• Spring 2020
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  • Spring 2019
  • Winter 2018/9
  • Autumn 2018
  • Summer 2018
  • Spring 2018
  • Winter 2017
  • Autumn 2017
  • Summer 2017
  • Spring 2017
  • Winter 2016/17
  • Autumn 2016
  • Summer 2016
  • Spring 2016
  • Winter 2015/6
  • Autumn 2015
  • Summer 2015
  • Spring 2015
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  • Spring

Springtime awakes at Le Haut Champ

This spring is certainly different to all others that we have experienced at Le Haut Champ in one sense. It’s even calmer, quieter, more serene than normal, as we adapt to the current restrictions in force across France and in other countries.

We are certainly very fortunate in many ways. We live in this beautiful part of the world – the stunning Normandy countryside – which is so close to both the Brittany and Pays de Loire borders. If one had to choose a place to self-isolate, this would be it!

After a very wet winter, March was quite cold but sunny. April has started in a similar vein with warmer weather forecast. There have been plenty of gorgeous sun-filled days; frost in the early mornings followed by crisp, clear days.

The flora, fauna and wildlife is responding to this annual awakening. Bees are hopping and buzzing from flower to flower, the tree blossom is amazing this year and the spring flowers are blooming wonderfully.  We always make room for lots of tulips and daffodils in the garden; they provide such a vivid range of colours: reds, yellows, purples even warm white tones. There are other plants though which deserve attention: the rich, deep pink Saxifraga, pretty primulas, hellebores of various hues and the striking camellias.

We love photinias and last summer planted a new tree near to our vegetable garden. Over winter it has established itself nicely and is looking magnificent. The red/green leave combination is appealing all-year round.

It is impossible to forget that across France – and the globe – there is much suffering, with the world’s focus firmly fixed on tackling the scourge of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

However, this awful disease makes us even more grateful that we live here in this French rural tranquillity, surrounded by nature and spectacular views. 
Stay safe everyone, Simon & Anne

The fair comes to town

What event in our local town of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët attracts at least 150,000 visitors every year – and 800 exhibitors? The answer: La Foire de la Saint Martin – the Saint Martin fair – which has deep roots within the French agricultural community and here in La Manche.

The very first fair in France dates back to 1356. It is also traditionally held in the second week of November.

We visited our first fair in 2015 and it is an amazing sight for our little town. The roads are packed and many people visiting have travelled a considerable distance to visit this popular event. The cafés and restaurants are full and enjoying the brisk trade that the fair brings annually.

Many of the stalls are clothing or kitchen related and if you need a handbag or other leather goods you will not be disappointed.

La Foire de la Saint Martin is a special occasion for a town rich in agricultural heritage. Large tractors take pride of place on the streets in the centre of the town and you can buy tools and equipment of every description and size! Times change though; nowadays you are as likely to come across a stall selling robot mowers as you are a lawn mower.

In addition to the stalls, there is a huge ferris wheel (called a fête foraine in French) that is erected opposite the church and there are lots of amusements to keep the children happy. One popular sugary snack is chichis, similar to doughnuts and laden with sugar. Not to be eaten unless you fancy a visit to the dentist afterwards….

Enjoy the rest of the autumn.
Simon & Anne

Owls are the most beautiful of creatures and when we moved to Le Haut Champ, we were delighted to discover that we had a nesting box attached to the house. The box has a camera which is connected to a TV in the kitchen, enabling us to watch the barn owls through the various stages of their lives: as eggs, baby chicks, young owlets and eventually owls who are able to fly the nest. It’s fair to say therefore that we are very familiar with the coming and going of our feathered friends, often observing an owl perched at the edge of the nesting box at night, searching for mice or other tasty morsels no doubt.

However, in June we were surprised to get to know one of the owls even more. One morning, our gite guest Tommy who was staying with his wife Valerie, knocked on the door to say that there was a young owl sitting outside the gite window peering in! Unfortunately he had most likely fallen out of the nest and was now hungry and looking for his mum.  

By the time we had gone out to look for him, he had started to walk across the field opposite, clearly unable to fly (yet). He was therefore extremely vulnerable in this situation. Ideally, we would have placed him back into the nesting box – however, it is very high and completely impractical. So we took him to the vets for advice and they kindly fed him to build up his strength.  A couple of days later the vets phoned to say they felt he was ready to fly and could we collect him and help him return to the nest? Of course – and later that night, when it was dark we took the owl outside and encouraged him to return to the nest. He had clearly gained some confidence and strength and looked as though he may be able to look after himself outside, going off into the distance. So we decided to let nature take its course.
The following morning Tommy called again to say that the young owl had returned and was again sitting outside the gite!

It was clear that he needed some more help and Simon phoned a wildlife specialist hospital in Nantes in the Pays de la Loire and explained what had happened. They advised him that it was best to bring him into the hospital where he would be looked after and returned to the wild when he was ready. So an hour later, the owl was carefully popped into Gizmo’s cat carrier and Simon took him the 2 ¼ hour car journey to the hospital where he was welcomed to begin a new life. He slept most of the drive although when the car approached the outskirts of Nantes, he pepped up and was really interested in his new surroundings. Good luck little owl!
Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” French proverb

The French have a real love affair with food and here in Normandy we have our fair share of nice places to eat. Le Haut Champ gite is within 40 minutes of the Brittany and Normandy coast, so we are fortunate in having some of the finest seafood such as fish, mussels and oysters right on our doorstep. However, the area is rightly celebrated for its fertile land, the farms producing bountiful supplies of vegetables and fruit as well as livestock such as beef, pork, chicken and lamb.

If you enjoy eating out, there is a wide choice of cafes, brasseries and restaurants. It is fair to say that generally, the French prefer to eat their main meal at lunchtime as opposed to the evening, when they are more likely to spend time with friends and family. So do not be surprised to learn that dining out is much more popular at midday, where you can sample a good range of menu du jour at very reasonable prices.

Since we moved to France in 2014, we have been pleased to see several new restaurants opening in our local town of Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët. One of our favourites is L’Ardoise – which means on the slate – that creates beautifully cooked food from the local region and offers a very friendly service. La Maison du Couscous is a relatively recent addition to the town and especially welcome if you like your food spicy, serving Algerian meals cooked to order. This is a good venue if you are looking for an evening out as a couple or with friends… and they even do take-aways.

The daytime offer is excellent. We love Le Bouche à Oreilles which is run by a friendly young couple, Elise & Sebastian with delicious home cooked food. The restaurant has also had a major new renovation and is always busy.

Aside from Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët, there are plenty of other places to visit too. One of our favourite restaurants in this part of Normandy is La Pause Des Genêts near Avranches, offering superb views of Le Mont Saint Michel and close to the beach. This is a good place to go at lunch time or in the evening and has a wonderful outside terrace. Quite a romantic spot!

One of the positive things about France in recent years has been the increasing willingness to recognise changing taste buds and diets; whilst the French continue to love their meat, there are restaurants offering a range of vegetarian options and also cater for those with allergies such as gluten and dairy. Of course, if you fancy something like a pizza there is lots of choice! Outside of Italy, France consumes the second highest amount of pizza in the world… Bon Appetit!

3 reasons why we love winter in Normandy

Although winter is a time of year when the days are short and the evenings long, there is plenty to celebrate about the season – l’hivernale - here in Normandy. So we thought we would share with you three of the reasons why we so enjoy winter time.

1. Winter gives us a beautifully different landscape to appreciate. Winter is of course nature’s way of taking a break. In early to mid-January, the trees are pretty bare in sharp contrast to the luscious greenery that can be seen in the late spring and summer. However, by this time we are already noticing in the garden the first confident signs of a new year, with the daffodils, crocuses and other bulbs beginning to show through. The gardens and countryside are quieter too; hedgehogs, bats, bees, reptiles, insects and other small animals are in hibernation – although we are continuing to see many hungry birds feeding from the nuts and fat balls. This January we also saw the return of a beautiful woodpecker and it is great to watch so many blue tits, great tits and goldfinches.

2. On a clear, cool winter’s day it’s the perfect time to go to the beach. Yes, really! Obviously January and February is not the time to sunbathe… however, on a crisp day when the air is fresh and the sun has a tinge of warmth about it, nothing beats a walk along the coastline – and we have some spectacular beaches to enjoy here on the Normandy-Brittany borders. After a brisk late morning or early afternoon day out, it is nice to escape the colder temperatures at nightfall and drink a warming cup of coffee or hot chocolate in a local café.

3. A chance to read, write, listen to music and simply relax. During the spring time we are often busy with our work during the week or preparing the garden for the months ahead at weekends; sowing seeds, tidying up or planning a new project. Summer is generally hectic and our busiest time of the year; the autumn providing an opportunity for a stock take, with plenty of pruning and maintenance to carry out.

Winter however is generous by allowing us to step back a little, reflect and spend some time on the things we love – reading a good book, listening to our favourite music and simply relaxing in front of the fire.
These are three things we love about winter – how about you?
Have a great 2019, Simon and Anne

Autumn at Le Haut Champ, short but sweet.

This year the change in the weather has been especially marked, with the long summer lasting well into October – followed by our first dusting of snow in November.  Autumn is now well into its stride and is marching towards winter.

There is much to enjoy about the autumnal countryside around Le Haut Champ, although this period may be relatively short. The trees are again stunningly beautiful, with richer red hues than we have seen previously. Some of the floral displays in the towns and villages are impressive too. The Mairie building in Ducey, 25 minutes away is especially pretty, with gorgeous displays of flowers in golden yellows, red and green flowing majestically down the walls and brightening any day of the week.

The harvest has now been gathered on the fields and in the potagers as the landscape takes on a different, quieter dimension. There is still much bird activity and it is pleasing to see the blue tits returning to the bird feeders. The trees are losing their leaves rapidly, though the grass is still green and lush even after a very dry hot spell for several months. Fortunately Normandy gets its fair share of rain which helps to keep this lovely party of France so fresh and vibrant.

In the towns there is similarly much to appreciate about this time of year. November sees the return of the annual Foire Saint Martin which is held in Saint Hilaire du Harcouët. There is a huge market with stalls straddling their way throughout the town, which lasts for three days and is extremely popular with locals. The bars and restaurants are also full to the brim – we were fortunate to get a table at the newly opened Café des Artistes, the diners taking advantage of the Menu du Jour. Eating out in France is always great value and the Foire is guaranteed to have a good ambiance. For the children, there is a huge fun fair – called foraine in French – with lots to keep the younger ones occupied and well stocked vans with sticky sweets…..

Wherever you live, we hope you enjoy what remains of autumn.

Let’s head for the beach in the Manche, Normandy

One of the things we most love about Le Haut Champ is the beautiful countryside which surrounds us, the lush green fields and trees as well as the rivers and brooks whose waters help to provide such a fertile and rich landscape.   However, people do not realise how relatively close the superb Manche and Brittany coastline is to us, with a wide choice of sandy beaches, rocky coves and natural sand dunes – all within 45 minutes to an 1 hour’s drive.

We also love the coast! So below are two of our selections.

Genêts is a particular favourite. It is a gloriously white sandy beach with spectacular views of Le Mont Saint Michel, quiet with few visitors, so it is a perfect spot to spend time relaxing amongst the dunes and enjoying a few hours of peace and tranquillity. Genêts is a haven for nature too; the last time we visited there were a profusion of housemartins residing in the cliffs around the beach. There are plenty of rock pools as well, so you can recreate your childhood by looking down into the water and discover different types of sea life.

Close to the beach (Bec d’Andaine) is a small café which serves light lunches, ice creams and a cooling glass of beer or a soft drink during the day, there is also a small gift shop. This location is also a meeting point for the popular randonnées (organised walks) which take place across the Bay of Mont Saint Michel that occur throughout the year. These are well worth taking part in but you will need to book.

If you prefer a busier location which is more of a traditional seaside location with beach huts, a couple of restaurants/cafes and walks, then Carolles a little further along the coast towards Granville is an ideal choice. There is live music during the summer and it’s very popular with families during the school holidays. A visit on a week day is probably best if you want some atmosphere but still wish to avoid the madding crowd.

These are only two examples; there are many more places that we love to stroll along the stunning coastline in the delightful regions of Normandy and Brittany. Enjoy the summer! Simon & Anne

TulipsSpring Has Arrived!

Spring is always a favourite season of ours and this year it has also been one of contrasts.

March and April were perhaps colder than normal, with a fair amount of rain…. However, the winter deluge has been long forgotten as May has started with brilliant sunshine, gorgeous temperatures and the garden looking fab. Our guests are enjoying eating out on the terrace and taking advantage of the great weather.

This spring has been tip-top for the tulips; we planted a fair number last autumn and by April they were in full bloom and certainly did not disappoint. The conditions appear to have been perfect; indeed some of the tulips are still flowering.

Over the past four years since we moved to Le Haut Champ, we have gradually introduced several new garden projects. This year we have extended the front bed and during the first weekend of the month we have added plenty of new soil and begun planting. The new residents include a pretty pink Rose bush, a Hydrangea, Pittosporum, plus plenty of other smaller and interesting plants.

The greenhouse is similarly a hive of activity, with more than 120 Zinnias potted up and getting ready to go out later in May. We have also sown Cosmos, Californian Poppies (growing these for the first time), Marigolds for colour, with Tomatoes, Peppers and Beetroot for the potager. And there is more to come!

Finally, we have some other exciting news. Sadly last year the resident owl in our bird box died and it was empty during the year. However, in February we noticed on the CCTV system we have that a new owl had returned……and yesterday two baby owls were nestled in the box together with their mother. Great news!  We frequently hear the owls around Le Haut Champ and they provide considerable interest for our friends and guests who visit.

We hope you have a great spring time.
Simon & Anne 

Le Rocher Portail GardenLooking forward to 2018

2017 was again a busy year at Le Haut Champ. Our guests came from across Europe, including Switzerland, Belgium & Germany as well as the UK. The summer was excellent, with plenty of sunny days from May through to August, giving many opportunities to spend time in the garden and to get out-and-about. 

We're now looking forward to 2018, including welcoming back many of our guests who are returning for another holiday.  So we thought we would give you a few ideas…

Great for gardens
We visited a number of interesting and beautiful gardens, both large and small. This included Les Fleurs du Cassel in nearby Isigny-le-Buat, with its mixed border, rose garden and a delightful water feature; a private garden, La Bayette in the Mayenne, open to the public every summer by its' English hosts Paul and Shirley, and the superb Château de Balleroy which has extensive grounds.

New places we explored
We're always discovering new places to visit and explore even though we've lived in France for 4 years now.

This year we visited a newly renovated Château - Le Rocher de Portail in Brittany (see photo), a short 20 minute drive from our gite. Loving restored by its' owners, Manuel & Madly Roussel, it is now open to the public and includes some fascinating artefacts, beautiful original rooms and a tea room.

Places to eat, drink and relax
Good food and drink is important of course and over recent months we've eaten at some new restaurants... In June, we enjoyed a delightful family meal at Au Cellier in Fougères; and this month returned to the town to have dinner with friends at Le Pet't Bouchon. We could name others... but space doesn't permit! We include our recommendations in the gite handbook and we're always happy to offer suggestions of our personal favourites.

Normandy, the home of the apple

Apples are to be found everywhere in Normandy. Apples for eating as a healthy snack, in the many delicious desserts and of course, in cider, Calvados and other liqueurs.

Here at Le Haut Champ, we have three apple trees which grow apples for cider and calvados production; the trees are a mix of colours, both green and red and this year the harvest has been particularly early as the warm spring and relatively long summer has produced some tasty fruit.

In France, wine is undoubtedly the nation’s favourite drink – and fortunately for the rest of the world, it produces sufficient quantities for us all to enjoy! Interestingly in the 17th century Normandy had an extensive collection of vineyards located across the region; however, during the reign of King Louis XIII taxes on wine were introduced and as a result, the vines were removed…

This was bad news for those of us who love wine; but in the long-term, perhaps this was a good decision for Normandy, as more and more people became interested in the cultivation of apples and nowadays it is a major part of the region’s heritage as well as an important business for growers and producers alike.

Before moving to France, we were eating fewer apples in the UK; however, here we find the fruit juicy, crisp and with a beautiful taste and aroma. If you’ve never tried Normandy cider before, you may also find that the drink is perhaps softer than its’ British equivalent and sweeter. And then there’s Calvados… need we say more? Calvados is the perfect ingredient for so many cooking recipes and a superb digestif after a meal or with coffee.

Enjoy the autumn!


Discover the beautiful gardens on the Normandy borders

We love visiting gardens – and here on the borders of 3 regions (Normandy, Brittany and Pays de la Loire) we are spoilt for choice, with many different public – and private – gardens to spend a few hours walking amongst the flora and fauna.


The weather this spring and now early summer has been beautiful. It has been very dry but with sufficient rain to keep the grass green and provide enough water to allow the plants and vegetation to grow. At Le Haut Champ, the peonies have been beautiful this year, our red roses are now in full bloom and we have lots of rudbeckia ready in the greenhouse to be planted out; hopefully these will give us lots of colour in the summer and into the autumn.

In June we visited a couple of gardens that we’d like to share with you.  Les Fleurs de Cassel in Isigny-le-Buat (only 20 minutes away from Le Haut Champ) is a delight! It is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and in the garden you will find a lovely display of perennials and roses with cool shady areas to sit and enjoy the surroundings as well as plenty of interesting artefacts – most made by hand – to appreciate.

The second garden we visited recently is in La Dorée in the nearby Mayenne, the private home of Shirley and Paul, who very kindly showed us around their pretty garden. Their herb garden is superb and we came away with lots of ideas for new herbs to plant…. They have transformed an area that was previously a field into a beautiful and extensive garden and potager. It is quite an achievement. The garden can be viewed as part of the Open Gardens / Jardins ouverts weekends held across the country in early June.

Enjoy the summer.

Let’s all go to the Market…

One of the questions we are regularly asked by visitors is where is the best local market and when can we go? People love markets: the abundance of fresh food and drink; rich red tomatoes, tasty lettuce, juicy nectarines and the scent of summer fruits filling the air. But as well as fruit and vegetables; it’s a great opportunity to wander amongst the stalls and peruse the large array of items on offer, from clothing and kitchen utensils to fragrant herbs, delicious cheeses and seafood.  

A visit to the local market is an excellent way of getting to know the area and maybe to do a spot of people watching whilst sitting in the café. Markets are not necessarily cheaper, but they are much more fun than a trip to a supermarket – enjoying the experience in the open air and practising our French in the hustle and bustle of a busy market place. We are fortunate as there are a number of markets around us here on the Normandy-Brittany borders. Every Wednesday morning, Saint Hilaire du Harcouët, just a 15 minute drive away, holds its’ popular weekly market. It’s a “must see” if you are staying locally and looking to buy some groceries for your holiday or sample the French way of life. 

Another place to visit and see the local produce is the nearby Brittany town of Fougères, only a 25 minute drive from Le Haut Champ. This Saturday morning market has around 70 stalls and after you’ve visited them you can have a look around the beautiful old quarter and pretty gardens which overlook this fortified town.

It’s not only food markets, of course. There are brocantes around Normandy and Brittany, especially during the summer where you can discover vintage pieces for the home and generally browse items of every description. Granville on the Manche coastline has an excellent brocante on Sunday mornings, for example. The town is well worth a visit – particularly if you are a lover of seafood! Granville is one of France’s busiest ports and is a perfect day out.

We hope that this has given you some inspiration for your next visit to Normandy.

You can’t get too much winter in the winter…

Winter is a very special time, don’t you agree? Our namesake, the American Poet Robert Frost once said that, “You can't get too much winter in the winter.” We understand what he means: the season is an important part of the cycle of life. Winter is a time of hibernation for many animals and plants, where they can re-charge their batteries in preparation for the spring. The garden in mid-January can appear quite stark, with bare trees and borders free from the abundance of colour that fills the beds from May through to October. As humans, winter is a period in which we can settle by the fire on a cold winter’s evening, and perhaps reflect, plan and think about the coming year with expectation and anticipation.

This winter has been different to the last. The weather has been colder, with plenty of misty or foggy mornings; but the sunsets have been spectacular at times and there have been a lot of fresh, sunny days which make wintertime so exceptional. We have had less rain than previously, but it’s still only January so it is early days yet.

Here at Le Haut Champ, we are planning ahead for the next few months. We are pleased to see that we have many reservations already, from both existing clients and new guests who are visiting us for the first time. We look forward to welcoming them for their holidays so that they can enjoy the beautiful coastline and countryside here on the Normandy/Brittany borders.

During the autumn we planted many bulbs and spring flowers, so we are excited to see the new plants emerge over the next few weeks. In November, we planted a new fruit tree (called Nashi, which intriguingly looks like an apple, but tastes like a pear…) and have other ideas for the garden during 2017. Simon is also planning to use our new greenhouse which we installed last year, for sowing and planting new shrubs and flowers for the summer. So it will be a busy next few months.

Whatever the weather this winter, we hope that you enjoy the season and all that it offers.
Simon & Anne

Katie and Tony enjoyed a cycling holiday whilst staying at Le Haut Champ, here is their review. The photo (below) shows Tony by the lakes en-route to the paddle boarding. Thanks to Katie for being our guest blogger.

Cycling in Normandy

Last year we visited Le Haut Champ and as non-car owners we explored the area on bikes.  Cycling is a proud national sport in France, just look at the street parties in the small towns and villages during the Tour De France, celebrating the fact that a peloton of lycra-clad super fit athletes will race through in about 2 minutes. So it goes without saying that cycling in France is an absolute pleasure. 

Unlike back home in Britain, French motorists are amazingly polite.  They often give a quick toot of the horn to let you know they are there and then they wait for a suitable place to pass and come by giving you loads of space.  Even when you're wobbling up a steep hill in the wrong gear they will patiently wait for a space, or for you to pull over to the side defeated by the gradient!

Oh yes, the hills.  Living in a flat city, cycling in Normandy is a step up from the usual work commute.  However, it's definitely the best way to see the area. Signposting is reasonable (and in km so places get closer quicker) and there's a maze of country lanes to explore which help you stay off busier roads.  Cycle parking is available everywhere, and bikes are left locked up all over the place anyway.  The best thing about spending your holiday getting around on two wheels is that you have an excellent excuse to stop off at the myriad of patisseries to sample the local cakes or to immerse yourself completely, pick up a baguette and some fromage and head off onto your adventures with the wind in your hair.

Our personal highlights:

  • Pedalling to the market in Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët to pick up some local produce – you could spend ALL DAY at this market, it's fantastic!
  • Freewheeling down the hill to the nearby lake to try out stand up paddle boarding.
  • A quick cycle to Lionel's charcuterie to pick up some award winning sausages.

The beautiful gardens in Brittany

If you enjoy visiting gardens, whether to get ideas for planting or landscaping, or simply to enjoy a leisurely few hours, then there is plenty of choice around Le Haut Champ. The gite is located in Normandy but is very close to the Brittany border (3 fields to be exact!) so it provides an excellent base to see places in neighbouring departments.

This summer we visited La Ballue Gardens near Le Mont Saint Michel and spent a delightful few hours appreciating the Italian style gardens, the beautiful vistas, water features and the wildlife.

La Ballue has a 17th century château which is privately owned and is not open to the public, unless you want to stay in the delightful chambre d’hôte rooms. The gardens however are open from March to November (including Mondays, although the website doesn’t say, so check before you go) and is a great setting to spend time walking amongst the topiary and looking at the wide range of plants.

There are a number of individual gardens, which is perfect if you like wandering around enjoying the peace and tranquillity that La Ballue has to offer. We also spent a happy hour or so drinking coffee and tea, and sampling the homemade cake in the small beautiful garden café.

Apart from La Ballue, there are a number of other gardens to inspire you in the area. We love the Parc Botanique de Haute Bretagne http://www.jardinbretagne.com/ which has extensive gardens and is great to visit in every season, plus the public gardens around Fougères. But in truth there are many more – including in Normandy and the Mayenne. But we’ll save these for next time…

Enjoy the rest of the summer.

Simon & Anne

Enjoying May time in Normandy
There is plenty to love about Normandy in the spring time.

Le Haut Champ is close to two regions, Brittany and the Pays de la Loire so we enjoy the best of three of France’s most attractive areas. May is one of our favourite months; the days are lengthening, there are plenty of long warm and sunny days, the countryside has really come alive and there is plenty to see and do.

Normandy is famous without doubt for its’ apples. However, there would be none of this crunchy, delicious fruit or indeed of the Calvados liqueur to flavour our cooking or to give us a hearty drink…. without apple blossom. In May, in the orchards, gardens and across the Norman countryside, apple blossom provides a creamy riot of pink and white flowers together with a seductive, beautiful scent that offers promise for the months to come.

Talking of apple trees, the annual and extremely popular Jazz sous les Pommiers near Coutances, Manche is held during early May so if you love jazz, you’re bound to find something that you will enjoy during its’ week long programme.  France is acknowledged for its’ love of fashion and style, the expression haute couture signifying the epitome of high fashion. And here in Normandy you can find out more by visiting the Musée Christian Dior in Granville, a 45 minute car journey from Le Haut Champ. The museum will be reopening from 5 May 2016 with its’ spring and summer exhibition, WOMEN IN DIOR: Portraits of Elegance. We’ll be visiting soon, that’s for sure.

Of course is not all about dress and perfume here in Normandy: there are plenty of simple and inexpensive things to do during a short break or holiday. So if you fancy just walking through the country or exploring local heritage, you won’t be disappointed.

We also love the coast, and fortunately it’s not too far to travel. There are a good number of beaches to choose from as well as some great coastline walks. By May the warm breeze can be felt on our faces as we enjoy a walk around Genêts or in any of the other quaint resorts that the Manche has in abundance. Ask us if you’d like any recommendations.
We hope this has given you some inspiration…. We update our Facebook page regularly with ideas of places to visit including the latest videos, so why not take a look?
Have a great spring!

THIS week we had the first snowfall for a couple of years, and although it wasn’t particularly heavy it was lovely to see how the landscape changed, with the glistening white hilltops and the light dusting of snow peppering the countryside. The viewpoint from both the house and the gite are one of the things that we most enjoy about living here, with the changing seasons always a delight.

Last weekend despite the late onset of winter and the relatively cold temperatures we decided to spend some time working in the garden. This year we’ve chosen to work on some new projects and one of the things that we love about Le Haut Champ is the fact that there is always plenty of opportunity to try out different ideas, whether this is from working in our potager (or vegetable garden), relaying a garden path or creating impact in a new garden bed or rockery with the beautiful stone that we have in abundance here.

We are lucky enough to have a fairly extensive garden, which means that there is sufficient space to provide a separate area for gite guests overlooking the gorgeous Normandy countryside. Last spring – from April onwards, really until late October – we were fortunate in having a long period of relatively prolonged sunshine, so there was many an occasion where our guests could spend an hour or so enjoying a glass of wine or a beer taking in the views.

Obviously with a large garden, there is much work to be done; but after a couple of years we are now seeing some of the trees and shrubs really establish themselves (we particularly love our Salix which greets people arriving at the front of the house).  Of course, this time of year is perfect to start sowing seeds for the summer, and hopefully we’ll be able to repeat the spread of stunning Zinnias which filled one of the garden beds, blooming especially well from late July onwards. Those of you who are gardeners will particularly appreciate the thrill of seeing the young seedlings take root and emerge from the soil, a sure sign that spring is on its’ way. So that’s another job for next weekend…

Enjoy the winter, and keep warm.

Simon & Anne

OK… We admit it! We love this time of year, particularly October but Autumn in general; the cooler days are perfect for walking in the countryside as the leaves start to fall but the landscape is a mix of greens, golden yellows and a touch of earthy reds. With the change in temperature, at Le Haut Champ we have now started to use our log-burner having had the chimneys swept recently and a whole winter’s supply of oak for burning delivered last week.  It is true that there is something special about all seasons, and with the nights drawing in we do enjoy sitting in front of the fire which keeps us cosy and warm on even the coldest of days..

But although the Summer is the busiest time of the year for activities and events in our part of Normandy and Brittany, what has surprised us having lived here for 2 years now is the fact that there continues to be much to do during the Autumn. Last week we went along to the Festival Art En Bars which is held every September and the previous Saturday the Heritage Weekend at L’Abbaye de Savigny. These were a great opportunity to explore the local area further and you can read more about them on our Facebook page.

We enjoy listening to live music and over the next few weeks you can take your pick from local events depending upon your musical tastes: rock, blues, classical, folk… not to mention dance in its’ various forms, theatre and of course cinema which France excels at. And if your French is particularly good, you can always go along to a comedy or if you prefer, be entertained by performing clowns! Early this month Le Mont Saint Michel hosted a Mozart Requiem including a 65 strong choir in the Abbey; no doubt this was a fantastic setting to listen to this celebrated classical composer.

Early Autumn is of course the harvest season and as I write this, the farmers are busy at work cutting the maize to feed their livestock over the long Winter months. When the crop is first planted in the Spring, it is difficult to imagine how high the plant grows and after it is cut the landscape changes significantly across the area. 2015 appears to have been a good year for many types of fruit and vegetables; the crop of apples should be better than recent years no doubt assisted by plenty of sunshine and a decent amount of rain during the Summer months. In our potager here at Le Haut Champ, we have had an abundance of tomatoes, two generous sacks of potatoes, a decent supply of tasty shallots, and no fewer than 6kg of carrots! So plenty to feast on over the coming months…

Have a great Autumn.

OVER the past 12 months it has been lovely to see how the new garden trees and shrubs that we planted in 2014 have become established, with plenty of colour as the peonies come into flower, the roses starting to bloom and the Salix tree looking delightful. This year we have grown some zinnias from seeds and these have now been planted into the border opposite the gite and hopefully these should flower soon.

In the potager, the Autumn-planted garlic is almost ready to be harvested and with luck, by the end of the Summer there shall be a bountiful supply of potatoes, onions, shallots, carrots and more besides. In the fruit bed the blackcurrants are looking especially healthy so we should have a good crop very soon… Anne loves blackcurrants and I have high hopes for our redcurrant bush too….

The birds are also continuing to visit the garden for food, with our resident woodpecker particularly enjoying the fat balls and peanuts that we leave out – the woodpecker truly is a very special bird with glorious red, white and black feathers that make them so distinctive. We have also two very cute looking red legged partridges who regularly waddle around Le Haut Champ (there are probably many more but what appear to be the same two can be seen around the house and garden in pairs) making the early summer a busy time for wildlife activity.

We also have a small owl nesting box on the gable end of the wall here at Le Haut Champ. This year we have 2-4 baby barn owls that were born around April time. How do we know this? There is a camera which allows us to keep an eye on the family which is heartwarming… as long as the mother owl is not feeding her chicks any mice at the time!

Finally, the cows arrived in May for their Summer grazing. A combination of a plentiful supply of winter rain and warm sunshine has resulted in there being plenty of grass for the herd and they do provide a real rural picture to life at Le Haut Champ.

What’s amazing to us is all of this is in our garden, the neighbouring fields and on our doorstep! There is much else besides but this time we’d thought we would share with our readers what makes the area and countryside of this pretty part on the Normandy/Brittany border so special to us.

Have a great Summer.

SPRINGTIME has well and truly arrived here at Le Haut Champ; the buds on the shrubs and the trees are growing vigorously, with plenty of new healthy green leaves; the garden beds are displaying increasingly vibrant colours including cheery yellows of the daffodils, the pink heathers and primulas are still going strong, and the first buds of the azalea bushes are making an appearance.  This year has also seen plenty of birds in our garden – Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and even a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker who has made his home here! From now until early June before the Summer starts is pretty special in our view, with the chance to enjoy nature, the flora and fauna on a sunny day.

April and May also sees the local area emerge from the quieter Winter period with a whole range of activities and events take place in communities across Normandy, Brittany and the Mayenne. We’re lucky to be on the border of three French departments so there is plenty of choice. Most weekends you can go along to browse at a vide grenier (translated as “empty attic”, or a car boot sale) where there are all sorts of things for sale as well as food and drink. Music also plays an important role here and there are live performances during the days and evenings – whether your preference is for soft rock, jazz or classical. Between the 8-16th May in Coutances (Manche) there will be the 34th edition of Pommiers Sous Les Jazz, a reference to the importance apples are to the region and promising a relaxing week of musical events.

There are many other different types of activities and places to visit for all the family, of course. Adventure and fun parks suitable for both children and adults, wildlife parks and zoos, gardens (for example the beautiful Parc Botanique et Floral de Haute Bretagne), interesting and informative factory visits (such as the local production of Cider and Calvados), museums, beaches, country walks and more.

So much to see and do! Hopefully this has given you a taster of what our region has to offer; there is more information on Le Haut Champ website Things To Do. We would love to share these experiences with you and maybe we will see you this year!

We hope you enjoy the Spring.

THERE IS NO DOUBT that winter is not everyone’s favourite time of year. The days are short, we awake to dark mornings for the most part, and the garden around early January can seem dormant after providing so many colours and so much vitality during the Spring, Summer and Autumn.

But nevertheless winter can be an ideal time – especially in the period just after Christmas – to take stock, relax in front of the wood burner and on a crisp, cool morning enjoy watching the birds swoop to and from the birdfeeder replenishing their supplies of seeds, nuts and other tasty morsels.

After a very busy first year at Le Haut Champ, we enter 2015 refreshed and looking forward to the coming months – especially as we turn towards the end of the month and early February when the first signs of spring can be glimpsed with the snowdrops and daffodils: the garden regenerating itself in front of our very eyes! We’re fortunate in that it has been a mild winter so far, although it’s early days yet, of course…. I noticed yesterday that one of our forsythia shrubs is already showing the first signs of flowering, perhaps a tad early; anyway, it reminds me that this month there is plenty of garden tidying to do before the Spring – printemps – arrives.

January and February are also ideal times to think about holidays, whether they are for a long weekend or a week or two; Anne and I were delighted with the feedback we received from our clients during 2014 and we’re pleased that so many people enjoyed being able to spend time in this beautiful part of France on the Normandy/Brittany borders. Our dream has always been to create a place where our guests can experience a taste of French life in comfort and we intend to continue building on these foundations this year.

Early January is also celebrated with the traditional feast of the Gallette des Roi, also known as the Epiphany cake to symbolise the arrival of the Three Wise Men of Bethlehem. I confess to already having eaten one or two, with more to come when I meet up for a party with my running colleagues next week…. No doubt eating a Gallette des Roi is an incentive to do more training!

We hope that you have a great 2015.

Bonne Année, Bonne Santé.

THIS YEAR summer has been accompanied with plenty of fine, sunny days that are perfect for enjoying life outdoors in the countryside, garden and on the beach. And of course there are plenty of things to do in our villages and towns here on the Normandy/Brittany border, as communities celebrate l’été with a whole host of music events, organised walks, picnics, vide greniers (translated as “empty attics” = the UK’s equivalent of a car boot sale!), cycling races and more besides.

caenRecently we have had a number of events across Normandy which marked the commemoration of D-Day 70 (Jour-J 70) which continues to be of huge significance to the people of France and this region in particular. On 5th June, the night before the official commemoration, we visited Grandcamp Maisey on the north coast to see one of the firework displays that were held simultaneously across 24 towns that were particularly important to the D-Day landings. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial, with many nationalities enjoying walking along the promenades and drinking in the cafes, quite different to the 6th June 1944 but a recognition that the French people – and other nationalities – continue to remember the efforts of those who fought for the liberation of Normandy, France and indeed all of Europe.

Back to the present day, and the months of June, July and August have lots of activities to go to and make the most of in this special part of France. The weekend 20th – 22nd June sees many towns and villages participating in the annual Fête de la Musique, launched more than 30 years ago to coincide with the longest day and now a key part of the social calendar, allowing all types of musicians (amateur and professional) to perform for audiences in the local communities. Expect to come across some busy bars and market places!

fireworksJuly sees the Festivités Nationale on the weekend of 12th -13th, to commemorate the storming of the Bastille prison which led to the French Revolution on the 14th of that month. In nearby Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët there will be concerts, a ball and plenty of fireworks….and if you are a football fan you can watch the World Cup Final outdoors adjacent to the town’s lake.  August is traditionally the month of the long holidays; so be prepared to slow the pace down and enjoy a relaxing time on the beach (there are lots of good beaches nearby) or simply enjoy a cool glass of cider or wine in the sunshine. We hope you enjoy the summer. 

SPRING has arrived at Le Haut Champ, and it’s a joy to see the azaleas and rhododendrons looking healthy in our garden, with the first colours showing through in the buds. Daffodils are also native here and look beautiful and majestic. The significant rainfall that we had over the winter period has had one benefit, the countryside is looking especially green and lush, and all around us the farmers are working hard to prepare the fields for this year’s crop.

This is an important time of year for local people who can be seen in the busy markets and shops as seeds, planters, flowers and all kinds of produce are purchased. One of the things that we have learnt about France is that the seasons are particularly important, they determine what is available and when, which adds real colour and diversity to the market stalls during the course of the year.

Here at Le Haut Champ, we’re also getting ready with our spring planting plan and the fruit trees (blackcurrants, raspberries, redcurrants and gooseberries) are already bursting into life. We’ve added some new strawberry plants too, and are looking forward to eating these come the summer. Vegetables and herbs should also be in abundance, with potatoes still to be planted…the next job on the list!