Conquering Normandy en famille

Normandy provides the perfect location for a family holiday with a difference

Britain’s castles and beaches are firm favourites in our family – we’ve enjoyed years of holidaying here. As a family, we’ve also travelled further afield, to places with pools and restaurants serving international cuisine, but we’ve rarely strayed beyond their Anglicised perimeters. Now, I felt we were ready to do something else, and introduce the boys – aged three, five and seven – to a different culture, food and language.

What our family needed, I’d concluded, was a proper French holiday. I had visions of my boys scampering around sprawling markets, sampling cheeses, sipping cheekily at vin rouge in town-centre bistros at lunchtime, then scaling the walls of French chateaux like mini musketeers.

Normandy was the obvious destination: close enough to be within easy reach, while at the same time being distinctly different from the UK. The food would be odd enough for the boys to experiment, and they could learn a bit of history without realising it.

Perhaps the ferry voyage was designed to put us in the same frame of mind as the brave men sent across for the Normandy landings in 1944: it was one of the roughest I have experienced. But just half an hour away from Cherbourg came the dream-like vision of Château de Flottemanville. Here, we drove down a classic French avenue of tall, whispering trees to a dazzling mansion with turrets, balconies, stone pillars and fairy-tale windows; a stream ran through the grounds, where horses grazed.

They don’t do dinner at the Château de Flottemanville, so we were sent to L’Auberge du Pont Cochon, five minutes’ drive away. The place was empty. But the patron and his wife were all charm, teaching the boys their first words in French and encouraging them to sketch and scrawl on the paper tablecloths. Sam, Finn and Jack stuffed themselves full of steak-frites, drank Orangina and declared they loved France. Later that night, we snuggled up in our castle bedrooms, with the promise of breakfast of brioche and coffee in the dining room the next morning.

After a few days at the chateau, we moved on to self-catering accommodation at La Mare Chappey, a 16th-century manoir with cottages near the gorgeous town of Briquebecque. It’s run by Geoff and Audrey Parker, an English couple who have tried to make everything as family-friendly as possible. Geoff renovated the place himself, and, over a glass of local wine, will tell you stories of his former career as a heavy-metal drummer for a band named Sleep, which used to support The Who, and played in front of 30,000 fans at the Nuremberg festival. Audrey runs an ad-hoc bistro on-site, which is handy when you arrive and can’t get your bearings in the kitchen.

With our cottage as a base, we ventured out to the Briquebecque market. The medieval town has stalls lining the streets up to the castle. The region is renowned for its dairy produce and the town’s Trappist monks came up with a cheese which is mild and delicious.

We stuffed our bags with cheese, wine and a roast chicken. A few stalls from the cheese was a jewellery stand where each piece cost €5: I bought the kind of chunky silver items that would cost £20 apiece back home. The boys were keen on the sort of plastic tat they could buy in the pound shop on our local high street – but we all came away happy.

Next, we tackled some local history. It’s not hard to shut your eyes and recall the terrible events on Utah and Omaha beaches. At Utah, there is a German bunker behind the dunes which was turned into a US communications centre after 1945. This, in turn, has been reinvented as a café. You take your tea beside plastic models in Allied dress, with American wartime tunes burbling away in the background. The walls are plastered with newspaper reports and pictures of movie stars. It’s brilliantly atmospheric – and expensive.

However, it was the reconstruction in the village of Sainte-Mère Eglise which caught the boys’ imaginations. This is claimed to be the first Normandy village liberated by the Americans on D-Day. Dangling from the church spire in the village centre is a life-sized model of US paratrooper Private John Steele. He was dropped from his plane early on 6 June 1944. Unable to free himself, he hung there playing dead until he was cut free by a German soldier. The model’s parachute rustles in the breeze, and the boys were captivated.

On the way back to our gîte, we stopped at Camp Patton. The boys clambered over a 30-ton Sherman Tank, of the sort most widely used in the war. The US established a command post here in an apple orchard on the edge of the village of Néhou.

The place where General Patton’s planning had such a decisive effect on the war is a peaceful spot, which hosts only occasional visitors. The boys have since retold the story of Private Steele a hundred times, and are fascinated by the Normandy landings. They were also brave enough to fight a battle of their own: the ferry crossing home proved a turbulent end to their French adventure.


Staying there

* Château de Flottemanville

(00 33 233 402 902; ), Flottemanville-Bocage, Normandy. Twinbedded room: €60 per night, including breakfast.

* La Mare Chappey (00 33 233 412 976; ) Nehou, Manche, Normandy. Cottage rental rates range from £420 for the smallest cottage, off season, to £1,108 for the largest in the summer.

Eating and drinking there

* L’Auberge du Pont Cochon (00 33 233 039 002; ), La Croix des Frênes, Flottemanville-Bocage, Normandy. Menus from €17 per person, excluding wine.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel