Driving almost aimlessly around the Bretagne and Normandie countryside one is bound to come across charming homes, scenic farms and pastoral vistas enchanting to the eye. When you set out, be sure to look for the Departmental roads indicated by roadside panels (D + number on yellow background); just follow your nose and let your sense of direction take you more or less where you’d like to end up. I love to let ‘chance’ take me along for a ride that almost always leaves me breathless and delighted at my good fortune. Rigidly planning an excursion to a specific location is too limiting, it robs you of a sense of adventure; to my mind it lacks the charm of impromptu discoveries and the opportunity to interact close and personal with locals. Country folks are invariably courteous and very interested in your interest in them and their locality. Some of the most memorable memories I hold dear happened by such happenstance meetings. Mont St. Michel is often seen in the distance as a constant reminder of its protection over the land; the countryside is almost garden like in it’s greenness and meticulous care.
(NOTE: To improve your viewing experience click on the photos below to enlarge – once for medium, twice to zoom in.)
Normandie is justly reputed throughout the country as a haven for fat cows that provide rich milk that in turn produces marvellous cheeses of all styles for all taste buds, including the international favourite Camembert, soft and flavour-loaded Boursin, delicious Pont-l’Eveque and too many others to mention. Do as I do, always have a fresh baguette and a bottle of good red in the trunk; drop a blanket on the grass, there’s always a time and a place for an impromptu picnic.
“Hey, comment-ça va? How’s it going down?” “Mooo-meuh (French dialect) … don’t ask, I’ve been chewing the cud all day and I’m blowing methane like you’d not believe, no bullshit!”
Just wandering and around a corner I came on to this rather peculiarly designed private residence, but home is where the heart is, right?
Since I was a youngster, I was totally taken in by Alphonse Daudet and his wonderful collection of short stories titled ‘Lettres de mon moulin’. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair as ever since I’ve been totally infatuated with windmills. There are some to be seen across the French ‘paysage’ but it seems more so in the Normandie and Bretagne regions. Incidentally, somewhere during one of my peregrinations I spotted a well-maintained windmill a few hundred metres off the road. It was just sitting there, no one about or any signs indicating it was special, but curious as always I drove in the dirt lane and much to my delight discovered one humble plaque that claimed here was the windmill that had been the inspiration for Daudet’s classic. I could have kissed the old stones; well, I did caress them. Incidentally this one behind me could have been its twin. Notice the wings have unfurled their canvas and is just awaiting a fresh wind from the sea to start rotating and putting the grinding machinery in action.
This well-kept windmill was still in working condition and several types of flour could be purchased right on the spot. The distinctive aroma of fresh ground wheat wafting in the atmosphere, the mechanical sounds of the grinding apparatus imbued me with a warm feeling, the same coming home and cradling a freshly baked loaf of bread. As well there was a friendly little restaurant that provided food for the patio or to be taken out to one of the picnic tables under a shady tree. Just a lovely, joyful atmosphere.
Obviously I’m not the only one who has an affinity for old wind mills.
Was the expression ‘jumping for joy’ ever better expressed than jumping for joy as demonstrated by an unrehearsed show of grace and athletic prowess? I was able to catch the split second by sheer good fortune.
Now this stone dwelling was much more in tune with my own vision of what I’d like to own as a home, but it wasn’t for sale – quel dommage!
Imagine the average price of a family home constructed of 1/2 inch particle plywood, stucco-plastered and likely to leak within a few years (solid brick is almost unknown) in Vancouver would buy me two of those and still have lots left over for landscaping. Who are they kidding in Vancouver? How can things get so far our of whack and into the land of crazy! Indeed what are the natives smoking? I know B.C. weed is reputed but can it be so potent to totally distort reality?
A lovely combination of green ivy, warm old stones announced a friendly welcome to the passerby. The sensitive dwellers who provided such loveliness have to be the finest of human beings, n’est ce pas?
Check out the self-assured strut, the panache of the unchallenged king of the farmyard, and here’s a cockadoodledoo to you. Now you’ll perfectly understand why the French have chosen the ‘cock’ as it’s national symbol, especially appropriate for ‘sporting’ purposes. The silly goose knows enough to look on from afar and keep it’s envy private.
Plump French geese will make for a perfect New Year’s roast dinner. Little do they know how appreciated they will be; finger licking good.
Any farmer will tell you geese are more efficient as ‘guard dogs’ than Fido who in theory is the holder of the title but in reality far more interested in chewing on a juicy bone and at night happy to stay in the ‘dog house’. By the way if a goose takes a dislike to you it will nip with that sharp and sturdy beak and whack you with its wings for good measure; they are fearless or too dumb to fear but the result is the same. My advice, stay clear unless attacking a juicy breast on your plate.
Without doubt the water lily is my favorite flower; I admire its ‘aloofness’, the royal bearing, the cool green and perfect shape of its leaves, the subtle but superlative aroma and yet it thrives anchored to the mud below. A poet-philosopher might conjure up a spiritual analogy, a morality lesson not to judge whence a person springs forth but to wait and observe what time brings forth to the world. But, I’m not a poet-philosopher so I’ll leave the definitive morality tale for a more creative person than I am to engender and set out for all of us to learn its valuable lesson.
From a hill top one can observe the surrounding beautifully laid out and neat farm houses and cultivated fields. Later I drove around it and close up it was even more bucolic, a heart-tug to a country boy at heart. The truth is I have no idea if I could find that area again as I simply spent a full day driving aimlessly in this beautiful corner of La Belle France.
Dol de Bretagne is a fine example of a town that has conserved its medieval heritage. I wandering around without a plan; passers-by invariably nodded a greeting and discovered it was visually interesting peering around every new corner.
The cathedral seen from across a lush corn field – the countryside is blessed with abundant, fresh farm produce that finds its way to the big cities in the interior, Paris being one.
Within the old pedestrian only part of town featuring cobble stones streets paved several centuries ago. Lots of good restaurants, casual bistros altogether a congenial place to simply hang out with friends.
Fortified Saint-Samson Cathedral was built during the 13th Century and as well as being a ‘house of God’ it also was built with a defensive vocation keep in mind that in medieval times one never knew who’d be raiding or attempting to conquer. Over the centuries it was captured by Norman raiders, Vikings, from across England, and the Francs too, finally the French and troops during the bloody end of 18th C. Révolution.
The interior turned out awe-inspiring with much more splendour, size and hushed atmosphere than what I was expecting to see from the outside. That’s a quite a statement of praise since I’ve no doubt been inside hundreds of great cathedrals, basilicas, churches, monasteries and temples around the globe.
Stepping inside the first view is grandiose with a surprising three-tier nave and lofty columns supporting the vaulted main apse.
One of the finest ornately carved pulpit I’ve seen; for centuries from this lofty perch the padre has given sermons that hopefully has uplifted the gathered faithful.
A remarkable stained-glass window over the main apse adds a glorifying sense of religious grandeur .
A closer look at the magnificent design, the detailed pictorial to the glory of God. A splendid tableau by an inspired artist admixed with the skills of a skilled artisan.
A ‘menhir‘ famed for being about around 4500 years old; it’s called a ‘dol’ in the Celtic language, only a couple of kilometres on a hilltop (Champ Dolent) overlooking the town, hence ‘Dol de Bretagne‘ was almost an unavoidable name to be adopted by the ancient town’s people.
This monolith stands almost 10 metres above ground and it’s said another 20 metres below. This legendary rock approximately 125 metric tons, its surface carefully shaped and hauled an amazing 4 kilometres, up the hill was a monumental achievement by people who obviously relished a challenge. The fact is that it wouldn’t be an impossible transportation feat today, in no way, shape or form. There are several legendary tales that give it even more appeal; for example it would be the Devil enraged by the beauty of the cathedral hurled this as he might have a javelin but missed by two kilometres, thank God. Embedded as it is, it is also calculated to sink down of its own weight a few centimetres each year; when the last of the menhir has sunk out of sight, it will mark the end of the world. Oy, but wait, so far it’s calculated to have gone down a big 5 centimetres (2 inches) so that there’s yet time for all of us to repent!
Normandie’s mild climate and lush grasses are ideal wintering grounds for racing thoroughbreds. It is very much to French horse breeders what Kentucky and South Carolina is in the US.
Okay, I confess to having an unreasonable affection for donkeys – they are so darn adorable and undoubtedly they’d be the first and welcome guests in my hobby farm.
Indeed, they are friendly, easy to get along with (even if they happen to be not too bright), hard working if you care to abuse them that way; in India I actually witnessed ONE donkey hauling a carriage with no fewer than fourteen people crammed aboard. Poor thing – and yet head down it kept on moving. In the future, I’ll do a photo essay on India and prove it.
A serene pastoral scene, and who can resist two little mischievous new-born lambs staring at you? Soon after they went on a wild gambol, bucking like rodeo broncos; baa-baa! it was simply delightful.
No explanation required to praise the beauty of this field of wild poppies – Monet would have had a ‘field day’ daubing oils on a canvas. What masterpiece might he have created?
One of numerous sandy beaches, uncrowded and perfectly clean. The coast line of Bretagne and Normandie offer secluded and amenable swimming outlets. One word of advice; often these are out of view although perhaps not more than a few dozen metres over a sandy dune. When you spot a sign indicating a beach, get out of the car and take a gander over the crest and you’ll be splendidly rewarded with just such a jewel as depicted here.
See you on the next trip, who knows where but it’s sure to be fun. Bon voyage and may your Guardian Angel look after you as well as Saint Michel looks after his abbey.