Self-catering gite holidays in France are usually available for a minimum of seven nights only, but from October to April Brittany Ferries offers two-, three- or four-night stays at selected gites, all of which have open fireplaces - with firewood supplied - and are an easy drive from the ports. Prices are from pounds 50 each for four adults staying two nights, to pounds 110 each for two adults staying four nights.
Brittany Ferries also offers chambres d'hotes bed-and-breakfast accommodation in a variety of family homes, from a working farm to an old manor, costing from pounds 69 to pounds 97 per person, based on two adults and a car, minimum two nights. All prices include return ferry crossing with car, between Portsmouth and Caen or St Malo, and Poole and Cherbourg (not operating between 26 November and 5 January).
For more details telephone Brittany Ferries on 0705 827701 and 751708.
COOK AROUND NORMANDY
Cooking breaks in family-run hotels offer small groups a chance to witness a French kitchen in action and try their hands at preparing classic and regional dishes. (Some chefs will invite guests to accompany them to the market.)
Rillettes de saumon and tarte Tatin - the latter made with Normandy apples - are the specialities at the 300-year-old Auberge du Val au Cesne in Yvetot, 37 miles from Dieppe. The accent is very much on seafood at the Hotel de France et de Fuchsias in St Vaast, a working port and yacht harbour near Cherbourg - papillottes de St Jacques and goujonettes de sole are two dishes that guests might be taught how to prepare. Visits are arranged to an oyster farm, a wine cave and a delicatessen, with tastings also included.
These and other cooking breaks with accommodation, breakfast and dinner include two afternoons' cookery tuition, and cost between pounds 173 and pounds 212 per person for three nights, including the return ferry crossing. As with all subsequent prices, this is based on two adults in one car.
Details from InnTravel on 0439 71111.
FEASTS FOR CHRISTMAS
More cookery holidays, this time with Normandy-born cookery expert Brigitte Tilleray, who wrote A Frenchwoman's Kitchen (Cassell), are offered by La France des Villages.
They take place in the ancient kitchens of a listed 17th-century gentleman's farmhouse in St Mere-Eglise, 30 minutes' drive from Cherbourg, and include a two-day break based on a French Christmas menu. Brigitte suggests les oeufs brayons au saumon fume; la daube d'oie de Emma Bovary, a dish created by Flaubert for Emma Bovary's wedding; and symphonie des desserts des pommes . . . all of which makes a change from turkey and Christmas pud.
The course costs pounds 185 per person for two nights, including the ferry crossing and all meals. This and other cookery short breaks from La France des Villages on 0449 737664.
ON THE PROM
There's a dearth of stylish hotels in Dieppe, but the best placed for the promenade, the cliffs, the casino and the highly stylish Grand Rue is the seafront La Presidence - a modern and relatively ugly, but satisfactory, three-star hotel. It has a panoramic restaurant, but cheaper eating can be found only minutes away; for example, huge bowls of moules marinieres at around 50 francs at quayside cafes. The Presidence is one of the range of three-star hotels in Hoverspeed's 'Le Weekend' brochure, with prices from pounds 76 to pounds 79 per person for one night b & b, extra nights pounds 46, all including the hovercraft between Dover and Calais.
For more information telephone Hoverspeed/Travelscene on 081 424 2929
BATTLES & CHATEAUX
The Stena Sealink Line ferries that sail from Newhaven to Dieppe offer holidaymakers a large choice of Normandy breaks. These include a self-drive Battlefield Tour - taking in the Museum for Peace in Caen, the D-Day Normandy beaches and Bayeux - at pounds 116 for two nights. As the 50th anniversary of D-Day is coming up on 6 June preparations are being made for a huge invasion of visitors.
A four-night Norman Seascape Tour which includes Mont St Michel, Bayeux, Caen, Deauville, Trouville and Dieppe costs pounds 176 per person b & b, and a Chateau Tour with a choice of seven castles in Normandy and Brittany costs pounds 116 per person for two nights b & b, with an additional pounds 37 for each extra night; ferry crossings included.
Telephone 0233 647033 for reservations and further information.
Few hotels are better placed than the very grand four-star Hotel du Golf on the 27-hole Golf de Deauville course, designed by Sir Henry Cotton in the 1930s, up on a hill overlooking the fashionable seaside resort. Longshot Golf offers breaks with free golf on a choice of courses, staying three nights at the Hotel du Golf on a B & B basis. Other facilities include a heated outdoor pool and a health club. Riding is available nearby.
Prices, which include the ferry crossing for passengers and car, between Portsmouth and Caen (other crossings available at a supplement) range from pounds 249 to pounds 319 per person.
Phone Longshot on 0730 268621.
P & O European Ferries Normandy breaks take in a number of popular Normandy destinations, including Bayeux and Caen, Honfleur, Le Havre and Pont Audemer. But less well known is Cabourg, the geometric brainchild of France's Second Empire, whose planners conceived a brand new resort along the dunes for the capital's chic. They included Proust, who stayed here to recover his health and to write A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. The Cabourg break (not, alas, at the Grand Hotel where he wrote)is based on the more modern Hotel Altea, pounds 72 per person a night b & b, and pounds 36 for each additional night, including the crossing between Dover or Portsmouth and Calais, Le Havre or Cherbourg.
Telephone P & O European Ferries Holidays on 081-863 2787
ALONG THE COAST
The award-winning French specialists VFB offers three hotels in Normandy which are good bases for either a lazy stay-put short break, or a pleasant self-drive tour along the coast.
Thirty minutes from Cherbourg in the fishing village of St Vaast-la-Hougue is the small three-star Hotel la Granitiere. An hour away in Bayeux is the three-star Lion d'Or, a Relais du Silence hotel with a restaurant that has a Michelin rosette. At Beuzeville, en route for Le Havre and the Calvados country, the Auberge du Cochon d'Or is an old two-star coaching inn, which also has a good restaurant.
Prices are from pounds 121 to pounds 161 per person until April, including two nights half-board and the ferry crossing for car and passengers. Extra nights are from pounds 23 to pounds 35 per person.
Details from VFB on 0242 580187.
ABBEYS AND ARCHITECTURE
Its great abbeys alone are reason enough to visit Normandy, none more so than 'the most renowned school of Christendom', the Abbey of Bec-Hellouin, founded by the Knight Herluin in 1034. Three of its graduates became Archbishops of Canterbury in the 11th and 12th centuries. In the same village there is also a car museum. The glorious ruins of the Benedictine Abbey of Jumieges are an hour away. Short breaks at the Auberge de l'Abbaye, an old black-and-white inn with huge log fires and typical Norman cooking, cost from pounds 133-pounds 146 per person for two nights half-board, including the ferry crossing, three nights from pounds 175 to pounds 189, four nights from pounds 219 to pounds 229.
From French Expressions, which offers a variety of auberges, chateaux and watermills in Normandy and can provide you with tailor-made architecture tours.
For more information telephone French Expressions on 071-794 1480.
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