On the train home from Paris last night I had a lightbulb moment that in three days time it will be officially the middle of winter. Which means its just six weeks until spring. Which put me into a state of mild anxiety to get done all the jobs I promised I’d get done over our quieter months.
So this morning I was a hive of activity doing all those bits.
We finally went and ordered a new dishwasher and its being installed tomorrow – oh happy day! Our Miele that came with the house has started making some strange groaning noises during the rinsing cycle. We suspect it is around 25 years old bless it. So its in with a new one exactly the same only it has a steel facing instead of black. It baffles me as to why in a lovely light cream painted kitchen black appliances were installed… so happily this is step one of replacing them. Next target is the crazy oven… a story for another day!
Another “finally did it” was filling out my order for dahlias from an agricultural college in Normandy that specialises in dahlias. How lucky are we to have that! I am a new grower of dahlias but they’ve proven to be surprisingly easy for such gorgeous blooms … you feel they should be harder to grow to get such beauty. I bought my first two “Cafe au lait” at the Courson plant fair our first year here, and the plant fair’s last year at Courson before its move to Chantilly. Mike carried them back to the car through the crowd and when we got there we had a bunch of broken stems and no flowers, but they triumphed on despite us troopers that they are, and each year I lift and store them away in case of hard frosts or rot in the wet over winter.
Already in the garden the little green tips of bulbs and tubers are starting to peak through. I think the bluebells will be first to bloom and the iris are not far behind but have further to grow. Random unidentified bulbs are coming up everywhere as I am a shocker at labelling anything or noting where I’ve planted stuff. Probably why every time I put a spade in the garden I machete a bulb to death. Safer are the hyacinths I’ve got coming along by the kitchen window. I’ve had one store bought basketful of hyacinths already come and gone and planted out in the garden, and round two are coming along a treat. I love the smell of them.
Also having a great time in the garden are the turtle doves, blue tits and sparrows. I’m now onto our second 10kg bag of nuts and refill their feeder every day. Its like Heathrow Terminal 6 outside the kitchen. The doves are fed from seed thrown out for them every morning and the little birds all zoom in and out of the bird feeder all day.
But I digress – back to the to-do list.
Tomorrow I’m going to start painting the ceiling beams in the bathroom of Le Jardin – our largest guest room. When we renovated in there I was really mindful not to erase every bit of character from the house with my love of white paint. It takes a fair bit of bravado to paint 300 year old wooden beams. But the beams in there aren’t that old and I love a lovely clean pristine bathroom so they beams are in for it. Before and after photos will be coming next week.
And I’m about to do the final thing on my list for today – book Trevor (one of our two cavaliers) in for hydrotherapy for his arthritis. Winter isn’t kind to those with arthritic joints, particularly those getting on in years, so a chat with our vet this week got us a recommendation for some extra help for him. Allez!
We often get asked by our guests for last minute gift ideas to take home to friends and family so here’s a few suggestions (that don’t involve fridge magnets or snow domes).
Stripey stuff – here in Arromanches we have our own little “Saint James” boutique. Now strictly speaking, Saint James is a Brittany brand rather than a Normandy one, but its very French seaside all the same. They produce the classic ‘mariniere’ long sleeve stripy t-shirt for women, men, kids and babies or if you’re unsure of sizes go for the stripey socks and scarves. The baby-wear is gorgeous – they even have an accessories range with stripey beanies, scarves, socks and soft toys.
Smelly stuff – if you’re passing a Carrefour or E.Leclerc supermarket (both are located on the peripherique of Bayeux) head straight to the toiletries aisle to stock up on Marseilles body washes and lotions. There are two brands I really like – Le Petit Marseillais (the lavender hand wash is in all our rooms) and Marsaeille Savon Le Naturel (the orange hand wash truly smells like a bag of oranges). Le Petit Marseillais do a whole range of body lotions, hand lotions, lip balms and hair care products if you want the whole enchilada. If you’re a little wary of having bottles of liquid soap in your luggage, opt for the bars instead. For something a big fancier, the French brands Durance and l’Occitane produce lovely scented toiletries and the scented candles are the gift that keeps on giving (just make sure they’re in your checked luggage).
Gourmet stuff – while you’re in the supermarket, there’s plenty to keep your foodie friends happy. Both of the big supermarkets in Bayeux mentioned above have “Produit de Normandie” sections where you can stock up on tins of biscuits, jams, and honeys and of course, D’Isigny Caramels. I have often sent home to friends bags of French cooking salt from the condiments aisle – it costs a motza in Australia but for a few euro’s here your friends can feel like proper french chefs when they whip out the “Fleur de Sel de Guerande”. Also in the condiments aisle search out the Maille mustards. Founded in 1747, Maille is the mustard of mustards. There is a gorgeous Maille store across from the Madeleine in Paris where Parisians take in their own pottery pots to be refilled with their favourites – oh so French! And if you’re feeling really brave, the Maille olive oil and balsamic vinegars are fabulous.
There are endless French branded beauty products that are available in pharmacies here for a fraction of their overseas prices – many of which are relatively unknown outside of France. Much has already been written about them by others far more expert in the field than me (or Mike). Google “French pharmacy products” and Gwyneth Paltrow or Lisa Eldridge (UK beauty guru) and you’ll find great articles on what the experts stock up on while in France. For me, the absolute must is a great sunscreen by La Roche Posay called “Anthelios” which is factor 50, non-greasy and worked a treat even on my pale skin during Australian summers.
For the little ones – sure adults like to dress kids up in little French outfits – but clothes aren’t much fun as gifts for kids. Starting with the littlest of the littlies, Sophie the Giraffe is a french icon among babies (google “sophie giraffe celebrities” and you’ll see). There’s a whole range of Sophie the Giraffe stuff in the baby aisle at E.Leclerc supermarkets. For kids up to about 10, I look out for sticker books and activity books while I’m in the gift stores at different historical sites. Sure they are in French, but there’s not a lot of words and kids work them out pretty quickly. The Bayeux Tapestry has a good gift store where I’ve picked up medieval and princess themed sticker books and in Paris there’s a great section in most museum gift stores (and particularly the Jacquemart-Andre Museum).
Okay – I’m starting to give away my shopping obsession secret now so I’ll sign off. If you have any questions or suggestions, please send me a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bientôt and happy shopping!
Now that the rose from Saturday night has worn off, I can let you in on a few little Paris gems I discovered last weekend.
Its just a quick two-hour train trip into Paris from Bayeux with just one stop at Caen and then express to Gare Saint Lazare. We often do it as a day trip (Saint Lazare is just one block from the ‘grand magasins Printemps and Galeries Lafayette), but this trip was special. My lovely lovely good friend Janine was heading back to Canberra after her three year stint at the Australian Embassy in Paris. So Mike agreed to hold the fort at La Pommetier while I tripped into Paris for the night.
First stop was lunch with another Aussie gal at the tucked away cafe in a florist that is, Cafe Fleuriste. Mismatched bistro furniture, iron tables, trays of seedlings, and blackboard menus all happily coexist here. A local and his French bulldog wandered in for an espresso. Outside a video-shoot was going on for what looked like a music video. On the opposite corner is a tiny fenced park and playground. It was all very Parisian. The dish du jour was “tarte” of which I think they reeled off at least five varieties – carrot and cumin for me and salmon and broccoli for L. Followed by orange cake for me and rhubarb tarte for L and great coffees to fuel us for a few hours of shopping and wandering in the Marais before the evenings festivities.
Fast forward to 4.30pm and our all Aussie soiree has upped to five of us and we’re installed at Le Meurice in the oh so handsome Bar 228. Leather chairs, low lights, wall murals and ceilings so tall its almost hard to see them. Add to that a backlit bar that goes right up to the ceiling behind which immaculately turned out waiters shine glasses and pour cocktails. The drink prices are eye-watering at 30 euro for a glass of house champagne (albeit Lanson’s Alaine Ducasse selection) and similar for cocktails. But this was a very special night that deserved the best of Paris and soon we were so comfy our thoughts of moving on to the Hemingway Bar at the newly reopened Ritz Hotel were tossed aside and another round of drinks was on its way.
Our dinner reservation was just a short walk down the rue de Rivoli and into the Musee Arts Decoratif. The museum itself is closed now, but Restaurant Loulou is open and on a perfect summers night you head straight through the chic dining room and out to the terrace. The terrace – wow. It is its own little piece of the Jardin de Tuilleries – the beautiful gardens across from the Louvre that run along side the Seine and right up to the Champs Elysees. Likewise the view also stretches from the Louvre to La Tour Eiffel and all the greenery of the Tuilleries and the rooftops of Paris between them. The only thing we needed now was a bottle of rose. A big one. And our magnum of rose from Provence at 88 euro was an absolute bargain after Le Meurice.
We sipped. We told stories. We watched the Parisian couples out on date night come and go. We shared a platter of charcuterie and zucchini flowers. We watched the sun set and the lights come onto La Tour. We ate big plates of pasta and fish and steak. We drained the bottle of rose and at some time after midnight sauntered off to take photos of the Louvre all lit up. We put a lock on the railings and threw the keys into the river to claim a little piece of Paris for our departing friends. On it we wrote, you’ll always have Paris.
Old houses are like any relationship. They need care and attention. There’s a lot of ongoing maintenance. They are a work in progress. In that spirit, here are a few of our recent changes here at La Pommetier.
In our La Mirabelle room we finally have an antique daybed installed. Sounds easy enough, but this has been over a year of drama believe it or not. It has involved tappissiers (upholsterers), ebenists (furniture makers) and a charpentier (carpenter) to get it fitted in the space in the room. Fabric has been sourced from all over and the lovely people at VV Rouleaux in London sent emergency supplies of braid when we ran out. I haven’t got the cushion set up right yet – my tendency is to be a bit matchy-matchy rather than mix and matchy – so I’ll keep working on that. But here it is for now…
Next door to La Mirabelle in our La Campagne room our little art collection has grown. I absolutely love those rooms where the walls are absolutely covered in paintings and interesting things (nearby Chateau de Balleroy does this well). It doesn’t have to be of Louvre quality – just fitting with the room and the house. And in this room, which doesn’t have a view of the garden like the others, we wanted our guests to know that they are in the Normandy countryside. So slowly, were collecting up paintings from our local auction houses and antique dealers that reflect our setting. Its going to take a while before we get to Balleroy levels… but work is in progress.
Now I just need to finish the banquette I’ve been working on in upholstery classes for the past nine months.
Work in progress.
Paques is French for Easter. And we had a tres joyeux and tres internationale paques here at La Pommetier. We had Canadians living in England. A Canadian living in France. And Italians living in London. Hosted by Australians living in France. United by Lindt bunnies.
The English/Canadians staged an easter egg hunt in the garden after breakfast and the rest of us tried to look sophisticated while really wanting to join in rummaging around the tulips. I hoped that there was one or two eggs missed that I would find while “gardening” later. Not to be.
Easter really kicked off the tourist season in Arromanches. The village has really come to life after her (well earned) winter slumber. Even the ice cream shops are open. We love it. The church bells ring at 7am and we’re up an at ’em. It’s daylight until 8.30pm now so I’m out annoying the turtle doves in the garden until late.
My winter gardening was severely restricted and my impatience to get to spring meant I started off my seedlings way too early in January and now have trays of pathetic looking bits of green string growing (think alfalfa sprouts rather than delphiniums and hollyhocks). I am determined that they will survive to get to the garden this summer even if they have no will to live of their own. Plants under the care of Mother Nature outside are faring much better. I can take no credit for the lovely bulbs she’s sprouted up in the garden which are now filling our bedside tables. Merci.
We are the only Australians in our little village here in Arromanches. Both our guests and our neighbours have been genuinely surprised to find us here. We’ve not yet run into any other Australians living in Normandy – although I know via some quality Instagram stalking there’s a few more of us here. Across France there’s a quiet little influx of us that absolutely love the French way of life and have made France our home. I call us Fraussies. Short for Fraustralians.
You’ll find Tom the barista brains trust at Cafe Coutume in Paris (best coffee in Paris – its where the Australian Foreign Minister goes when visiting). King of the scissors David Mallet cuts the hair of celebrities and models at his fabulous Parisian atelier (never mind the stuffed peacocks a la Deyrolle). Vicky Archer bases her style empire in Provence for her blog “French Essence”. And fabulous photographer Carla Coulson has adopted the city of light for her beautiful portraits.
I first came across Carla when researching a trip to Italy and stumbling across her book Italian Joy. It was just as it said not the cover, full of the joys of Italy. For an Aussie with a clear love of the sea, beaches and sand under your feet, Carla has such a European sensibility to her photos. It must be the Sydney girl in her – a cosmpolitan city by the beach – that lets her be so at ease shooting one day in a cobbled lane in Paris and the next on a pebbly beach on the Amalfi coast.
If you want to win a personal photo shoot with Carla to be done in Paris this year, head on over to her website and enter away. Just bear in mind that you’ll have to beat me to it!
So we’ve been really diligent doing all our winter jobs – bits of painting, cleaning, fluffing, generally making sure everything is in tip-top shape for 2016 – and we thought we’d have a little mini-break before Easter and the summer season really sets in. We had a friend from Australia (hi Craig!) to meet up with in Paris and join us for our road trip so we figured we’d be half way to the Champagne region and we could come home via Villers Brettoneux – so important for Australians like us.
Every time I drive to Paris (which is a total of three times now) I am a bundle of crazy nerves before hand. In the Normandy countryside, and even in the busier places like Caen, I now know my way around well enough and manage to keep on the correct side of the road. But in Paris they have crazy rules. Like ‘oncoming traffic has the right of way on roundabouts’. And crazy drivers. Like all of them. But then every time I get to Paris I find driving is actually pretty easy. The traffic keeps things nice and slow. If you’re in the wrong spot just put your indicator on and other drivers are generally really forgiving. I think having our department number (14 for Calvados) on our numberplate lets them all know we’re from out of town and they cut us some slack. So don’t be put off too much if you’re thinking about renting a car in Paris.
From Paris we headed to Reims first (unpronounceable in French – you really have to have the rolling r thing happening big time). I’d booked a table at the petite treat Epicerie au Bon Manger – there’s just four tables – and we loved it. Beef stew for the boys, a plate of mixed cheeses and charcuterie and salad for me and coffee and chocolate mousse all round for dessert. Everything made on the premises by the dynamo duo running the place and they specialise in organic and biodynamic wines and champagnes to match. We were well fuelled up for our first tasting tour – Taittinger.
I love Taittinger – enough to forgive them their crazy “you won’t need a booking” and turn up and “the tour is full so come back in 1.5 hours”. Compared to the orderly booking processes of Moet (reserve via email) and even better Pommery (reserve, pay and print ticket before you leave home), I suspect this would be a deal breaker for those travelling in summer. All three of these tours (and four if you count a trip to Veuve Cliquot a few years back) are informative, less than an hour, take you through the caves where they store the bottles (so there’s a LOT of steps down and up again) and my favourite part… exit through the gift shop. While the story behind Veuve and Madame Cliquot is fascinating and the most personable, without doubt our lovely guide Mary at Moet really made that tour shine for us. If you’re hoping for some bubbly bargains at the end, sadly there’s no great discounts to be had at the cellar doors. Instead opt for a glass of the grand cru with your tour ticket – you’d be hard pressed to be able to try these champagnes by the glass anywhere else. I’m now a cuvee Louise fan after a 13 euro cellar tour upgrade rather than the 100 euro a bottle in a wine shop – thank you Pommery.
There’s other ways to try great champagnes here. Reims has some great restaurants with some great champagne menus (and sommeliers to help guide you). The highlight for us was the beautiful Brasserie Flo where it was steak frites followed by the most fabulous gooey warm chocolatey pudding I’ve ever had. I may never put a cake in the oven for more than 10 minutes ever again. A spin past the amazing cathedral lit up at night will walk about two spoonfuls off, but you’ll sleep like a baby afterwards. A slightly drunk baby.
I’m not going to kid anyone, winter here in Normandy is long. OK, probably not nearly as long as in say, Norway or Alaska, but longer than our homeland Australia.
A few hardy souls have come to stay to experience the D-Day beaches in their serene and rugged beauty without the crowds here. If you’re prepared to rug up you’ll be rewarded with pristine photos without another soul blocking your shot, an open fire here to come home to, and the ability to get a same-day dinner booking at the fabulous La Rapier in Bayeux (impossible in summer).
We’ve only had one light cover of snow one morning and a week of hard frosts (bye-bye daisy bush and agapanthus), but its the lack of day light that I find the hardest. Its the price we have to pay for those 10pm twilight walks on the beach after dinner we have all summer.
But we’re nearly there. Its less than two weeks until spring and Arromanches is coming alive again. The sound of lawnmowers is leading the buzz, and the restaurants that have been closed for a well-earned winter break are opening again. We’re off to La Marine for a much missed sole-meunier tomorrow night. We’ve already had our first crepes of the season from lovely Thomas at Recto Verso. It’s just going to be a little while yet before we get tempted by the ice cream treats at Companie du Glaces down by the waterside.
On the home front we’ve had a list of jobs that we’ve been working through over winter to keep the house in tip-top condition. Paint touch ups, changing over bits that we weren’t really happy with (exciting stuff like too dim lamp bulbs) and those ‘drive you crazy in the cuckoos’ jobs like cleaning chandeliers. Next job is to paint the shutters now its warming up a bit.
Every day I’ve been looking out over the garden planning and scheming. The kitchen is now the nursery for two mini glass houses full of seedlings and as they germinate they head up to the attic to grow on in cooler temperatures and new seeds are planted in the warm kitchen. My first lot of 40 seeds only has 5 survivors now – so I’m really hoping my success rate grows. The billion or so tulips, alliums and grape hyacinths I planted last year are all peaking through the soil and I’m being patient to wait to put the dahlia and lily tubers in next month. There’s been some moving and shaking around the garden with things making way for new additions – including a four ball conifer topiary I’m pretty stoked about. Arne Maynard has a lot to answer for.
The garden has also been Terminal 6 at Heathrow over winter as my compassion for our two resident turtle doves who guard the mirabelle tree year round to keep their nest there led to about 40 other hanger-on birds taking up residence. Blue tits, gold finches, robins, and other randoms show up at daybreak each day and check the feeder every 3 seconds until its filled with nuts and seeds for them. Its kept a bit of life in the garden each day and I’ve now entered bird-nerd territory with my own bird watching book kept in the draw of the breakfast table in our kitchen. Gone is Vogue as my bible.
Its bizarre to think back that this time last year we were still renovating and not yet even taking bookings. We’ve come a long way and its been a cracker of a trip…. and there’s more to come with summer ahead!
Yesterday the lovely Sharon Santoni of My French Country Home fame featured La Pommetier on her blog. Sharon has followers the world over and last year released her beautiful book, My Stylish French Girlfriends which has already had multiple print runs. We featured on the day Sharon’s blog turned 6 years old – and for me it’s one of the original and the best in the blogging world.
Sharon had put a call out asking her readers about a life transformation of their own as she has transformed her life from mother of four to international blogging superstar and author as her children all grew up and flew the nest. I wrote what I though was just a little note from me to Sharon really just to tell her how much her lovely insights and photos of life in Normandy meant to me among the demands, deadlines and drama of working life in Melbourne and how they planted the seeds for our own move her in 2014. When she selected my note to publish on her blog, I underestimated the response levels from her very engaged, supportive and lovely community.
Among the notes of support and booking inquiries for La Pommetier today there was a few questions about things people saw in the photos, so here is a few of the sources and suppliers. Please feel free to email me at email@example.com if there is anything else you’d like to know.
The little cushions of painted scenes of Normandy are by the super talented Genevieve Levy and can be purchased online here: www.maisonlevy.fr. For those thinking of coming to stay, the cushions with the umbrellas on the beach in Deauville are in our room “Le Jardin”. In our “La Mirabelle” room we have Genevieve’s cushions with the little red tractor on the beach – you’ll see these tractors here at Arromanches where they are used to take the fishing boats down to the water at low tide. The cushions in the photo are not currently available in her e-shop, but if you send Genevieve a little note via her website and ask nicely she may be able to get some for you. I had these cushions pinned on Pinterest for years before we arrived in France and emailed to ask if her if she could still supply them – it was a little wait for them to arrive but I love them. Genevieve has a store at 20 rue Taylor in Paris if you are in the City of Lights.
The bedhead is from a lovely store in Paris called Le Bout du Monde – its right between the Opera, Madeleine and the ‘grand magasins’ and worth a visit as they style everything so beautifully. They have also recently opened within Harrods in London.
The paint colour for the walls is Farrow and Ball’s ‘Light Blue’. Its such a soft colour and the paint gives a lovely chalky finish suited to old homes.
These Louis XVI chairs (we have a matching pair) we fought off antique dealers to buy while at the huge deballage at Le Mans (a giant antiques/brocante fair held each month). For me they are just on the border of chic and shabby with their wear and tear, but they are utterly charming and so many guests have told me they’ve peeked in the seams to see all the old stuffings and to leave them as they are. So they stay as they are.
The curtain fabric is English linen designer Kate Forman and is called Cameo Rose. They are triple gathered and double lined with both thick thermal lining and cotton lining to give them their really full fluffy look. Of course its the tie-backs my mother made that really makes the room look good (according to her).
The lamp bases are from Laura Ashley and the shades from a market in Aix-en-Provence. If you have time in your French itinerary, Aix is absolutely stunning. It’s Provence straight from central casting – cafes, markets, galleries, cobbled streets and chic boutiques.
The curtain and cushion fabric in this room in our two bedroom suite ‘L’Arro’ is called ‘Mozart’ and is made by an old French brand called Braquenie which is now owned by the veritable Pierre Frey. Braquenie has a lovely store in St Germain de Pres in Paris in an area filled with decorating and fabric and furniture stores around rue de l’Abbaye. Make sure you pop into the very bijoux Galerie Salon for the so chic Astier de Villatte ceramics and water colour maps of Paris, London and New York by Parisian/Norman dweller Marin Montagut.
The bed heads are antique Louis XVI that we were lucky to purchase from the artisan upholsterer that hung the fabric lining in our living room. I had been telling him what I was looking for and voila! he appears with these gems.
The side tables were a long ago purchase in Australia that came to Normandy with us but we have picked up something similar in zinc (minus the cute scallop edge) from a great decor store in Deauville called Kaprika.
Recently I was in Paris for a night with the girls. When I say ‘the girls’ I’m referring to a fabulous bunch of Aussie gals, all in our 40s, who have found ourselves within proximity of Paris and each other. Our ties are loose but bind us together pretty tightly. I have worked with all but one of them in my past corporate career, and that one is the best friend of my last boss (also a fabulous gal!) What amazes me most about them is that they’ve come from small country towns in rural Australia: Mudgee, Victor Harbour, and the Queensland Hinterland and now have these fabulous careers taking them across Europe (and the world) regularly. They are smart, funny, hard working, kind and professional. They are the best for a champagne night in Paris!
During the course of our conversation on our champagne bar tour of Paris, our visiting gal from Melbourne asked what in Paris is a must see for her next three days. The Musee D’Orsay was first on the list and each of chimed in with our favourite pieces there – the large bronze statue of women holding up the world, the giant polar bear sculpture that manages to look so soft while being carved of stone, the paper model of Paris set into the floor under glass so you can walk over it, and the tiny model theatre sets next to the Paris model with their intricate details. And of course the clocks. And the cafe next to the clocks. And the amazing collection of Impressionists works. The Degas ballet dancer sculpture. The Art Deco furniture collection.
So you get the picture there is a lot to see. Its varied and you can cover a lot of arty ground under one roof. Get there in the morning (it opens at 9.30am – closed on Mondays!), accept that there may be a queue to get in, give yourself plenty of time to wander and wonder, and stop by the cafe for a rest and refuel.
1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Paris (is that not the best address ever!!!)
Metro: Solferino on Line 12 (Green line)
Hours: 9.30am to 6:00pm (closed Mondays)
Tickets: 11 euro (14 euro combined ticket with the Orangerie or 15 euro with the Rodin)