Pat Handley - Holidaying in France

Issue 6 of le bulletin contained a story about Le Coucou, the French home of Bill and Bernadette Moore and in August/September my husband, Bob, myself and our lifelong friends, Helen and Rowan, were fortunate enough to spend 17 days holidaying there, a thoroughly worthwhile experience. We found holidaying in the one spot much more relaxing than touring, while at the same time getting a better feel for a French lifestyle.Le Coucou is situated in Plainville, one of the many Plainvilles in France, only a few kilometres from Pont d’Ouilly and 14 kilometres from Falaise in Normandie Calvados. We were fortunate that there had been a wet summer and the landscape was at its best, making for lovely evenings spent in the garden (the sun did not set until after 9 pm) and beautiful scenery wherever we went. While we did a fair bit of touring, going out a few hours in the hired car most days, it was the living that was most exciting.  We had lots of fun shopping for food and preferred the boucherie, the two boulangeries, and le Cocci Marché in Pont d’Ouilly where everyone was most friendly, although it was difficult to allow for the midday siesta.  We often managed to be passing through when everything was shut. Le boucher is the regional ‘sausage king’ and his Toulouse sausages are superb, much nicer than those from other establishments.  In Falaise we became aware that the bigger French su p er m a r c h é s are organized very differently from those in Australia, although there is a certain logic.  We never did find savoury biscuits and it wasn’t until after our return that we found an article in The Australian that informed us that they are located ‘opposite Dubonnet and other aperitifs, since they accompany pre-dinner drinks’.  Jam is found with tea and coffee, milk with water, orange juice with fruit and charcoal in the butchery section since it is used to barbecue.

Top on the list for enjoyment was gathering blackberries from the thorny bushes in the lanes that extend in all directions from Plainville and then cooking them into Blackberry Crumble flavoured with a dash of calvados and served with crème fraîche – the flavour lingers.  Second was the Falaise Saturday morning markets with a plethora of produce.  Rabbits, guinea fowl, chickens, cheeses, olives, garden produce, crème fraîche, tuergoule (Normandy rice pudding) and many other delights were to be found there.  They are the only place where we saw chickens cooked in a rôtisserie and we bought one for lunch.  It tasted like the real chicken that we remembered from our childhood. Lunches were always special with so much to choose from – terrines, goose rillettes, succulent ham, tomatoes so much nicer than the ones we buy here, and lovely fresh bread.  We found cider the ideal lunchtime drink and very inexpensive.

Falaise is the birth place of William the Conqueror and much of our touring was linked to him.  We visited the castle that now occupies his birthplace, and saw the Bayeux Tapestry as well the Men’s and Ladies’ Abbeys (now offices) which he and his wife Mathilde had built in Caen.  Despite the fact that Mont St Michel was not surrounded by sea at high tide when we were there, we spent a lovely evening at the nearby Chambres d’Hôtes and dined at the Auberge de la Baie which served the famous pré-salé lamb.  The lambs graze on the salt and iodine rich herbs that surround the Mont.  We watched them being herded down the street to go out to graze in the morning and then back home in the afternoon.  The meat is succulent and flavoursome and went very well with a Cadillac wine from the Bordeaux region.

There is so much to do in Normandy that I have mentioned only some of our experiences. However our main delight was just ‘being French’ for a short time.  Le Coucou was a lovely place to be.