Everywhere you go, you see Mont St Michel rising from the sea
Sue Gaisford spends a weekend in Normandy
Saturday 03 August 1996
Opposite the bed, on a magenta wall, a smallish photograph hangs racily askew in a large clip-frame. It depicts a gloomy day in a field enclosed by rusty wire and brambles: a single - clearly mad - cow is crazily rubbing its poor head on a large stone.
You can't really grumble though. It's the kind of thing you expect from the Guide des Logis. This precious little green book lists hundreds of French establishments guaranteed to provide first-class food at reasonable prices. Though you can rely on adequate, or at least clean bedrooms, comfort comes second. The meal we had eaten the night before had been delicious, particularly enjoyable after we had persuaded them that a third replay of a tape of Elvis's Gloomiest Hits would be unwise. It was just a pity that one of us had foolishly rejected the idea of earplugs at bed-time. When morning really came, incidentally, Elvis was re-instated in the breakfast- room.
Our daughter is doing an exchange with a French girl and we had decided to deliver her personally to her Norman family, and to take advantage of the current bargains in ferry prices to snatch a weekend away. By the second night, we had got as far as the bay of Avranches, a dazzlingly beautiful stretch of peaceful, rural coastline from which, wherever you are, you can see the island of Mont St Michel, topped by the spire of its abbey, rising from the sea like a rocky scoop of ice-cream.
Gazing at it, the previous evening, from the scruffy little bar on the beach at St Jean le Thomas, we had been surprised to hear a siren howl out over the sands. The barman, wiping his counter philosophically after pulling the beer, explained that they sound it twice every day, as the tide turns and the sea begins its dangerous return to the land. The water sweeps up behind the unwary, ready to cut them off: the currents are strong and deadly. Every year, oh, three or four people drown. Chastened, we asked how fast it travels. The man replied, as locals have replied for centuries, that it comes in at the speed of a galloping horse. The Hotel des Bains has a little swimming pool in its car park: though less scenic, it is a safer place to cool off than in that glorious, treacherous bay.
The Logis we had picked for the first night had been better. Right on the coast at Barneville, roughly half an hour from Cherbourg, the Hotel des Isles provided a bright and peaceful family room overlooking a less dramatic, less perilous beach. Out there, children were playing on the sand as the sun went down and little sailing boats tacked lazily home. Bats swooped, hunting over the neat gardens of the residents and, up in the village, elderly couples and teenage girls danced sedately, enjoying an impromptu street-party.
We could just still hear the accordion in the restaurant as they brought my husband some pliers, a wrench, several sharp knives and some needles: he sighed happily, knowing he was in for a treat. To our daughter and me, his plateau de fruits de mer looked like something scraped from the bottom of Grimsby dock: to him it was gastronomic paradise.
Normandy is so close, so accessible and so cheap to reach at the moment that it is tempting to nip across whenever you get the chance. We reckon there are still another 15 Logis within reach of a weekend. And there is a little village called Portbail which we scarcely had time to explore: it looked gorgeous, and the utterly charming woman who runs the Rendezvous des Pecheurs seemed flatteringly delighted at the idea that we might come back. Perhaps we'll go and fetch the daughter in a fortnight. Such caring parents we are.
The three competitors on routes from the UK to Normandy and Brittany are P&O European Ferries (0990 980980), Stena Line (0990 707070) and Brittany Ferries (0990 900800). Lower prices may be available through specialist agencies.
The Guide des Logis is available, price pounds 12.95, from the French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL; the public enquiry number is 0891 244123 (premium-rate).
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