I am a travel snob, I admit it.
I adore France but, in most of our many trips there over the years, I have avoided Brittany; put off by it’s reputation as the Chianti of France – Brittanyshire, as it were. Instead I’ve spent many, many happy trips exploring regions including Limousin, Poitou-Charentes, Champagne, Picardie, Burgundy (Bourgogne), Aquitaine, Auvergne and, my favourites, Centre & Pays de La Loire. And of course, Paris, but I that’s almost a separate country, isn’t it? ;) These regions are by no means undiscovered by us canny Brits but we haven’ t reached critical mass and I’ve encountered and interacted predominantly with French people. And that’s the crux of my snobbiness; I don’t just visit France for nice weather and good food (though the latter is, of course, rather important to a glutton like me) but for France itself – it’s people and their culture/ way of life.
So when a friend invited Pete and I to spend a week staying with her (and a few other friends) in her parents’ holiday home in a tiny hamlet near La Roche Bernard in Morbihan, on the southern coast of Brittany, I confess that I hesitated a few seconds before overcoming my prejudiced snobbiness and shouting out a loud “Yes, please!”
And, as you could no doubt have predicted, we had a marvellous time! I can’t say Brittany equalled my very favourite areas (thus far) but it did offer a charming holiday base and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing week. And it wasn’t overrun with “us lot” either!
As we took our own car and crossed via the Eurotunnel, I booked an overnight at the lovely Chateau de Monhoudou on our way down to Brittany. We were upgraded to a beautiful blue room with two bathrooms (one with jacuzzi bath and big window out over the grounds and the other a tiled wetroom shower in the corner turret). We ate dinner in the chateau that night – all very pleasant but the one dish that blew me away was the Vicomtesse’s h0me-made walnut tart with rum. She kindly shared her recipe and I’ll be blogging it here in due course!
Food wise we cooked several evenings meals in the house. We had a great BBQ on the patio on which we cooked fresh fish, meat and veg from local markets and supermarkets. Fresh sardines were fabulous, so too were the wonderful merguez sausages we couldn’t resist having more than once plus various burgers and chops. Courgettes and peppers were lovely on the BBQ too. We also did meals such as a French chicken, mushroom, shallots, creme fraiche and beer casserole type thing and a roast beef dinner too. Oh and lots of baking – one of the guys is also into his baking so between us we made cookies, cakes and macaroons not to mention vast quantities of banoffee (and a little appoffee variation). I also gorged on beautifully ripe pêches plates (flat peaches). Oh and we bought lots of cheese which we enjoyed during each meal in the house, though I was surprised at how little cheese is produced locally given their fantastic dairy herds. One cheese I’d not had before but really liked was Normanville, made in the Pays d’Auge area of Normandy.
We also ate a few meals out during the week. Pete and I each had a savoury galette at Hotel Crêperie Roc Maria in Guerande before heading to Le Croisic for a dessert crêpe at Crêperie Le Relais Du Duc De L’Aiguillon (who, according to their menu, use only organic flour for their crêpes/ galettes). Our dessert choices here were particularly good – mine filled with cooked banana and a rich dark chocolate sauce and Pete’s with a lemon cream. All 6 of us had savoury and sweet options at a creperie in La Roche Bernard though I won’t name that one – the two of us who picked the (tasty) galettes with boudin noir and pommes caramelise had severe stomach upsets that afternoon/ evening and one of the others had a milder upset too.
All 6 of us enjoyed a pleasant meal at a restaurant I thought was called La Panoramique but which the receipt lists as Le Relais de La Roche. It’s situated by the tall bridge across from from La Roche Bernard and enjoys stunning views down over the harbour full of moored yachts, the cafes and restaurants on the harbourside, the rocks that give the town it’s name and the beautiful green countryside. Although we had a charming evening I’d rate the restaurant as good rather than excellent. My starter langoustines were overcooked resulting in overly mushy meat. The tagliatelle served with my scallop and prawn main was also very overcooked though the scallops themselves were superb. And my baked alaska (called a norwegian omelette) was so-so. Steaks enjoyed by some of the group were good but a chocolate mousse was too grainy in texture, though the taste was fine. Service was friendly and prices reasonable, at approximately 30 Euros per head.
My friend’s parents had left a list of recommended restaurants, one of which was described as a pork specialist providing large portions of tasty food, popular with locals and white van drivers – and with a name like Chez Monsieur Cochon we couldn’t resist! We headed over to nearby Herbignac and, by the time we came back, we could hardly move! With most starters priced at 5 Euros and most mains at 10 Euros (with a small selection of dishes priced at roughly double) the enormous and tasty dishes here are certainly fantastic value. A number of us had the Salade Berger which consisted of chicken livers braised in red wine, lardons and salad. Others went for the leek and lardon tart – a generous slice served with salad. And the other starter ordered was a huge salad topped with goat’s cheese topped with honey and sitting on toasts. All three of these dishes were plenty large enough to be eaten on their own for lunch and were, frankly, way too big for starters! For mains we had grilled ham, an artisanal sausage with mash and marinaded belly pork. Again, portions were huge. The belly pork was delicious, cooked until the meat was beautifully soft and basted in a flavoursome marinade but two out of three of us who ordered it didn’t come close to clearing our plates. Not one of us had space for dessert though our waitress assured us that many customers do indeed manage a starter, main and dessert each! The main grill on which many of the meats are cooked opens into the restaurant so diners can watch the chef at work, if they wish. Our bill came to less than 20 Euros a head, though we didn’t have many drinks between us. One nice touch I noted was when one of our party ordered a bottle of red wine, a Cahors which was listed among 3 “house” reds priced at 10 Euros a bottle. Our waitress explained that they were out of this wine but instead of referring back to the other two house reds, offered another more expensive Cahors from the main wine menu for the same price as the house version. In the end, this place impressed me for a number of reasons: great food at great prices, genuinely friendly and helpful service with great customer service and an interesting range of pork dishes (plus a few non-pork dishes as well). It serves as a nice balance to the more refined side of French cuisine that can sometimes garner most the attention.
Pete and I ventured out exploring a little more than the rest of the gang and hence we found ourselves in Vannes for lunch one day. One particular restaurant, La Table des Gourmets, listed in the my guide book was backed up with a strong recommendation from a fellow member of an online travel board who’d shared a review of a fine meal she and her husband had enjoyed there. Unfortunately, when we got to the address provided we found a new restaurant in it’s place, Restaurant Les Remparts. The menu looked good so we decided to give it a try anyway. As well as enjoying a delicious, beautifully presented meal, we also chatted to the owner who was performing a front of house role. I’ll be posting a review of the restaurant in a separate blog post, soon.
One aspect of our visit that I did find disappointing was the lack of small, local food and drink producers open for visits, tastings and direct purchase. I was met with puzzled surprise at the three tourist offices where I asked for help on this, though one kind lady did invest some considerable time in searching (pretty unsuccessfully) for possibilities. What’s more, it was clear that this was not a request they encountered regularly, if at all. Although I quickly became aware that there are few local cheese producers, I had expected to be able to find and visit makers of Breton cider, chouchenn (a mead-like drink, based on cider), salted caramel and salted caramel sweets, local speciality cakes and biscuits… But unlike other regions in France, such producers neither open their doors on an individual basis, nor have they organised together to offer food and drink tourist routes or lists. Infact, the only such producers we came across were those selling their wares in Rochefort-sur-Terre, which was home to an impressive range of artisans selling hand-made woven baskets and bags, decorative wooden bellows, Breton cakes and biscuits, candles and paintings. We also enjoyed the opportunity to taste and buy local honeys at La Maison de l’Abeilles (the house of bees) in La Roche Bernard.
Luckily, I still get a kick from shopping in French supermarkets and brought home such diverse goodies as basil-flavoured oil, salted caramel sweets, brioche and madeleines, flour, blackberry cream liqueur, chouchenn, sweet Breton cider, dry bubbly for my sister and some Port for my cooking ingredients cupboard, biscuits like jaffa cakes but filled with raspberry instead of orange jelly, orange tic-tacs (why do we only sell orange mixed with lime in the UK?) and a box of Mon Cheri chocolates for naughty me! With all of that and a few boxes of wine not to mention four peoples’ luggage, our poor car was very heavily laden for the voyage home indeed!
I’ll be running a competition to win a jar of Breton salted caramel sweets in a few weeks so do subscribe to my blog feed to make sure you don’t miss your chance to win!