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.

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Staying there

* Château de Flottemanville

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

* La Mare Chappey (00 33 233 412 976; lamarechappey.com ) 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; auberge-du-pont-cochon.com ), 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
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam