For the ultimate French road trip for foodies, try the circular ‘Cider Trail’ through Normandy’s pastoral heartland. You can even do it by bike!
Ouézy to Cambremer (17km)
As a big fan of calvados and cider, I was looking forward to following Normandy’s 40 kilometre-long Route du Cidre. This drive (or cycle) meanders through the Pays d’Auge region – recently classed Pays d’Art et d’Histoire – where most of France’s cider apples are grown.
According to legend, Basque sailors brought cider to Normandy in the sixth century, but it was Gilles de Gouberville, the son of a local lord, who distilled cider to create the region’s celebrated apple brandy some ten centuries later. I began my pomaceous trip at Le Domaine de Canon (from €60 per night), a delightful organic farm that has been producing cider since the 18th century. Staying in one of the domaine’s high-perched tree houses, I munched on confit de canard and other delights that were delivered in a picnic hamper to my lofty nest. After a stroll around the domaine’s magnificent park the next day, I followed the winding D16 to Cambremer. Here I stopped off to visit Crèvecœur-en-Auge’s stocky medieval castle, with its fascinating museum dedicated to the engineering feats of the Schlumberger brothers, the mineral prospecting pioneers.
Cambremer, which pops up constantly in Marcel Proust’s masterpiece À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, is a pretty hamlet centred on its 12th-century church and the Calvados Pierre Huet distillery. This striking half-timbered manor house, which has been owned by the Huet family since 1865, has cool cellars packed with cider barrels where I sampled a range of crisp, refreshing ciders, followed by several types of Calvados, before soaking up the alcohol with apple-purée-stuffed crêpes normande next door in the crêperie of the magnificent Jardins du Pays d’Auge.
After wandering for several hours in the three-hectare gardens, admiring traditional half-timbered houses, plants and ponds, I spent a restful night at La Villa des Tilleuls (from €100 per night) an elegant chambres d’hôtes within easy strolling distance of Cambremer.
Cambremer to Beuvron-en Auge, via Livarot (52km)
I couldn’t resist, being a cheese lover, making a slight detour from my trail to visit Livarot. At family-run La Fromagerie Graindorge I learnt all about the town’s eponymous cheese, before returning to Cambremer with a boot full of the gloriously stinky stuff.
Picking up the Cru de Cambremer signs once more, I ambled along roads hedged with the timber-framed cottages and apple orchards that have inspired artists ranging from Magritte to Cézanne, to the Calvados Dupont distillery near the village of Victot-Pontfol. One of Normandy’s most celebrated producers, the Dupont family have been making cider, calvados and pommeau (a blend of cider and calvados) for generations. After the hour-long guided tour I sampled some of the family’s unique products, which include a slightly bitter, triple-fermented cider and their deliciously smooth, caramel-flavoured Calvados cream liqueur.
Beuvron-en-Auge, my next stop, is one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages. Wandering through flower-decked streets lined with half-timbered houses, including the richly-carved, 16th-century Vieux Manoir house, it’s easy to see why. After some much-needed shopping therapy in stores selling everything from antiques and craft items to plants and handmade jewellery, I made a beeline for Le Pavé d’Auge, a cosy, wood-panelled restaurant overlooking Beuvron’s picturesque old market square. Here I lapped up foie gras drizzled with a cider marinade and tarte Tatin slathered with rich Calvados cream, before stumbling back to Le Manoir de Sens (from €120 per night), a beautiful, old-fashioned guest house with its own stud farm attached, where I fell asleep to the sound of croaking frogs.
Beuvron-en-Auge to Cambremer (13km)
Leaving Beuvron-en-Auge along the tranquil D117 the following morning, I headed for Beaufour-Druval. This pretty hamlet, whose heraldic emblem includes an apple tree, is home to the Le Page cider farm where I had my first taste of poiré, the region’s bittersweet pear cider. From here the D117 led me on through lush pastures – and past zebra-striped timber-framed houses – to La Roque-Baignard, where Nobel-prize-winning author André Gide lived in the 1890s.
Gide, who inherited the sturdy 16th century Château de La Roque-Baignard from his mother, used the estate as his model for La Morinière in his novel L’Immoraliste, which is loosely based on his own life. Back in Cambremer once more I checked into charming chambre d’hôtes, the Domaine Les Marronniers (from €90 per night), and then celebrated the end of my fruit-themed trip at family-owned restaurant Au P’tit Normand. Sipping a glass of silky-sweet Calvados and apple juice blend Pommeau de Normandie Coquerel, I offered up a silent prayer of thanks to Normandy’s humble fruit which has given us such mighty flavours.
Travel with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to St-Malo. Cambremer is a 2hr 30min drive from Saint-Malo.