Normandy – May 2013
An almost imperceptibly fused expanse of sand and shimmering sea stretches towards the sky as far as the eye can see. Dark stick figures shimmy like mirages across this phosphorescent desert: one slowly sauntering with a dog gambolling back and forth, another duo jogging.
Seated in the dining room, bar or even on his or her balcony at the Hotel des Isles in Barneville-Carteret, the casual breakfaster can feel absorbed into this seamless vista without so much as rising from his cosy chair or deserting his croissants and café-au-lait.
Set on the marine promenade of this sleepy Cherbourg peninsula resort, the subtle grey clapboard exterior of the Hotel des Isles contains a series of compact but sloth-inducingly cosy bedrooms complete with crisp white-and-navy marine-motif décor and - a clever architectural feat - a panoramic sea-view from every single room.
Downstairs, the Hamptons-feel sitting and dining areas include a small bar at which one can sip a Pernod on ice or a Kir Royale; a dining room replete with a comprehensive surf-and-turf buffet, a cheese plate of local specialities like the soft and creamy Le Countances, as well as Camembert and Pont-l'Évêque, and a belt-busting two-tiered dessert trolley; while the snug sitting room beyond beckons for post-prandial flumping
If you can prise yourself away from the comforts of the Hotel des Isles, within easy reach by car lie the historic beaches where the D-day Landings took place in June 1944. Taking a scenic route through peaceful little hamlets along narrow hedge-fringed lanes, head to Utah Beach where you can attempt to grasp the enormity of and bravery involved in this game-changing mission as you visit the humble Memorial de la Liberté Retrouvée at Quinéville, with its collections of everyday wartime items and recreation of a Normandy village street during the Nazi occupation, or the flashier Musee du Debarquement which boasts a B-26 Marauder in a custom-designed hangar.
For an alternative view of the beach, join a sand-yachting (char à voile) group scudding across the immense beach. Drive out through Sainte-Marie-du-Mont or Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first two villages in France to be liberated, proudly displaying Old Glory in each little chacuterie and patisserie. In the latter village, an effigy of the US paratrooper John Steele still hangs from the church bell-tower, in memory of his adept fighting while dangling from the spire.
Heading down the west coast from Barneville-Carteret, the acclaimed cathedral of Coutances with its twin towers and intricate 13th Century stained glass is well worth a visit, as is the lush botanical garden – plus it’s a chance to stock up on the region’s delectable cheese! And, while in a culinary mood, don’t miss the chance to visit the charming little town of Villedieu-les-Poêles, named after the copper casseroles and saucepans which have been its global claim to fame since the venerable Mauviel factory opened its doors there in 1830. Polished rose-pink pots and pans, as seen in the kitchens and sculleries of the world’s finest restaurants and mansions, gleam irresistibly in the windows of shops lining the village’s main street.
Back in Barneville-Carteret, take a stroll along the sands towards the rolling dunes facing the quaint little harbour of Carteret, where ships lie suspended in the waterless gully at low tide and rabbits cavort at dusk and dawn. Having worked up an appetite, join the throngs of savvy, mainly older gourmands at Le Cap restaurant in Carteret for Champagne and langoustines.
Many thanks to Cordelia from for sharing her experience of the Hotel des Isles as well as some of her secret places in Normandy with us.