breakfasts, starts at 720FF (pounds 75): a potential saving of 51FF.

Still too much: Cheaper places tend to be dotted along the coast rather than inland. The nearest resort is Ver-sur-Mer, where the Hotel La Boussole (00 332 31 22 20 49) has double rooms from 160FF (pounds 17).

Cathy Packe

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