Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page > Trip Report: Ghent, Normandy and Brittany
Notices

Trip Report: Ghent, Normandy and Brittany

Reply

Sep 5th, 2003, 09:19 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
Trip Report: Ghent, Normandy and Brittany

Trip report--Ghent, Normandy and Brittany. Second posting to clean it up.

Here are items we used to prepare for the trip, and took on the trip:
the Green Guide for Brittany
the Green Guide for France
Discovering the Villages of France by Michael Busselle
The Garden Lover?s Guide to France
Ghent web site for a B&B
Gîtes de France for B&B?s in France
Michelin Atlas Routier et touristique
Michelin Red Guide
A Food Lover?s Guide to France

Note: if I give specific information about a B&B or a restaurant, it is because I recommend it. Those that should be forgotten remain unnamed.

We started our trip in Belgium, staying in Ghent at the recommendation of friends who felt that Ghent or Antwerp was preferable to Bruges. From the Brussels airport we had a direct train connection to Ghent. We found our B&B through the Ghent web page, choosing first by geographical location and then by what was available in the area. The location was perfect, the room was in the ?courtyard? and was very quiet. I put courtyard in quotation marks because we were on the second floor and what had been a courtyard was now a covered space with a deck on top. The weather was perfect for us to have breakfast on the deck every morning. Had the weather been otherwise the room had a large sitting area in front of a fire place with a small table for writing or having breakfast. The one quirkiness: the bathroom was behind a wall but had no door. For availability, contact Anne Gourhant Steyaert ([email protected] mail com) Burgstraat 25, 9000 Gent. Ghent has a nice old town and a wonderful museum of decorative arts. Meals were nothing to rave about except for a very nice one in the old town called The Blue House (?), in Flemish of course. Our hostess had recommended it.
We did take the train to Bruges for a day. The last time we were there was 32 years ago. My wife was pregnant and was feeling queasy whenever we were within 50 yards of a canal because of the stench. I am glad to report that the canals have been cleaned up. We did the touristy things, went to the former hospital, now museum, had a great view from the city hall tower (the music box for the bells is something to see), admired the Beginjhof, ate a second rate meal in the center of town at first rate prices. We should have known better but found the sandwich stores only after the meal; I would generally recommend sandwiches for lunch. My impression is that the business district of a town (except when tourism is the business) has sandwich stores and delicatessens offering a wide variety of sandwiches at incredibly low prices. Bruges is pristine and lives off tourism, as do other towns in Europe (Rothenburg and Carcassonne come to mind). I simply do not care for this ahistorical purity and am glad that our friends recommended Ghent. If you never saw Bruges, you should visit it; but I would skip a second visit in favor of other places in Belgium.
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Sep 5th, 2003, 09:24 AM
  #2
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
We picked up our car in Calais, which was a mistake. We should have paid the $50 extra to pick it up in Brussels. The train from anywhere in Belgium to Calais is not direct, the car agency is closed for lunch, so if you do not want to lose an entire day just to pick up your car, you must leave early in the morning (7 a.m.) to be in Calais by 11 in order to pick up the car before lunch. We went to the Hover port as told, and discovered we should have gone to the ferry terminal. They picked us up, took us to the car which had the small plastic apron under the front fender broken. The repair man came, and one hour later we were on the road. We stopped in Arras for lunch--I wanted to see its 17th century grande place--and it was worth it in spite of the only heavy rain we had the entire two months. The moules-frites in an Arras café fully made up for the same in Bruges. On to Amiens to see the cathedral. It is one of the grand cathedrals surrounding the Ile-de-France and has impressive carved wooden stalls and stone carvings over the entrance. We had to be on the coast south of Dieppe the next morning, so we headed in that direction and stopped for the night in Neufchâtel-en-Bray. It was a miserable hotel--a reminder of my Europe on $5-a-day travels--and had a lousy meal in what looked like the second best restaurant in town; the best, mentioned in the Red Guide, was full.
We went to Dieppe because there are two gardens nearby that are worth a visit. On the way we noticed that between Neufchâtel and Dieppe there is a bike path on what probably had been a railroad right of way. It is at least 70 km. long. I mention it for the bicyclists who happen to be reading this. The two gardens are in Varengeville, one called le Vasterival and the other le Bois des Moutiers. The first cannot be seen without a reservation, and only groups are admitted. But I called from the States (02 35 85 12 05) and asked if we could be attached to a group, so we had to be there at 10 a.m. on a specific date. The group came in one and a half hour late, which foreshortened the tour. The tour is given by the owner creator of the garden, Princess Sturdza, and it is she who, at 87, still maintains the 25 acre garden with two gardeners and her secretary plus other help during the heavy work season (wintering the beds and clearing them in the spring). It is a beautiful garden, well worth the visit. Unfortunately no photographs are allowed.
That afternoon we had a reservation for a visit of le Bois des Moutiers. The gardens and woods can be visited without reservation while the house requires a reservation, again groups only, but a fax (02 35 85 46 98) from the States assured our adherence to a group. In this instance, the guide was the granddaughter of the original owner of the house and garden. Her descriptions were to the point and with a touch of self-deprecating humor until we reached the music room. There, seriousness prevailed. The gardens are lovely, the house, designed around 1895 by an English architect to be integrated in the gardens, well worth a visit as it has been preserved in its original design and with its original furniture. I would have liked to have seen the kitchen, but we were shown only the public areas and a couple of bedrooms. Both tours were in English.
We went to our B&B ( tel: 02 35 84 14 29) located on the cliffs above Pourville-sur-mer. We dropped off our stuff and went to Dieppe for a meal. We thought of using the Red Guide and then decided for something less formal and chose one of the wharf side restaurants specializing in seafood. We had our plateau de fruits de mer there (60 euro for two), minus the lobster. This is for the seafood lover who is willing to eat raw and unfamiliar items. It was great, although I have the impression that shellfish in the shrimp family tends to be overcooked in France to the point of mushiness. Back to our B&B which was a fascinating house built 40 years ago. The main part, for the owner, had an inside/outside entry way (all glass with a garden inside reflecting the garden outside) with guest rooms sharing their own bathroom facilities. In the middle of the house is an indoor swimming pool. One could obviously go from the main part of the house to the guest rooms through the interior, but that was not the expected entry to the rooms and each guest room had a door going out to the lawn with a grand view of Pourville (the Gites de France web site for that B&B gives the view). The person who serviced the B&B was not the owner, and she did not try to chat with us in any way. But when asked, she did explain the house, the owner (Mme. Colette Marchand) who is an artist, and how the sub-division in which the house is located came to be.
The next morning we set our for Honfleur via St Wandrille and the route des chaumières on the edge of the Forêt de Brotonne using Discovering the Villages of France as our guide. Most of the thatch-roofed houses have little to do with farming and have been converted to secondary residences. Information about the Marais Vernier allude to this transformation of the rural landscape and the difficulties this creates for the maintenance of the Marais polders. The characteristic feature of the thatch roofs in this area is a peak planted with irises. A spring visit would have been spectacular. Our B&B (Barberi-Lecesne, Françoise tel: 02 31 89 15 43) in Honfleur was the one room garden apartment of a 19th century private house. It included two hot plates and everything for breakfast except the bread and croissants that our hostess hung on our doorknob in the morning. It is located 5 minutes walking distance from the port and the main street. We visited the old port and ate at La Grenouille (mentioned by the Red Guide) along the water just east the old port. People next to us ordered their plateau de fruits de mer with lobster. It was so large that everyone turned around to see who actually ordered it. It looked great, but we stuck to our more mundane intentions of not gorging ourselves. The old port of Honfleur is quite attractive, if no longer a fishing port. The area abounds with shops selling regional items, particularly alcohol. We discovered pomeau, a cider based aperitif , cidre fermier, and a rhubarb drink that was simply unexpectedly good--it probably is made with fermented rhubarb juice which is then de-alcoholised. We stayed away from the calvados since my wife does not drink it. Honfleur was meant to be an overnight stop on our way to Bayeux and Cancale. We picked up lunch in the local bakery, charcuterie and crèmerie, went back to the B&B to get our car, backed it out of the driveway and broke the plastic apron on the high curb. I thought that a water pipe from the radiator had also been broken. We called Renault, stayed on the line for 15 minutes before someone answered, had the car towed and spent the rest of the day in Honfleur because the repair shop would not pick us up until 4:30 for a repair that probably took only 15 minutes plus another hour to check the pressure of the (undamaged) water system? The Renault dealership that took in the car is 15km out of Honfleur. Honfleur does have a nice regional museum (I was not in the mood for Boudin or Satie), but we did spend a considerable amount of time waiting to be picked up at the official smog control station. We had reservations for Cancale, so we missed the Bayeux tapestries.
Our B&B in Cancale is a converted farmhouse which now contains 5 individual rooms for shorter stays and two units for longer stays (gîtes). Taking care of the rooms is the full time occupation of the host--M.Marc Loisel <[email protected]> 02 99 89 73 61. A friendly man who gave us some good recommendations for restaurants. One with claims to a higher cuisine shares the parking lot with the Cancale train station, and the other is on the Pointe du Grouin with a beautiful view of the surrounding cliffs and seas. We ate in the latter place after a lunch at La Mère Poulard, so their delicious fish soup and a salad was sufficient fare--service was so-so. The other one was very good, but the staff always seems to be scurrying about; something that I have noticed in other restaurants claiming to be more upscale, including a one star in Lyon. I can?t figure it out. Go to a busy brasserie like Chartier in Paris, and the waiters seem to work at a more leisurely pace, hurrying to bring the hot dish but not always scurrying about. We went to the Mont St. Michel that we had not seen in 36 years. The main street up to the abbey is off-putting but the abbey is just amazing as a building. I only wish one could also see where the monks lived. I tried the ?museum? just below the entrance, and apart from a collection of items found in digs, it is a tourist attraption. Lunch was at La Mère Poulard. My wife had an omelet and I ordered the agneau pré salé. The former was fabulous--an extravagance in size, taste and price--and the lamb was disappointing. Perhaps I made a mistake of ordering it pink rather than rare, but it was neither tender nor particularly tasty. We made up for it by splitting a dessert omelet. The number of eggs that go into one omelet is a trade secret.
After lunch we went to Dinan to do our laundry. A yellow pages search on the web had indicated that Dinan was the only town in the area with a laundromat. It turns out that it is not quite self-serve and the lady working there kept on talking about the writer of a guide who had used her laundromat and had written it up in the guide. It must have been Rick Steves. Dinan has a wonderful old town with a great tea room and shop. The owner speaks English with a nearly flawless American accent, has a beautiful teapot warmer collection (not tea cozies), and sells Russian teas in little boxes that make great gifts. That ends our Normandy part of the trip, even if we are in Brittany since our stop in Cancale was to see the Mont St. Michel.

Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Sep 5th, 2003, 09:32 AM
  #3
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
Instead of taking Discovering the Villages of France with us, I had transferred its information to Post-its on my Michelin Atlas Routier et Touristique. I had an idea of the areas we wanted to cover, and when turning to a page with a Post-it, we could simply decided at that moment if we would go to the village mentioned or skip it. From what we have seen of the villages recommended by the book, his recommendations for Brittany generally were a bust. From Cancale we went west and stopped in Lamballe for our lunch stuff--it turned out to be market day. The village of Montcontour is not worth a stop, its mentioned ramparts hardly visible because they now are part of the housing built against them. The central square was dead, but then it was June and a very hot day--as were many days on this trip. We kept on driving and eventually fell upon a picnic site by a lake that gave us a nice déjeuner sur l'herbe. Loc Envel turned out to be a great recommendation. It is a good introduction to the enclos area of Brittany. Its Calvary is very simple, but the church has fascinating decorations inside, with carvings sticking out of the ceilings as if ready to fall on your head. It is mentioned in the Green Guide for Brittany (p. 71) as an excursion from Belle-Isle-en-terre, and the accompanying photograph does not do justice to the hanging nature of the carving. We had taken a list of available B&B's around St. Thegonnec and the first one we called had an available room (Mme. Tanguy, Penhoadic, 29410 Guiclan, 02 98 79 43 85). The house looked brand-new and yet it was 20 years old. We went to Morlaix to eat and look around, and second the recommendation of la Marée Bleue restaurant by the Green Guide.
The next day was our enclos day to see the Calvary carvings specific to Brittany. Many towns have them, but some of the well-known ones are St. Thégonnec, Guimiliau and Pleyben. Essentially these are complex scenes of the crucifixion carved in the 16th and 17th century, often containing dozens of characters, and in the case of Guimiliau, a couple of hundred. The Green Guide does not explain their origin, but I wonder if Edgar Morin's claim in his book the Red and the White that parts of Brittany were not fully Christianized until the 16th century explains this outburst of religious art, which is simply extravagant in such rural locations. The churches themselves are worth visiting, and have an architectural character that was already encountered on a smaller scale in Loc Envel. The Guimiliau Calvary had just been renovated and the scaffolding was still up. This was disappointing, and yet, seeing some of the renovation over the safety fence surrounding the Calvary, I realized that even without the scaffolding it would have been disappointing in the sense that the renovation made everything too new. As with many renovated church statuary, one starts to wonder how close they are to the original. But these carvings should not be missed by anyone traveling in that area of Brittany.
We picnicked on top of the Roc Trévezel, with a beautiful view of the countryside. It's a ten minute walk to the top from the parking lot. From there we went to Locronan which is way over-rated by both the Michelin Green Guide and Discovering the Villages of France. We got out as quickly as possible after a drink to cool down--it was another very hot day--and drove to Douarnenez. We did not spend enough time there, and my impression is that it might be more interesting as a seaside town than Concarneau. But we did visit the boat museum, which includes five boats in the harbor and an interesting permanent exhibit on the different types of small sailboats found around the world, although the emphasis is on European and Middle Eastern sails. We continued to our B&B (Mme. Monique Le Berre, 02 98 59 10 43) which was not easy to find. Its postal address is Elliant but it is quite a few kilometers on twisting roads from the town. Her daughter runs a crêperie in Quimper, but do not eat there; neither the food nor the ambiance is particularly attractive. Mme. Le Berre did offer cold crêpes along with the standard bread one morning. Her breakfasts were not great. I even preferred making my own as in Honfleur. But the room was very nice with a good shower and in a pleasant setting, so while it was not the best of the B&B's, it was perfectly acceptable at 40 euro per night.
Quimper is a nice town with a couple of interesting museums. It is known for its faience, now controlled by one company and to a great degree living on its traditional designs. I think that this is what the tourist market demands. Limoges porcelain has a far greater variety of styles, both in shape and decoration, perhaps because it services an active modern market. To pick up picnic items, go to Quimper's central market hall (close to the cathedral). The building itself is interesting, and it offers a wide variety of foods. One of our standard picnic items was jambon de pays which varied from region to region.
Concarneau is a disappointment in that the "ville close" is oriented exclusively to tourism. Its location is impressive as a fortified island town in the middle of the harbor, but aside from its fishing museum and a short walk on the ramparts it offers little in the sense of personal and individual exploration. That Sunday morning we called the one star Moulin de Rosmadec restaurant in Pont Aven for a lunch reservation and got it! The restaurant is of course recommended by the Red Guide--how else does it get its star rating?-- and by Patricia Wells (Food Lover's Guide to France). The setting is lovely and the food wonderful. For once we did not feel that there was excessive scurrying, but I still prefer a service by section rather than by category, so that after ordering there is one person keeping an eye on my service rather than having two or three people hovering about. After a leisurely lunch and coffee on the terrace overlooking the shaded stream, we walked around Pont Aven. We came away with the impression that every art gallery had to have the smell of fresh oil paint so that the visitor KNOWS that these are original and recent paintings. We walked along the stream, but it was so hot that we really did not walk very far. The riverside is pleasant, with an opportunity dip the feet in the water to cool down. We drove back to Concarneau by following the coast as much as possible; stopped by the village of Kerascoët with its houses with thatch roofs but stone walls instead of the wood post and beam and mud wattle of Normandy; all of it very much changed to secondary homes rather than working farm houses. As penance for our meal in Pont Aven we had a lousy meal in Concarneau, in one of the many tourist eateries on the main drag of the "ville close". The next day we went down the coast on the Presqu'île de Penmarch, stopping here and there to enjoy the views, and bought a traditional Breton sweater at the Coopérative des marins in Guilvinec. It was a relaxing, less touristy day.
From Quimper we went inland and drove to Rennes via Josselin (worth a stop) and the Forêt de Paimpont. We were in Rennes for two nights but did not get to its museums because they were closed. We did visit the Jardin du Thabor, which my wife thought was disappointing after its description in the Green Guide and the Garden Lover's Guide to France, but she revised her opinion after seeing our slides. The garden is a mixture of different types of gardens, including a French parterre, a traditional alley under the trees, a rose garden, a large dog run and a tree and lawn area for lounging. Rennes has an extensive old town, very much alive in the evening. It did not give the impression of being a particularly tourist town, which is a relief from the coastal areas of Brittany. We ate at two restaurants mentioned in the Red Guide: Léon le Cochon and Tête de Cochon. Both were very good, but the first one was more interesting. It also was bigger, livelier and definitely a destination for locals. We also visited a nearby ecomusée which is a converted farm. It maintains several traditional breeds of animals (sheep, chickens, goats, cows) and has fields of traditional crops. The history of the farm has been well researched and its kitchen/main room has been furnished exactly as it was in the 19th century thanks to a sales inventory done by a notaire when the farm changed hands at that time.
From Rennes we went to Angers via Vitré. The castle is impressive from the outside, but is really not worth the entrance fee. The old town is interesting and worth a stroll. In Angers we saw the château and some of the old town. Again, it was blazing hot. The tapestries of the Apocalypse are superb; they seem to have a finer weave than the tapestries of the five sense in the Musée Cluny in Paris, and they are incredible in size: a must for anyone who passes through Angers. We stayed at our most expensive B&B (60 euro) and most luxurious just on the other side of the river from Angers (Mme. Françoise Terrière, 49610 Murs-Erigné, 02 41 57 70 13). It was a 19th century small manor house set in its own parc. The kitchen had the coloration of Monet?s kitchen and was also the dining area. We had a suite above it with a large bathroom, but ... it was the only time that the shower was a hand-held shower in the tub with no wall hooks and no curtains. We took the table d'hôte, eating outside in the garden. The hostess was a fan of the Montignac diet and showed me one of his books. We had quite a bit of good-natured bantering about the fact that her breakfast did not follow the diet. She recommended that we visit the Château de Brissac on our way south. It was a good recommendation and a change from the royal castles that we are more likely to see in the Loire valley.
This ends the touring portion of our European summer. We then spent a month in the Dordogne, but that was a different type of vacation.
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Aug 27th, 2005, 04:47 AM
  #4
adoptionisfab
Guest
 
Posts: n/a
Michael THANKS FOR THE LINK IT WAS A GOOD READ WITH MY CUP OF TEA!
 
Reply With Quote
Aug 29th, 2005, 11:25 AM
  #5
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
Here are the photos of that trip; better late than never.

Ghent & Bruges Album:
http://www.photoworks.com/share/shar...6ED2BBB1&cb=PW

Normandy Photos:
http://www.photoworks.com/share/shar...D3C2BBAB&cb=PW

Brittany Photos:
http://www.photoworks.com/share/shar...A572BBAB&cb=PW

Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Mar 9th, 2009, 09:45 AM
  #6
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
The links given in the preceding post no longer work. Here are the new ones:

Ghent & Bruges:
http://www.photoworks.com/members/sl...096&key=mksfca

Normandy: http://www.photoworks.com/members/sl...827&key=mksfca

Brittany: http://www.photoworks.com/members/sl...823&key=mksfca
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Mar 9th, 2009, 10:15 AM
  #7
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,701
Wonderfully informative trip report, Michael. I enjoyed it very much, except for the total lack of paragraphs. Makes for difficult reading with these aging eyes.

nukesafe is online now  
Reply With Quote
Mar 9th, 2009, 10:56 AM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
There are paragraphs. But it was one of my first if not the first trip report. Nowadays I separate the paragraphs with a blank line and even add italics and bold. Lived and learned.
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 11th, 2010, 12:57 PM
  #9
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
I have moved my pictures for the Belgian part of the trip to Flickr because Photoworks keeps on changing the URL:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/...7622960079007/
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 11th, 2010, 09:24 PM
  #10
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,541
Michael,

Thanks very much for your report and pics! Looking forward to visiting these areas later this year.

Loved the Belgium photos! Can't access the Normandy photos, getting a 'page not found' error. Not sure if it is the same problem that you reported with the Belgium photos.
joannyc is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 12th, 2010, 08:44 AM
  #11
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
The problem is the same for the Normandy and Brittany photos and I have yet reposted them on Flickr.
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 12th, 2010, 08:58 AM
  #12
 
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 5,891
Did you happen to read "I'll Never be French(no matter what I do)" by Mark Greenside?

I just finished it. It's a memoir of moving to Brittany. It takes place in Finistere, France and mentions some of the towns you visited.

I enjoyed your report and took some notes as I would liketo visit there on one of our trips to France.
TPAYT is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 12th, 2010, 10:42 AM
  #13
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 20,174
Great report, Michael, and yes you need a blank line to separate the paragraphs.
kerouac is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 12th, 2010, 06:10 PM
  #14
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
correction:

I have not yet reposted them on Flickr.
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 12th, 2010, 09:23 PM
  #15
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 3,541
We'll be here when you do!
joannyc is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 14th, 2010, 05:54 PM
  #16
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
This is where you will be able to find my pictures of France, including Normandy and Brittany:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mksfca/...7622845845243/
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 14th, 2010, 09:15 PM
  #17
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 4,701
Great photo's, Michael!

nukesafe is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 22nd, 2010, 09:39 AM
  #18
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 27
Thank you! Enjoyed your report very much.
TravelinGert is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 3rd, 2010, 06:14 AM
  #19
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
Posts: 35
Hey - I'm doing research into finding accommodation in Gent - can you by any chance remember the name of your B&B

Thanks
Martine200 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Mar 3rd, 2010, 08:43 AM
  #20
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 19,700
I do not recall the B&B having any other name than the owner's. Did you try the e-mail I included in my report?
Michael is online now  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 01:38 AM.