I lost my heart in Paris a long time ago, but every time we visit we plan some out-of-city experiences as well. Last summer, as part of our two weeks in Paris, we planned a two-day side-trip to Normandy, visiting Mont-Saint-Michel.
For our overnight stop along the way, we looked for an "agri-tourism" opportunity along the way, and found the Ferme de la Gortiere, in Le Teilleul, about 4 hours west of Paris and an hour's drive to Mont-Saint-Michel. No reservation system...but an exchange of e-mails with Christelle Rousseau, our hostess, did the trick. Because we were reserving from the U.S., she even waived the reservation deposit.
We arrived at the farm in early afternoon, turning off a country road—this is a farm, not a town—we were greeted with good cheer and a glass of farm-made cider at a little table in front of the farmhouse, parts of which date to the 16th century.
While we chatted with Christelle, in a mixture of our minimal French and her better-than-minimal English, we were entertained by a young gray cat who seemed to be posing for a portfolio...this is only one of many pictures I took. I think she knew our attention would soon be drawn to the other animals.
Our room, which cost 40€ for the night, including breakfast, is in an addition to the old farmhouse; we only found out in the morning that it was originally added on in the 1950s as a stable for horses...our personal manger, as it were. Quite comfortable, with its own bathroom and sitting area. The horses never had it so good!
Unlike some places that are primarily bed-and-breakfasts, sometimes with no real agriculture involved, this is a working farm with a few rooms available, along with dinner (an extra) and breakfast. The farm produces milk from a herd of over 100 cows, and cider and related beverages from its pear and apple orchards.
There's also a flock of chickens and a gaggle of geese running about in pens and sometimes just in the yard. Families visit to see (and sometimes take part in) farm activities at different seasons, including cider-making, but unfortunately the only seasonal activity when we were there was harvesting hay across the road.
We took a walk around the farm to see the animals and orchards. Normandy's cows are noted for rich milk and Normandy is a leading dairy area...but our big impression of the cows was how comical many of them look with faces that seem almost painted on...
There were cows all over...in the feeding barn, grazing in the fields, and even grazing in the orchards. The younger trees have guards around them to keep the cows from chewing up or damaging the bark.
With that many cows, you need a modern milking parlor, and they have one; it's connected to a chilled tank in the next shed.
Oh, and not to forget the pair of donkeys (I believe they are more pets than workers). Here's Hugo.
There's a sharp contrast between the modern working buildings of the farm (screened by trees from the inner farmyard) and the small timbered buildings of the past. Below, the main working buildings today, and below them a small building once used for baking but now set up as guest cottages.
And then there are the birds...these two had no doubt who was in charge, and walked right up to tell me so.
Below, feed for the chickens; they wander on their own in the pen, but gathered quickly at the sight of the bucket.
As for the geese? That's a bucket of water they're ducking in (pardon the pun).
But enough of the animals...it was soon time for dinner, served "family-style" in the old part of the farmhouse. Christelle and her husband are fourth-generation owners of the farm, and the room still contains furniture and furnishings from when the room was the main living space of her grandparents, who moved to a newer house on the farm in 1939.
Note the full-width pendulum of this wonderful clock.
Dinner included roast veal, wonderful vegetables and bread, potatoes and a Norman pudding for dessert.
One of those moments we wished we'd spent more time brushing up French; only one of the other couples at dinner spoke English, and we missed a lot of probably very interesting conversation about "then and now" in France.
With dinner, we also had a chance to taste both sweet and hard ciders, and a drink we'd never known—despite its apparent fame: PoirÉ, called "Perry" by Brits. It's a pear-based brandy, and the area we were in is its homeland. Ferme de la Gortiere is one of the producers who share in the AOC designation PoireÉ Domfront.
And then to bed, and then to breakfast...all in all, a very enjoyable afternoon and evening, and at a very reasonable price. Besides the 40€ for the room, we paid 19€ apiece for the dinner.
and a few more pictures...