We adore the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy – la Manche – for its friendly people, lovely country roads and inspiring coastal villages. There’s a deep sense of calm here – a feeling that you have discovered a place other tourists have not – well, at least not many American tourists. The British can – and do – hop across the Channel through the Port de Cherbourg quite easily and often. History oozes from the pores of every hamlet and in stories from the local folk you meet. It is a marvelous destination, not just special in Normandy but in France.
We were not prepared for what we were about to find as we drove through the open iron gates flanked by sentinel-like granite columns at the sign ‘Manoir de Bellauney’. Inside those imposing gates was a pretty home with lovely front gardens, meandering paths, and a vine-covered façade that accurately predicts the warmth and charm you will find inside. Dramatic and historic, the manoir beckons you to come and stay awhile. A warm welcome from Madame Allix-Desfauteaux is the icing on the cake. She is a most pleasant and elegant lady who truly enjoys her guests. Take time after you’ve settled in to walk around to the back of the building to really appreciate the magnitude of this outstanding Norman structure – the strong architectural elements and character will leave a lasting impression.
Manoir de Bellauney has been in the same family for over one hundred years. The current members of that family have ensured that all the modern comforts are available to their guests, while being faithful to the history of their home. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the site of a monastery destroyed by Edward III - son of Edward II and Isabella of France and father of Edward the Black Prince - the manoir’s authenticity is a big part of its charm. The history of this King and his family intrigues are fascinating. Today, Monsieur and Madame Allix-Desfauteaux call it home, and enjoy welcoming guests between April 1st and November 1st.
The entire château has been sensitively restored by the family, and the guest rooms in their own wing of the manoir are decorated in period styles – Medieval, Louis XV and Norman. Whichever of the three rooms you occupy, you will truly be aware of the history of this five hundred year-old residence. Each room is inviting and comfortable with great beds, long windows to let in the sunlight, and en suite bathrooms that are simple but modern. Guests will experience an authentic historic charm peppered with fine 21st century amenities. One guest room, the Medieval Chambre shown in this drawing, has its own sitting room and a magnificent fireplace in the bedroom to provide a relaxing atmosphere after a long day of being a tourist. This room was ours for a few nights, and we found the period furnishings, rich fabrics and ambiance very cozy and enchanting. It was a step back in time, and we remember every detail to this day.
Guests of the château will enjoy a generous breakfast each morning to give them a good start to their day. On the grounds, they can stroll the many footpaths through the property, or they can take part in a friendly game of pétanque or table tennis. Guests are welcome to borrow some cross-country bicycles to explore the region as well. Parking spaces are provided on the estate.
Although dinner is not available at the Manoir, your hosts will gladly make reservations at nearby excellent restaurants, as well as provide advice as to the important local sites, including driving directions. We enjoyed several exceptional lunches and dinners as we explored the coastal villages. Normandy is famous the world over for its dairy cows, scrumptious cheeses and abundant fruit orchards. Sample Calvados, that classic apple brandy, or kir Normand made by combining local apple cider, crème de cassis and Calvados. Don’t miss out on any wonderful cheeses or butter that come your way, or you will be missing a lot!
You may find yourself in the nearby town of Valognes, referred to as the Little Norman Versailles - a pretty and enjoyable village and a mere 3.5 kilometers from Manoir de Bellauney – an easy walk if you are so inclined. Here you will find everything from artisanal shops to a swimming pool. Valognes boasts 2000 years of history from the original Gallic settlement known as Alauna and the arrival of the Romans in the first century. Ruins of the thermal spa and the site of the Roman theatre are evident there today. Abandoned in the third century, most likely after the invasion of the Barbarians, it was resurrected by the Vikings (Normans) in the 9th and 10th centuries, and they rebuilt the town and castle. The young Norman Duke, William the Conqueror, spent part of his youth in Valognes. After the annexation of Normandy by Philippe Auguste in 1204, the city is integrated into the domain of the Capétien kings (987 – 1328).
Visitors to the Cotentin Peninsula will find it an easy drive from Manoir de Bellauney to Utah Beach and its memorial museum, a mere 33 kilometers away, as well as other World War II sites such as Sainte Mère Eglise that is even closer. Sainte Mère Eglise is, of course, famous as the first town to be liberated by the Americans during the D-Day landings. It was here that paratrooper John Stele’s parachute caught on the church steeple on June 6, 1944, and he hung there all night in silence so he would not be discovered by occupying troops. This event is still commemorated today by his likeness hanging from the spire. And, you might want to visit Cherbourg-Octeville (simply Cherbourg prior to the year 2000) and its Chantereyne Marina, only one feature of this exciting port city on the English Channel. The port of Cherbourg has been in existence since the Vikings first conquered the region in the sixth century.
But, there is more! Monsieur and Madame Allix-Desfauteaux also offer two enchanting self-catering cottages a short distance from their château.
The first is Gîte Margency about ten minutes from the shore and can accommodate up to eight people in absolute comfort. The second, Gîte Marinoy, is across from one of the best beaches on the peninsula and accommodates up to four people. Both houses are rented by the week for those who want to spend as much time as possible in this wonderful part of Normandy.
Those who include the département of the Manche on a visit to Normandy will be amply rewarded by the sights, tastes and history of this most appealing region of Basse Normandie. And, remember Manoir de Bellauney offers easy access to the English Channel and the historic beaches that played so great a role in the Normandy Invasion 66 years ago. We will return in future issues of N4Normandy with a glimpse into other guest châteaux in Normandy and on the Cotentin. Until then, do visit Manoir de Bellauney on the au Château web site.
[Photos of Manoir sign, Ste-Mère Eglise and Drawing of Medieval Chambre copyright Cold Spring Press 2006-2010. Photos of Manoir de Bellauney and Gîtes copyright M/M Allix-Desfauteaux 2010. All rights reserved.]
©2000-2010 Cold Spring Press. All Rights Reserved.
First Published in N4Normandy September 2010