A Marriage Of Tradition And Eclectic Design
France was on the agenda! Brittany to be correct, an area I’ve never been to before so very excited to visit this lesser touristy part of France. Dutch friends had asked us to join them in a dog friendly villa close to the beach near Brest in Longonna-Daoulas. With a busy touring season coming up, a short break in June was just perfect to recharge the batteries.
Cambridge to Brest via the tunnel is about 15 hours’ drive including stops and the crossing. Quite a trek for 1 day. I was keen to revisit Honfleur after 20 years. Bad luck! Honfleur was packed. All the accommodation was fully booked due to one of their many festivals and the D-Day celebrations the day before. Honfleur is a lovely quaint fishing village, but to be avoided when big crowds descend on it.
Plan B – the countryside or one of the major cities. I have fond memories of many great stays with Relais du Silence; a niche accomodation group with amazing properties and where food is on top of the agenda. My last stay with them was in the era of travel guides, but times have moved on so you can now browse online too. Although I still love flicking through their guide, the Relais du Silence website is much handier for booking purposes and locating where the properties are. Le Manoir du Lys in Normandy was just what we were looking for with only another 4 hours’ drive the next day.
So there I am sitting in the garden of Le Manoir du Lys sipping a glass of Loire wine munching on delicious appetisers; pickled mushrooms, bread and rillettes, in the evening sun! Life doesn’t come much better, especially knowing a fine Michelin star dinner is awaiting you.
Le Manoir du Lys is a bit of a difficult find as the signs on the road side are covered by vegetation, but that’s part of the charm. On arrival it looks like a traditional French retreat on the outskirts of the stunning Spa resort Bagnoles de L’orne, but nothing is truer. They’ve done an excellent job mixing traditional with eclectic design and artwork. Although it carries a Michelin star, it’s very relaxed and I could easily stay here for many days if not a week, but our next destination was calling.
One if the things I love about the continent is the alfresco dining. Whilst enjoying the evening sun on the terrace and admiring the stunning garden and the wedding party, life at Le Manoir du Lys changed. All of a sudden there was excitement amongst the staff. We thought it was all to do with the wedding reception being held at the time. No not all! Half the restaurant tables were moved outside for dinner. No half measures here at Le Manoir du Lys; the full monty. Tables, chairs and pieces of art and a huge Persian style carpet were carried to create the perfect setting for an alfresco meal. Attention to detail is clearly important here. Very promising for dinner!
The evening was young, the sun was out and alfresco dining was calling. Time to sample the local vermouth style Pommeau and snacking on their delicious breads, pickles and mackerel rillettes whilst soaking up the lovely views of the garden. The setting is stunning; an eclectic mix of old and new set in a woodlands garden. Every corner has got something to reveal from beautiful flowers, a stunning swimming pool to rusty looking ducks.
Our lazy dinner that night on the terrace was certainly one to remember. Delicious local food, cheeses, Calvados and the honey style Menetou Salon made it all very enjoyable. One thing certainly to remember was the start of our meal. The Maître D had secured one of the best tables for us and we were really looking forward to it until we noticed that one of the guests on the table next to it lit a cigarette. The waitress looked very surprised when we asked for a different table. Later we realised why. Unlike the UK where we have confined smoking areas or non smoking terraces in fine dining restaurants, in France and on the continent you are allowed to smoke anywhere on the terrace. So soon we found ourselves sitting amongst smoking dining guests. I have to say, we were surprised, but it didn’t affect our great dining experience at all. My advice is if you want to avoid being next to smoking diners on the continent is to dine inside. At Le Manoir du Lys they have terraced doors opening up to the terrace, which gives you the alfresco feeling too.
The next morning we awoke to the sounds of horses and birds and the early morning sun was beaming through our open window. You can’t wish for a better start of a day. After a delicious breakfast it was time to visit the local Spa town Bagnoles de L’orne before we were heading off to the coast. A real pity we couldn’t stay any longer. Le Manoir du Lys deserves much longer then just an overnight stay. It’s perfect for a short stay to recharge your batteries, enjoy good food, join one of their cooking classes, go for long walks, Spa retreats in the nearby town of Bagnoles de L’orne or a game of golf. A communal golf course is just around the corner. There are many interesting places to visit such as Le Mont Saint Michel, which is only an hour’s drive away.
Bagnoles de L’orne is only 2.5 hours away from Paris with a beautiful lake, gardens, casino, fine hotels and Belle Epoque architecture. This charming resort is home to the only thermal spring in the north west of France, and the nearest to the capital. People come for phlebology (vein treatment), rheumatology and gynaecology treatments, and also, increasingly, just to get some time away from it all. The city centre is quite compact and very pretty. Its a great starting point for walks and you might want to try your chance of catching something in the lake if you’re a keen angler. There are a few interesting deli’s with a fine selection of rillettes and local produce. There a lot of interesting small hotels in Bagnoles de L’ornes if you’re keen to stay in the area and would like to stay somewhere less grand than Le Manoir du Lys. One especially caught my eyes with their funky lights, the Albert Premier Hotel. A place I wouldn’t mind staying myself.
On our drive to our next destination in Brittany we had a taste of what was to come.….. Looking down the road we were travelling down, on the shore Le Mont Saint Michel popped up on the skyline. Just a few more night’s sleeps, before we would make our way here. The big question was would we be in time before the tide?
p.s. Don’t forget to have the amazing crunchy salted chocolate spread for breakfast at Le Manoir du Lys. It’s absolutely scrummy!