Staff Review

Brittany & Normandy

by The Kirker Team

Having lived in Brittany for year as part of my languages degree course, I was delighted to be asked to help source new destinations and hotels for our expanded France product and subsequently the new France brochure which has just been released. I travelled to Northern France in October 2011 to look at hotels in Normandy and Brittany , starting with our properties in the north close to Calais before heading west through Normandy and onto Brittany. We started just south of Calais at the Chateau de Beaulieu, a fine hotel conveniently located for both a stay near the Channel and a visit to the WW1 battlefields. It also boasts an excellent restaurant accredited with 2 stars in the Michelin guide. Heading North West and the charming market town of Montreuil just 20 miles from France’s beautiful ‘opal coast’. The Chateau de Montreuil here is ideal for a weekend away ‘en France’ – close enough to the tunnel at Calais but yet incredibly stylish and chic. The manor house has beautiful rooms, a lovely garden and serves excellent French cuisine. For golfers, Le Touquet is just around the corner and the region itself offers a range of activities from horse-riding to sand-sailing.'We then headed west hugging the coast as we drove, arriving in the picturesque harbour town of Honfleur at the mouth of the River Seine. A favourite of the French impressionists, captivated by its unique light and by Parisian tourists alike since the 19th Century, Honfleur’s cobbled streets and pretty harbour are a ‘must see’ for anyone visiting Normandy. The Ferme St Simeon is a member of Relais Chateaux dates back to the 16th Century and overlooks the Seine estuary. Steeped in history, its studios were used by the likes of Monet and Sisley. Now elegant rooms, a cosy wood-panelled bar and gastronomic restaurant as well as an indoor pool and spa await its guests. Continuing towards Trouville, we were lucky enough to stumble upon the Manoir des Impressionistes owned and run by the delightful Englishwoman Bridget Boelen and her charming son William. The Manoir with sweeping views of the Seine is a charming 10 room hotel, where no detail is overlooked to ensure its guests have a wonderful stay.'Our next port of call was to be the glamorous seaside resort of Deauville. Traditional Norman half-timbered buildings adorn this stylish town with its harbour, long stretch of sandy beach and upscale boutiques frequented by the Parisiens who holiday here. We have 2 hotels here, both managed by the luxury French hotel chain Lucien Barriere. The Normandy is a large hotel overlooking the English Channel and has excellent rooming arrangements for families. Its sister, the Royal is a little more luxurious, better suited for couples and boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant. Both are wonderfully traditional and reflect the history of this seaside destination.'Having overnighted at the Normandy and finding a great restaurant for dinner, we continued to near Bayeux and Arromanches, made famous for the iconic tapestry and the beaches of the WW2 landings. This part of France is easily reached by Brittany Ferries sailings to both Caen and Cherbourg from Portsmouth and makes for wonderful self-drive itineraries. In Bayeux we were lucky enough to take a ‘hard hat’ tour of a mock-up room of the Villa Lara, which opened its doors to guests in March 2012. Owned by the delightful Rima Hebert and her husband, the Villa Lara is a sumptuous and luxurious building in the heart of the town. No expense has been spared in the fixtures and fittings and the feedback from Kirker clients since its opening has been outstanding.'In the countryside close to the coast, Caen (the Memorial museum here is a must) and Arromanches (diito its Musée de débarquement) – we have 2 beautifully restored Chateaux, Cheneviere and Audrieu. Both properties offer their guests comfortable accommodation and fine dining in a beautiful and traditional rural setting.Our last Norman port of call was to be the Mont St Michel, and since our visit we have started working with the boutique and wonderfully luxurious seven-roomed L’Ermitage situated close to this UNESCO World Heritage site.'Crossing into Brittany, we stopped in the pretty fishing village of Cancale, famous for its expansive oyster beds. The hotel Chateau Richeux located just outside with stunning views over the bay towards Mont St Michel, is a charming manor house that has been lovingly converted into a cosy and unpretentious hotel. It is all about the food here and the chef Oliver Roellinger is famous in France for his shellfish and seafood cuisine and his use of spices and aromatic herbs.'The walled citadel of St Malo has greeted passengers off the Brittany Ferries sailing from Portsmouth for years now. It’s well worth a stop here, particularly for Kirker clients departing for the UK on the morning sailing. The town is peppered with atmospheric bars and delicious seafood restaurants. Le Beaufort is located on the bay of St Malo and is a charming little 3 star with comfortable rooms, many with sea views. You’ll get a delicious breakfast and will be able to walk to somewhere great for dinner – ideal. Its sister hotel, La Maison des Armateurs opened this year and is located within the city walls.'The pretty seaside town of Dinard is in the neighbouring bay to St Malo and has been the place to see and be seen since the mid 1800’s. Every year it plays host to the British Film festival. The Grand is the Grande Dame of the resort and has lovely bedrooms with many overlooking the sea, an excellent restaurant and a good spa. Great for families too; in summer it has a Kid’s club.'We were now approaching my old stomping ground when I taught in a Lycée near Brest as an undergraduate. Reminiscing as I drove (or boring Ben, depending which way you looked at it!), we headed further west stopping in Trebeurden on the rugged north coast where the Manoir de Lan Kerellec is located. Like Chateau Richeux, here it is about comfortable and luxurious accommodation in stunning surroundings accompanied by the very best of local fish and seafood. Brittany’s south coast is altogether different, softer and milder – the Morbihan gulf is a wonder to behold. The picture postcard town of La Trinité sur Mer is quintessentially French. Tripper boats take tourists out to the outlying islands of Belle Ile and Houat in summer. The Lodge Kerisper is a wonderful hotel close to the centre, stylishly decorated in a fresh seaside theme; it has a pleasant garden and outdoor pool.'The Domaine de la Bretesche is a grand moated castle, which sadly doesn’t house any guest rooms any more with manicured gardens, a spa and 27 holes of golf. Its rooms, modern and striking to the eye, are situated in the castle’s stable block. A member of Relais Chateaux, the food here is sublime. The Domaine was our last hotel before we turned the corner and headed down the western seaboard towards La Rochelle, but I will save that part of the trip for another destination review!

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