Cambremer, Pays d’Auge

Tucked in a valley, approximately half-way between Lisieux and the seaside resorts of Cabourg and Houlgate, Cambremer is another beautiful small village of four blocks and lots of horses. Like Lessard-et-le-Chêne, it is situated in the Pays d’Auge and the larger district of Calvados.

The center square of Cambremer

I have come here for two weeks. As my American readers will probably remember, wealthier Parisians leave Paris for the month of August. It is a “right of summer.” I was negligent in what usually is very good planning this year and, by the time I got around to trying to find a place to stay, most everything was booked. No Americans this year again. No Japanese or Chinese. Plenty of Germans, English, and, of course, French. I was lucky. I found a B&B not far from where my friends live in Lessard called Le Pressoir. As it turns out, I am the only guest so Bijou and I have an entire wing of a house to ourselves. Our host’s name is Claude. She lives here with her two dachshunds, five horses, one rabbit, and two goldfish. She is my age and could not be nicer. I explained before my arrival about my food allergies and she has given me full use of her kitchen and refrigerator. From the dining room table, I can look out on a huge lawn with mature trees which, like so many of the Normandy homes, lends an air of calmness and serenity.

My home in Cambremer “Le Pressoir”

This area is not just famous for its horses and stud farms but also “The Cider Trail.” The Pays d’Auge is replete with apples, every form, size and taste. The Cider Trail of forty kilometers is a loop that takes an interested traveler by a minimum of twelve showrooms. Normandy cider has a golden yellow to amber color characterised by a light foam and fine bubbles. It has a buttery aroma. Since I don’t drink alcohol, I am quoting from the Normandy website!

Chapelle de Clermont

I am interested in the walking and hiking. I returned to Beuvron-en-Auge and picked up some hiking pamphlets and on Thursday I hiked uphill to a small Chapel called L’Eglise St. Michel. It was not open for visitors but one could walk around the narrow dirt path that surrounded the small building. From the front of the chapel, one can get an extraordinary view of the Norman countryside as far south as Saint Pierre-sur-Dives. The trail from Beuvron started out on concrete but quickly became a wide dirt trail that progressively grew smaller the higher I climbed. On the way back down, I passed some huge and elegant looking Stud Farms. One rented out rooms but also was available for large events like weddings.

The next day, I met my friend who lives in Dives-sur-Mer which is sandwiched by Cabourg and Houlgate, at a fascinating place called La Maison Bleue.

La Maison Bleue

La Maison Bleue is not well known even to residents of Calvados. It was created by a man who worked as a day laborer all his life. After Laika, the dog whom the Russians sent up in their sputnik in 1957, died, M. Costas, the architect of LMB, created a memorial to her. He took pottery shards he found on the street or at brocantes and set them in cement. He placed a rocket at the top and a photo of a dog near an opening. From there, he began to tile, with shards, every inch of his and his wife’s living space. He became more more religious, found icons at cheap stores, and by the time he finished his chef d’oeuvre, twenty years had passed.

Memorial to Laika

La Maison Bleue is open only three days a week and only for two hours on each of those days. It is run by volunteers who are devoted to the artwork.

A short walk of less than a mile from Le Pressoir is Les Jardins du Pays d’Auge, another privately run enterprise for people visiting the area. My friend, Marjorie, told me that it used to be a large nursery serving the entire area. She and her husband bought many of the plants, trees, and bushes that now bloom in abundance at their home in Lessard-et-le-Chêne. At some point, the nursery closed and some people had the idea of creating a large garden with about thirty different “rooms.” There is a water garden, a romance garden, a moon garden, a sun garden, and many more. There are also replicas of a forge, a shoe-maker’s hut, and a variety of different needs and talents that keep a farm running. It is well done and quite popular. On the day I went, there had to be fifty or sixty people, including children, visiting. Also on the site is a popular restaurant La Creperie.

During the months of July and August, Cambremer has its own outside market every Saturday morning: La Marchê Ancienne. It is teeny for a marchê!! There was one vendor selling chickens, two vendors selling fruits and vegetables, and four different artisinal vendors: wooden pens and bowls; children’s clothing; crocheted key rings; and specialty jams and conserves. What made the marchê exceptional was a live band and singer who entertained with great confidence marching around the square and making everyone smile.

This may look hokey but it was a lot of fun to be there!!!!

And that concluded my first week in this delightful village in the green and abundant Pays d’Auge area of Normandy France.

Evening descends on Le Pressoir

A bientôt,

Sara

Pays d’Auge, Normandie

I spent the last eleven days visiting friends in Normandie. They live south of the city of Lisieux which is the centre of the Auge area. Forty-five minutes north are the beach towns of Honfleur, Trouville, Deauville, Huelgate and Cabourg, known as the “Côte Fleurie”. The Auge is lush, green, well-known for its cheeses, especially Camembert cheese named after the small village of Camembert, and apple products. The famous cider is made in Brittany but the Auge also has cider and Calvados.

The hilly landscape of the Auge area of Normandie.

The area I was staying in is also known for its stud farms. From my bedroom window, as far as the eye could see, were hilly pastures with horses everywhere. The horses are usually raised for racing. Did you know that horses have higher body temperature than humans? Therefore, they attract flies that descent on them in the heat and, to me, look unbearable. Many are given bonnets for their heads so that everything but eyes, nose, and mouth is covered. I even saw a few horses that were completely blanketed to keep off the flies. They don’t get fleas but they attract other miserable bugs just like humans and other animals during the summer.

Mother and foul at a neighboring haras

My hosts and I were inventing a new form of house exchange. Before the pandemic, I loved exchanging my home in California for different places to stay in France. I always say yes to French people if at all possible. And often, we have non-reciprocal stays. Before my friends went to California last summer, they were in Paris, called me and asked if I’d like to meet up. We had coffee at La Rotonde in La Muette. We hit if off immediately, promising to see more of each other once they had returned to France. Off they went to California while I finished my book and got it published. I was looking forward to spending extended time in Normandie while they were away this summer. Then Covid-19 happened to all of us. They didn’t go away but did encourage me to come stay there even though they were also there. House Exchange Covid style.

Sunset from Lessard

Their home is an old Haras (stud farm) that still has all the stables which are rented out in the winter when it is too chilly for the horses to stay outside overnight. They converted the infirmary into a huge, enviable kitchen with a dining room and massive fireplace. Each evening, we would gather in the kitchen–whoever was there (I brought two friends with me for the first four nights), and start dinner. We’d sit down to eat anywhere between 8:15 and 10pm then clean up before I’d go to bed. The kitchen and dinner time are sacred and worthy of a top-notch production. The protein was marché bought but most of the vegetables were grown in their garden. We feasted on corgette, green beans, purple beans that turn green when cooked!, heavenly cherry and pear tomatoes, lettuces, and cucumber. We picked fresh dill, thyme, bay leaves and basil for cooking. Then cut verbena for making tea last thing in the evening. The days are still long, there are stunning sunsets around 9:30pm and it gets dark after 10pm. It isn’t difficult not to miss Paris.

Looking out the 1st floor window onto the stables.

The only blip in this perfect picture is that it hasn’t rained in a long time. When I took my morning walks, I would look out on golden hills with greens trees and think, ‘this looks just like California.‘ No official notice has been sent to limit water consumption but unless there is rain soon, it can be expected.

A manor house that I passed each day on my walk.

It gets clearer and clearer to me why so many Parisian families have “country homes”. They work in Paris, their children go to school in Paris but on the weekend, they can spend forty-eight hours in the heavenly calm of the countryside that is never far from Paris. Lisieux was an hour and forty-five minute train ride from Gare St. Lazare.

A new friend’s dog at the entrance of their home.

Back in Paris, it is hot, very hot. It has been hotter. There was the summer of 2003, when it was so hot, that 1500 people died. I have been bound and determined to put in a drip system on my terrace so that I can leave my plants for two weeks at a time in the summer without worrying about them. I only have one last thing to do but it has been an such an obstacle: screwing on the entire system to the faucet on the terrace. By minuscule mm, it isn’t large enough or the screw systems are different. I’ve been up and back to the hardware store but since I can’t take the faucet with me, I’m dependent on my iPhone camera and my french! More will be revealed.

As of today, Monday, it is mandatory to wear masks outdoors in busy areas. That would be along the Seine with the Paris Plages, and most of the places that young people can go and sit in this heat. The cases of Covid-19 are rising in France as they are all over Europe. I haven’t heard that there have been more deaths. From France24.com “French airports have begun compulsory testing on arrival for passengers from 16 countries where the coronavirus is circulating widely. The rules came into effect on August 1 as the number of new Covid-19 cases registered daily in France continues to rise.” If someone tests positive, they have to self-quaranteen for two weeks.

The Louvre museum where, before the pandemic, the lines of tourists waiting to get in would be a 30 minute wait minimum. Now everyone, except Amis de Louvre, has to make a reservation so that the museum has crowd control.

Summer 2020 in Paris will be one for the history books, likely remembered as the summer of masks and hand sanitizers. It will also be one of the quietest summers in decades, with dramatically reduced numbers of international tourists and many locals on holiday around France instead of going abroad.–France24.com

Stay kind, stay safe and cool and please stay healthy,

A bientôt,

Sara