FRANCE: La Tranchardière – a slice of France

Normandie Express lrOur reunion with the Pinheys at La Pommier - Tim last saw Sally 20 years ago lrThe Saunders family in front of Carrouges Castle lr
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By Tim Saunders

In the nineteenth century, French hamlets were self-sufficient communities, according to Sally Pinhey, the botanical artist, whose semi-detached stone cottage near Couptrain is about 120 miles from Cherbourg.

Le Pommier is one of three houses at La Tranchardière. “Le Pommier means ‘The Apple Tree’, it is where the apples were stored and behind is where the cider was made. It would have also consisted of a dairy, a baker and a forge,” explains Sally.

“All the properties in this hamlet have been renovated by the British. They enjoy the climate and the tranquillity.”

It takes around three hours to travel from Cherbourg and there are alternative ports such as Caen, Dieppe or Le Havre. But the beauty of travelling from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, as we do, with Brittany Ferries, is that the Normandie Express is fast. This is great especially when accompanied by little children or dogs. It is also a fairly prompt service with little delay. By the time you have had a coffee and read a magazine it has arrived. This compares to double that time on a traditional crossing. It slices through the Channel with ease and generally passengers remain comfortable with minimal buffeting, which is quite an achievement. It is a far better experience than with some other providers of similar services, I find. We are amazed both on the outbound and the return journey just how quickly the time passes. In our case the time is used by Harriett (4) and Heidi (2) playing shoe shops. There is much to entertain and amuse the girls. They enjoy walking around the boat looking at what the other passengers are up to. Naturally they have to visit the toilet on a few occasions but our two little rascals are well behaved. We find that taking a couple of story books onboard for the return trip works very well and despite it being quite late at night they mainly remain seated and enjoy the experience. They also thoroughly enjoy the build up to boarding the ferry – all the cars having to go on the ferry and passport control. So much so that when we return home they start role playing.

Couptrain is easy enough to find with the help of satellite navigation and a map provided by Sally. It is a joy to drive on such quiet roads and there is definitely a far more relaxed way of life across the water. With such a large land mass and so few residents compared to Britain it is little surprise that spying locals is quite tricky on occasions.

Le Pommier is a traditional rustic stone dwelling with low maintenance tile floors downstairs as you can see from the video link above. “It is a practical house for reunions with its generous  kitchen dining and recreation space upstairs, and works well with mixed generations as the ground floor can be shut off from the upper floor,” says Sally. “The ground floor can be shut off from the upper floor.” It has enabled Roger to meet up with old work colleagues from his time in the Navy. The area appeals to birdwatchers, walkers and cyclists.

Le Pommier can accommodate up to eight guests and there are bedrooms both downstairs and upstairs as well as showering and washing facilities. To the side of the property there is an orchard where there are two swings hanging from an old apple tree. Harriett and Heidi thoroughly enjoy these.

Le Pommier is a good base to visit the local area and Sally kindly shows us Chateau de Carrouges, five miles away. “This is open for free on the first Sunday of every month,” she informs us. We learn from our guide that the castle was built in the 14th century and restored after the Hundred Years War. It is home to some opulently decorated rooms with fine furniture. Harriett and Heidi patiently endure the hour-long tour where all visitors are locked in; a security measure in lieu of CCTV. Afterwards the tinkers enjoy running around the maze outside and jumping in muddy puddles. They are mesmerised by the French accent and its relaxing tone.

Down the road at Bagnoles de l’Orne Sally shows us round the town that is well-known for its hydrotherapy pools which are claimed to have healing powers and visitors travel from far and wide for medicinal purposes. The Belle Époque Quarter constitutes a well preserved example of a typical early 20th century French bourgeoise residential area, which we like a lot and revisit throughout our trip. Built between 1886 and 1914 and located in the southern part of the town, it is filled with superb villas with bow windows and unique roofs. It is affluent and Harriett thoroughly enjoys the beautifully coloured and coordinated flowerbeds. It is here that we enjoy an excellent family meal in the town’s crêperie. Homemade affordable galettes (savoury crepes) are served in comfortable surroundings by polite staff. Bagnoles is also home to a park, which the children love, of course. We also discover an enjoyable park at La Ferté Macé where Harriett gets to practice her limited French on the modern version of a seesaw.

A stone’s throw from here is La Ferte Mace where there is a beach that we stroll around.

We venture to Alençon and enjoy sitting outside a café and soaking up the French atmosphere. As Heidi sleeps on mummy, Harriett enjoys une verre du lait and we catch snippets of French conversation.

The furthest trip to Rouen, one of Normandy’s unmissable jewels, some hundred miles away, is a necessity we feel to see the cathedral and to experience a bustling city. Art lovers, like us, find it amazing to witness the magnificent Notre Dame cathedral that Monet painted time and time again. There are some lovely art galleries, too. On approaching this metropolis it instantly becomes clear what a contrast life is here compared to the sleepy countryside. Cars dash all over the place and drivers must have their wits about them to avoid accidents.

It is not long before our two little girls start picking up some French with Harriett saying ‘Bonjoir, bonsoir et on y va’. She even plucks up enough courage to order French bread in a boulangerie. Heidi at her tender age of two is heard to murmur ‘À tout à l’heure’.

Back at base we spot a bullfinch and watch bats at night. At medieval Domfront, a lovely old town, we stumble upon a bar and enjoy a drink.

Diary

Saturday

Arrive at La Pommiere

Sunday

Carrouges Castle - tour

Bagnoles de L’Orne - playground

La Ferte Mace – beach

Monday

Alencon

Tuesday

Rouen

Wednesday

Domfront

Thursday and Friday

Bagnoles

Saturday

La Ferte Mace – park

Stroll around Cherbourg

Home

More information:

http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk

http://sallypinhey.com/holiday

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