Where to buy fresh food and drink in Normandy and Brittany

The sheer abundance of regional specialities in north-west France makes for a thrilling foodie road trip. We sniff out the best local produce, plus great places to eat, drink – and sleep it off
Readers’ tips on places to visit in Normandy and Brittany

Pays d’Auge and Pays d’Ouche

The Pays d’Auge region, just an hour’s drive east of Caen and straddling the departments of Calvados, Orne and part of Eure, is Normandy’s gastronomic heart, with apple orchards, cider farms and calvados distilleries amid rolling green hills. Further east is the Pays d’Ouche, a region influenced by the rivers Seine and Risle, also with great places for foodies to investigate.

Map of Normandy and Brittany

What to buy
The local apple brandy, calvados, takes its name from the area around it and the elegant Chateau du Breuil, north of Lisieux, offers tours of the aromatic cellars and distillery followed by tasting of aged and flavoured varieties. For cider head further east to Le Clos Cerisey near Evreux, a cider farm that specialises in apples with red skin and red flesh. Visitors can tour the orchards, then taste and buy red cider and red apple juices at the rustic farm shop.

The new kid on the cider block is cidre de glace (ice cider), made with apples that are left on the trees until winter then pressed, the cold juice being left to ferment for months. The Manoir du Val near Bernay is one of a dozen farms producing it, along with a host of other apple-based products.

Bottles of calvados in a shop window in the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy
Where cider houses rule … bottles of calvados and cider in a shop window in the Pays d’Auge. Photograph: Alamy

Cheese lovers should make a beeline for Pont l’Evêque, south of Deauville, for the lively Monday morning market or the old-fashioned market (with stallholders in historical costumes) on Sunday mornings in July and August. Also open to visitors is the E. Graindorge cheese workshop in Livarot, which makes pont l’évêque, livarot, camembert and neufchâtel cheeses.

Where to eat
There are tasty regional specialities, including a heady calvados soufflé for dessert, on the menu at the Etape Louis XVIII, in a 17th-century rectory in Beaumesnil, 13km from Bernay.
Starter and main €26, 2 rue Mesnuls, +33 232 451 727, etapelouis13.fr.

Where to stay

Petits Matins Bleus, Pays d’Auge, France
Petits Matins Bleus. Photograph: Patrice Valette

At Les Petits Matins Bleus, owner and cook Anne Bourbeau offers four studios sleeping two, as well as a larger gîte that sleeps five. She cooks a sumptuous evening meal, and offers cookery classes, too.
€200 for two nights B&B for two, +33 231 206 288, petitsmatinsbleus.com.

The Orne

Apples for sale in Normandy
Juicy and red … apples for sale in a Normandy market. Photograph: Alamy

Cider orchards and cheese farms abound in Normandy’s southernmost département. Highlights include the densely forested Perche regional park, a favourite country bolthole for Parisians, known for its antiques shops and vide-greniers (“empty the attics”, the French version of the car boot sale).

What to buy

Camembert, bread, walnuts and honey on wood
Camembert, bread, walnuts and honey. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

Cheese lovers can stock up in the tiny village of Camembert at La Fromagerie Durand. Further south in Mortagne-au-Perche, the town’s Saturday morning farmer’s market is the place to find le petit percheron, a soft, raw milk cheese aged in cider. Fans of charcuterie will love France’s capital of the black pudding (boudin noir); it’s such a big deal in Mortagne-au-Perche that there’s even an annual festival during which metre-long sausages are devoured by the dozen. Wine bar La Vie en Rouge (31 rue Sainte-Croix, +33 966 138 820, no website) sells fine wines by the glass, bottle and case, to wash down the saucisson. Cider lovers will relish tours and tastings at La Cidrerie Traditionnelle du Perche. Those who prefer vintage bric-a-brac could head south to Bellême for its antique and brocante (vintage) shops.

Where to eat
Homely antique shop-meets-restaurant La Maison d’Horbé in the tiny village of La Perrière doubles as a tearoom (offering 40 varieties of tea and coffee varieties) and sells food to take away. But don’t expect fast food; we’re talking duck foie gras (€25), ratatouille (€9 for four people) and boeuf bourguignon (€16 for two).
Grand Place, La Perrière, +33 233 731 841, lamaisondhorbe.com

Where to stay

Hotel du Tribunal in Mortagne-au-Perche
Hotel du Tribunal Photograph: Hotel du Tribunal

The delightful Hotel du Tribunal in Mortagne-au-Perche offers boutique rooms and a lavish restaurant presided over by an exciting young chef, Freddy Pommier, who learned his trade at such establishments as three-Michelin-star Le Pré Catelan in Paris.
Doubles from €64, breakfast €12, menus from €31, hoteltribunalorne.com

The impressionist coast

Port de Plaisance Dieppe.
Norman conquest … Port de Plaisance, Dieppe. Photograph: Jean Decaux/Normandy Regional Tourist Board.

A favourite with Claude Monet and many other impressionist painters, this area of upper Normandy from Honfleur to Dieppe (mostly in the Seine-Maritime département) offers a striking coastline of chalk cliffs and verdant valleys – with foodie and boozy haunts galore.

What to buy

The Palais Benedictine at Fécamp
The Palais Benedictine at Fécamp. Photograph: Christophe Mariot

The Palais Bénédictine at Fécamp is a rambling neo-Gothic palace, in which the distillery churns out the world’s supply of Benedictine, a herbal liqueur with medieval origins. Visitors can discover its fascinating story before indulging in a few cocktails at the stylish bar.

Dieppe has several delicatessens and wine boutiques worth investigating. LC Vins, on the outskirts, for example, is currently offering Cuvée Léa Chateau St Preignan (AOP Languedoc) for €6.50 a bottle. This pleasant seaside town merits a further stroll. L’Epicerie Olivier has a great selection of wine and cheese (neufchâtel is a speciality) as well as interesting tea and coffee varieties. Wine boutique La Feuille de Vigne, amid the striking townhouses that line the harbour in Honfleur, is like an Aladdin’s cave of tasty tipples and artisanal groceries; it has about 800 wines and spirits on sale, plus rillettes, oils, vinegars and terrines.

Where to eat

Eating out in Honfleur
Dining out in Honfleur. Photograph: Alamy

For locally caught seafood and homely cuisine including grilled duck and beef dishes try the cosy Restaurant de l’Homme de Bois in Honfleur.
Seasonal menu from €24, 30-32 rue de l’Homme de Bois, +33 231 897 527, honfleurrestaurants.com

Where to stay

Hotel Oscar, Le Havre
Hotel Oscar Photograph: Hotel Oscar

In Le Havre, newly opened Hotel Oscar (doubles from €55, breakfast €9) is a good-value stay in a central location overlooking Oscar Niemeyer’s Le Volcan arts centre. A few kilometres further east, at Etainhus, chef Régine Boidin offers cookery weekends at her Napoleon III manor house, Le Mirlibut (€375 for cookery course for two, including one night’s stay, breakfast and dinner).

Roscoff, Brittany

Roscoff, Brittany
Plenty to scoff … Roscoff is noted for seafood and onions. Photograph: Alamy

This idyllic town in Finistère looks out towards the enchanting Ile de Batz, and is famous for its onions and variety of seafood.

What to buy and see
Onions may not be top of many people’s shopping list for a gastronomic weekend away, but the pink onions of Roscoff have a smooth, sweet flavour that makes them special. They were popular England in the early part of the 20th century, when Onion Johnnies – beret-wearing Frenchmen on bicycles, brought them over the Channel. The museum dedicated to the Johnnies’ story, La Maison des Johnnies et de l’Oignon de Roscoff, is an interesting place to check out before buying a string at the morning market on Wednesdays. There is an annual festival celebrating the Johnnies, this year on 20-21 August.

An Onion Johnny bike in Roscoff.
An Onion Johnny bike in Roscoff. Photograph: Alamy

The area’s floral honey is particularly good, and there’s a huge variety on sale at Miellerie de la Côtes des Légendes at Plouescat, 30 minutes’ drive west of Roscoff (€3 for 125g jar), which also sells bottles of chouchenn, a moreish mead-like honey wine. For fish, seafood and seaweed products that will keep until you get home, pop into Algoplus, which sells pâté, rillettes, and fish soup in jars at two outlets in Roscoff. Award-winning beers and cider can be found at the brewery Brasserie Kerav’ale. And the two wine warehouses outside the town – The Wine Centre and Wine Beer Supermarket – both stock the Breton whisky Eddu, which is made at family-run Menhirs distillery in Plomelin, a few minutes south of Quimper, where free guided tours and tastings are offered up to three times a day.

Where to eat
In Saint Pol de Léon, 5km south of Roscoff, Auberge La Pomme d’Api, housed in a 16th-century refectory, offers divine fish and seafood menus under Michelin-starred chef Jérémie Le Calvez.
Menus from €25, 49 rue Verderel +33 298 690 436, aubergelapommedapi.com

Where to stay

Hotel Chez Janie, Roscoff, France
Hotel Chez Janie, Roscoff Photograph: PR

Once the drinking den of the Onion Johnnies, Roscoff’s Chez Janie, in the old harbour, is now a three-star, 16-room hotel with a decent restaurant (mains from €12.50) and access to the spa at the Hotel Brittany.
Doubles from €69 B&B, chezjanie.fr

St Malo

Des huitres, Cancale, France
Clamming up … oysters on sale in Cancale Photograph: PIRIOU Jacqueline/Brittany Tourism

The impressive walled port town of Saint-Malo has an interesting seafaring history, and makes the perfect stop for those rolling off the ferry in search of gourmet treats.

What to buy/see
An easy drive from the ferry port, Le Moulin à Vins has an excellent selection of wine and also stocks interesting spirits such as Ced rums, made near Nantes and flavoured with mango, pineapple, cocoa and more, and the G’Vine gin. Beer lovers should head to Les Brassins de Saint-Malo, which has an on-site microbrewery: bottles of blond, light La Port Malo and the stronger (7%) Saint Malo are on sale in the shop. It also sells locally made rillettes and shortbreads and cider from nearby Cider Sorre Ets Chapron.

The area’s famous butter biscuits are in plentiful supply at Les Comptoirs de Saint-Malo, which has two shops, the larger of which is along the coast towards Cancale (16km to the east). Stock up on biscuits, salt-water caramels, wines and whisky before nipping to the oyster stalls on the beach at Cancale for a fresh seafood treat.

La Fromagée Jean-Yves Bordier, France
La Fromagée Jean-Yves Bordier. Photograph: Martin Boudier

Brittany is famous for its butter, so it’s worth bringing a cool box in which to stash a few blocks from La Fromagée Jean-Yves Bordier. Bordier is the last craftsman still making butter with a wooden churn. Choose from flavours including seaweed, lemon and olive oil, and sweet Madagascar vanilla, at several outlets across the town.

Where to eat
A modern crêperie and cider bar that offers a chic take on traditional dishes is Breizh Cafe, which has branches in Saint-Malo, Cancale, Paris and, less probably, Tokyo, and stocks 60 ciders in its cellars.
Savoury galettes from €8.50, 10 Avenue Anita Conti, +33 299 56 96 08, breizhcafe.com

Where to stay
L’Hotel Chateaubriand
, with its 80 rooms, many with sea views, is well-positioned just within the town’s walls.
Doubles from €77 B&B, hotel-chateaubriand-st-malo.com

Brittany Ferries sails to Caen-Ouistreham, Cherbourg, Le Havre, Saint-Malo and Roscoff. DFDS Seaways sails to Dieppe. Condor Ferries sails to Saint-Malo and Cherbourg


Carolyn Boyd

The GuardianTramp

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