Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cycling Holidays in Normandy

Cycling in and around Normandy is simply wonderful. On the routes I have cycled here this week, there are no mountains to tax the casual cyclist and only rolling hills to contend with. As you cycle along, the undulations lift you up through and along the valleys. I have been staying in La Ciderie this week and it has struck me that it's the perfect location for a cycling holiday.

La Ciderie is...

"Set adjacent to the beautiful Abbaye de la Lucerne, and close to beaches, bays, estuaries and forests, La Cidrerie is a group of converted barns built in the traditional stone of the region.

It is a most tranquil and lovely place with secluded private gardens, yet only a few kilometres drive away from either the golden sandy beaches of Jullouville and Carolles, the bustling fishing port of Granville, or the lovely town of Avranches with its commanding views of Le Mont St Michel.

There are three cottages which are easily adaptable and fully equipped for five adults (plus baby). The cottages can be rented separately or as a one large unit.

Along with regular breaks, the owners also run art and painting holidays...

"The area boasts a wide range of painting opportunities including Le Mont St Michel, sandy beaches, slat marshes, fishing ports, rural scenery and a wide variety of lively markets - all typical of this beautiful part of Normandy.

Course Title: Freedom with Watercolours
Tutor: Hilary Frame
Level of Ability:  All levels catered for.
Course Details: Five days of tuition plus introductory evening.

Aims of The Course
This course is designed to cater to personal and individual preferences using watercolours as the primary painting medium, although there will be occasions when we will use other media to enhance and liven the work. Some students may prefer to use other media eg. Acrylic,gouache etc which is also perfectly acceptable.

Students will be encouraged to develop an open- minded approach when exploring the beautiful locality and respond to it in a free and adventurous style. Students will be inspired to respond creatively and freely to a variety of subjects, and they will receive sound re-iteration of drawing and painting techniques. Each student should gain confidence in his or her ability to produce exciting and visually pleasing paintings.

There will be opportunities to re-visit drawing, colour mixing, composition and the  rules of perspective throughout the week.

General  Content of the Course
During the week there will be visits to a variety of locations, including the historic town and harbour of Granville and the famous Mont St Michel where we will complete sketches which can be worked up into finished paintings on our return to the studio at La Cidrerie. There are also numerous painting sites within walking distance of our beautiful homes and gardens, these include the inspiring Abbaye de la Lucerne and numerous woodland and rural beauty spots.

We will paint outdoors whenever possible or desirable, or in the studio of Cider Cottage.

Please bring any appropriate photographs you have which may be suitable for inspiration and a reproduction of a painting that you like (by someone else) for a discussion in composition. A camera is also a good aid when sketching and drawing.

We run formal painting courses at La Cidrerie during specific weeks of the year. However, Hilary is willing to provide painting tuition to adults and/or children on a less formal basis, who book into any of our letting cottages, when she is in France. Please enquire when booking as to her availability and the cost of this tuition."

If you fancy making a booking or taking a look at what else the place to offer, check out La Ciderie website. You can also view residence and local images in Gallery 1 and Gallery 2. If the art and painting course appeals to you, you can find more information here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Plateau de Fruits de Mer en Cancale

It was suggested yesterday that we go for a meal in a favourite restaurant, La Mère Champlain in Cancale, Brittany. As the distance there and back would be too great for me to safely negotiate in one day, today's cycle was a one way trip. After our meal my bike was loaded onto the bike rack and we were driven home. After the amount I ate his evening, it's just as well - neither myself nor the bike would ever have made it the 95km back again!

Cancale is a picturesque fishing village on the Brittany coast. Just this week on Twitter, Concale had been mentioned to me as a great place to sample oysters. At the time I had no plans to visit as getting there and back in one day would be a bit of a stretch, as I mentioned earlier. As we ended up there this evening, I felt duty bound to sample the aforementioned oysters.

I chose from the Menu de la Mère Champlain and at €26.90 for three courses, it was amazing value. The food was exquisite and the surroundings simply wonderful. The decor really evokes the spirit of a fishing village. We were the first ones in there at 6.30pm but by 8pm the place was almost full, creating a fantastic atmosphere. For starters I had Plateau de fruits de mer; for mains, Pavé de rumsteack et sa brochette de légumes, sauce poivre à la tomato; and for dessert I had Moelleux au chocolat accompagné de son coulis de grottoes followed by Ardoise de fromages as my aunt didn't want hers! Everything looked like the professional stuff you see on MasterChef. Gregg would have been in heaven with my chocolate pudding. Unlike him though, I didn't just have one spoonful! If you are ever in Cancale, La Mère Champlain is well worth a visit. The staff and brilliant and the prices are fantastic!

Much of today's cycle was shrouded in fog but I did manage to snap a few pics. I hope you enjoy ;)

Le Mont Saint-Michel is over there somewhere apparently.

If that's a job title, where can I apply? I want that on my business card!

Even without Sat Nav it's almost impossible to get lost over here, there are cycle routes and signage everywhere!

"North on road" it says. As opposed to going where? I asked myself.

And no sooner had I got smart with my Sat Nav, the road ran out. I tried cross country road biking for a few kms but then I just had to find the road again!

Le Mont Saint-Michel...well, part of it!

See what I mean about cycle route signage? I had never seen cycle route crossroads before!

Oytser country!

Quaint. Like a big version of a Hobbit house, kinda.

The fog lifted just long enough to grab a quick snap of my destination. An hour later the fog had descended once again. Perfect timing!

View Larger Map

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Aujourd'hui, il ya du brouillard

Not the most conducive of days for cycling today, as it is very foggy out this morning. If it brightens up later today, I might do a local loop this afternoon. Failing that, I might just have to treat myself to a well-deserved day of rest.

Tomorrow, however, I plan to do this route.

View Larger Map

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Un cycle par la côte

Todays cycle was not as warm as yesterdays cycle but every bit as enjoyable. At times, back home, cycling can get a little tedious when the routes can't be varied very much, especially when cycling on my own with no company for distraction. Here though, as the entire experience of cycling in France is a new one for me, each day has been just as enjoyable as the day before and I have only cycled a few kms of the same roads in getting to and from my base for the week.

I cycled to Granville on Sunday but wanted to explore of the bit more of the coast today and was told that the coast north of Granville is well worth a look. Again, I took the back roads and stayed away from the main roads, primarily for the peace and quiet but also to see more of the countryside. Now that I am familiar with the quality of the roads and the quality of the driving over here, I can just get on with the fun of cycling. As I mentioned yesterday, it really does make for a much more enjoyable cycling experience when you can focus on the scenery and the views, rather than the drivers and poor quality roads.

The pace of life over here seems to have been taken down several notches when compared to Dublin and London. Everyone I passed, whether they were on cycle or on foot,  said "Bonjour." Even young children playing with their friends shouted a greeting as I passed. You can't help but smile at such friendliness, as you cruise along the remote country lanes. Even the animals here seem more laid back. They stop grazing just long enough for their gaze to follow you briefly as you pass. Only the sheep seem spooked when they catch sight of a human, but that's sheep for you!

Here are some pics from my cycle today. I hope you enjoy :)

Now, that's my kind of sign! More of the same please.

The black things in the sea are sticks with rope attached to catch mussels! Clever stuff.

They even do nice coloured roads over here too.

This place looks like something out of Scooby Doo! Can you see the ghostly face at the window?

This must be Citroen's attempt at the Smart car. My bike is almost certainly faster!

The static driver had a ten-pin bowling ball for a head!

It's no wonder that French villages are always so clean with anti-litter signs the size of human beings!

Sleepy Hollow(ish)

This fella was jolly playful. First he chased me for a while then he got more enjoyment chasing cars!

View Larger Map

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Un cycle proche de la perfection!

The second thing one notices, when cycling in France (see first here), is the quality of the roads. In just over 70km today I counted no more that 5 potholes. The roads my Sat Nav indicated to me that were 'unpaved' are actually better quality than many of the main roads in Dublin! The edge of the road is not left to crumble away to nothing and I have not seen a single smashed bottle in the cycle lane either! It would appear that people in Dublin seem to think cycle lanes are actually re-cycle lanes judging by the amount of broken bottles strewn within them!

Today was quite possibly the most enjoyable cycle I have ever done, second only to my River Thames bridges cycle. The quality of the roads coupled with not needing to worry about manic motorists, resulted in a most pleasant day. The weather too was amazing and the scenery simply stunning. Anyone who has yet to experience cycling in France should address that as soon as they can. I know a great place to stay too ;)

You may have garnered from my prose, that I have been truly converted to cycling in France. In three days I have not had to utter a single expletive as yet another inconsiderate tosser motorist whizzes past inches from my handlebars. Vive le France!

Here are some pics from my cycle today. I don't think any of them even need captions as the images, I'm sure, speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy :)

View Larger Map

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mon cycle au Mont Saint-Michel et à l'arrière

The first thing one notices when cycling in France is that everything you've heard is true - the French do appear to like cyclists. Unlike England and Ireland drivers here are courteous, patient and respectful of their fellow road users. In just nine hours of cycling in France during the past two days, I am truly converted and am now looking forward to cycling here, during my tour, more than ever.

In England and Ireland motorists appear to make it their goal to pass a cyclist as close as they can and as fast as they can. Here, motorists slow down as they approach you and give you as much room as they can when they pass. If a car is coming towards us, they wait for it to pass before they attempt to overtake. Unlike English and Irish motorists who seem to need to squeeze past forcing the cyclist closer towards the pavement. Also, when cycling through towns and villages, the French motorist will again slow down and will follow you through the village if there are blind corners. Whereas, in England and Ireland, motorists will again attempt to squeeze pass but, as some of their car inevitably ends up on the opposite side of a blind bend, if something does then appear up ahead they will cut back in as quick as they can often forcing the cyclists to brake. In the past two days I have not heard a single French car horn being used or heard a single utterance of "Get on the pavement" or "Move over dickhead" (wasn't that a Tracey Ullman song?). It makes the task of cycling so much more pleasant when you don't have to think for motorists too!

I now understand why it is often said that the English don't like the French. It is because the French are much better drivers than the English and, as with so many things, the English hate to think that they are not the best at something/everything! They have a lot to learn, but I'm sure they won't, as they don't care about anyone else on the road other than themselves and anything that halts their most speedy progress from A to B is a hindrance.

In short, cycling in France is everything I had imagined it to be and I can't wait for May to arrive when I will be doing it everyday.

Today I cycled to Mont Saint-Michel and back. Here are some pics from my cycle today. I hope you enjoy :)

Still some way to go yet.

Now, that's what I call a cycle path!

The final approach.

Up close and personal.

One is spoilt for choice with cycling signage over here...

Just to prove I am actually here ;)

En route home. It looks all tiny again now.

Almost home. Mont Saint-Michel seems so far away now...over there on the left, all small like.

View Larger Map
My Aunt paints (she used to be an art teacher). Here is a canvas painting of Mont Saint-Michel. Cracking!