I’m not going to lie, I have been a Francophile since a trip to the Loire in the early 90s and have deposited myself across the Channel with family on many occasions in the years since. However, with the arrival of a pandemic and new rules associated with those lovely blue passports, I haven’t crossed the Channel for three years. This year, though, we cut loose our grown-up kids and teamed up with two more grown-up kids for a week in the Manche region of Normandy at Carolles.
Carolles is a tiny seaside resort a couple of kilometres from the très populaire beaches at Jullovillle. It is a gorgeous little spot within easy reach of the ports of Cherbourg, Ouisterham and, to the south, Saint-Malo, which makes it ideal for breaks right through to the autumn.
The accommodation – Villa Caprice at Carolles
The villa we hired was through Booking.com – it was a remarkable find situated down a quiet side street no more than 50 metres from miles of pretty nigh deserted beach. Owner, Pierre, was local-ish and always on hand to answer questions – he also helped us replace the gas bottle for the stove after it became clear it was beyond the wit of Englishmen.
Villa Caprice provided an ideal base for two couples – but equally, it would have suited a family beach holiday. The accommodation is all on one floor with two good-sized double rooms and a double bunk room for the small people.
The house was spacious, clean and well-equipped. While it did not have a formal garden it did have enough paved areas to spread out and catch the sun, eat al fresco and lounge around into the evening with a few bottles of wine.
Villa Caprice is a townhouse and has another holiday let on the floor above but neither is overlooked, so guests have complete privacy.
For the foodie – Granville
A five-minute drive up the coast takes you to the walled, harbour town of Granville. There’s plenty to do and see around the town if you plan ahead. Our plans extended largely as far as our stomachs so here are our recommendations for eating out in the town.
Situated quayside at Granville is Le Cabestan, this is an 80-cover restaurant that delivers first-class everything – shellfish, moules, fruit de mer – its speciality, unsurprisingly, is seafood and it is absolutely worthy of a visit.
The food is extremely well presented and the atmosphere welcoming and informal with diners sitting inside and out. The large sharing plats de fruit de mer enjoyed by the locals were stunning in their beauty and bountiful size. However, for my fellow travellers, the most memorable experience of our visit was not savoury but sweet. I am not blessed with a sweet tooth so skip straight to coffee when the dessert menu arrives which, on this occasion, was probably a mistake. The desserts were exquisite to look at let alone to savour the taste.
Le Brasserie Herel at the Ibis hotel on the marina at Granville is also well worth a visit. Excellent, well-priced seafood (and a pretty good entrecôte too, for those who prefer meat) and friendly staff with nice views over the marina. Oysters were on offer and it would have been rude not to partake, so we had a sharing platter to start.
As is often the case with my trips across the Channel, I never miss the opportunity to indulge my love of bulots (whelks). I’ve written before about how to be ostracised at home for cooking this much-maligned hero of the seas, here’s my recipe for bulots mayonnaise. Some folk see the snail shell as a total turn-off, but you should at least give them a go. These aren’t the pickled abominations of English resorts, they have a natural sweetness that is almost scallop-like and no matter how many miles from the coast you are, the aroma from a dish of whelks is like the sea on a plate.
For our last night, we stayed local at the laid-back La Playa in Carolles, where again seafood was a mainstay of the menu. We took a sharing platter of shellfish followed by entrecôte and frites, washed down with a bottle of wine and a couple of beers. La Playa was within easy stumbling distance of our apartment, so it was an ideal venue to bring down the curtain on our trip.
For the cultured – Abbaye de la Lucerne
Go to the Abbaye de la Lucerne
We took a ride out to visit the Abbey de la Lucerne, nestled in the Thar valley about 6km inland from Julloville. Founded in the 12th century, the Abbaye has been carefully restored over a period of more than 60 years and is a fine example of Norman Premonstratensian architecture. The accessible grounds contain the abbey church, the Anglo-Norman tower which is built in the Gothic style, the cloister and the Romanesque washbasin, the refectory, the bakery, the hosts, the dovecote and the abbey dwelling.
The setting of the Abbaye is idyllic, surrounded by parkland and woodland where the remains of the aqueduct that supplied the site with fresh water remain.
The buildings and grounds were sold as national property during the Revolution, and the abbey transformed into a cotton mill and then into a stone sawmill before falling into disrepair. It is a fascinating walk through centuries of history and a sobering illustration of the wealth and power of the church at a time when people were toiling to survive.
The abbey is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm Sunday from 2pm to 6pm. Closed on Sunday mornings and religious holidays (Mass held at 10.30am)
The Scriptorial is a captivating museum that places the manuscripts of Mont Saint-Michel in their historical and local context according to a chronological and thematic route.
Texts and display collections guide you through your introduction to the site’s centuries-old history: detailing how the medieval city of Avranches became home to copyist monks, illuminating the secrets and intricacies of how the manuscripts were created and finally showcasing the fragile, original manuscripts in the climate-controlled Treasury.
The documents offer a fascinating window onto life in Normandy a millennium ago, before Christianity had even taken root in the British Isles and before William had come, seen and conquered.
It is a reminder that our time here is brief and that the richness of sites like Abbaye de la Lucerne and the Scriptorial d’Avranches have a depth of human experience far more than is visible or appreciable on the visible evidence of today; as A Whitney Brown said, “The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down.”
Keen not to neglect our stomachs after a morning of cultural enrichment, we positioned ourselves at Le Royal on Rue Dr Gilbert in the centre of Avranches for a welcome La Ducasse Triple and Breton-influenced galettes, which were excellent. Maybe it is snobbish to compare, but a decent lunch menu in the UK rarely matches up well to dining in France. Le Royal – which is little more than a cafe bar, showed that quality is deliverable without burning a hole in your pocket. No fuss, freshly cooked, affordable food. Very welcome, indeed.
Given its strategic position on rocky high ground, overlooking Baie du Mont-St-Michel, Avranches has experienced its fair share of tumult through the ages. The first documented strongpoint on this site was established by invading Danes under Ansfrid, before Vikings, Normans, English and a steady stream of feuding nobles took it for their own. Much of the hilltop fortress is gone but parts of the keep remain and can be walked around for free.
Avranches is also significant in the D-Day story as it was here that US General Patton’s breakout from Saint Lo succeeded in isolating German forces on the Cotentin peninsula and opened up the way for Allied forces to sweep into Brittany. A monument commemorating the city’s liberation by Patton stands on Rue du General Patton along with a Sherman tank.
For the family
Visit the zoo at Champrepus
Champrepus is a superb zoo that houses its animals in the park’s natural spaces. I remember visiting this place when we used to do big family holidays – three generations complete with a herd of children – and being struck by how different it was from the zoos I had grown up with. Champrepus is about a half hour’s drive from Carolles (approx 24km) and it is easy to spend a half day ambling around its intimate settings.
Don’t be deterred by the cost, while it might seem pricey at face value (€19 per adult, €13 for kids), this is an excellent experience for all ages. The animals are well cared for and housed in six zones: Asian, Tropical, Madagascan, African, Penguin and mini farm and each is supported by education materials and an explanation of the zoo’s role in supporting conservation through its Gaïa Conservation program.
For the laid back
A stone’s throw from our accommodation is a seasonal bar in the sand dunes with spectacular views over the sea and the beaches. It provided a beautiful setting to chill out and enjoy a few evening drinks as the sun went down.
La Paillote De Carolles has a simple menu but keeps itself honest with decent beers and cocktails. A mellow sound system adds to the ambience and doesn’t get in the way of good conversation.
Top tips for hiring a property in France
Take a car
Unless you’re planning on sitting in your rental for the week make sure you have a car to potter about in. Not only is France a very big country, but also there’s also the possibility of bad weather (who would have thought it?) and you’d be crazy not to take advantage of all the great places to visit.
Sort out cover
Make sure you are covered with the necessary passport, documents and travel insurances; your passport must be:
- Issued less than 10 years before the date you enter the country (check the ‘date of issue’)
- valid for at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave (check the ‘expiry date’)
Ensure your EHIC is valid.
Give yourself plenty of time
There may only be 20-odd miles separating us from our Gallic cousins, but we chose to tighten our borders and it now takes a long time to get through them. Allow at least an hour either side of the channel (it took us 1hour 30mins [low season] to clear customs in France and the same on our return to the UK). If you are travelling a distance to get to your departure point – factor this into your timings, otherwise you run the risk of a very stressful start or finale to your holiday!
Shop around for accommodation
There are many specialist agents through whom you can book such as Gite de France and Vrbo or if you book through Brittany Ferries you can get a discount on your ferry crossing. There are also many general holiday listings and short let sites such as Booking.com and AirBnB – with these you can be dealing directly with the property owner so be aware if your language skills are as limited as mine.
High season in France is July through August and you can make some really healthy savings by visiting once the school holidays are done. Bordering the gulf stream, the Cotentin peninsula enjoys a mild climate and is generally good through September and into October.
Holidaying in France is not as cheap as it once was. The pound is pretty much on par with the euro and like the UK, prices have gone up for French shoppers. However, this region is rich with local produce and markets and shopping this way can be more cost-effective than popping into the nearest E’Leclerc or Super U.
If you enjoyed Carolles – low season idyll on beautiful Baie Mont St Michel, you’ll find more ideas for cost-effective, low-season travel on our Travel channel.Tags: Carolles, France, Julloville Last modified: September 28, 2022