IT was the world’s first celebrity chef Auguste Escoffier who said: “Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness.”
After boarding Brittany Ferries’ Normandie for an overnight crossing, I went in search of dinner in the ship’s main restaurant and it wasn’t a hard choice . . . classic steak frites.
As we sailed past the Isle of Wight I supped a glass of Burgundy and tucked in. After just a few mouthfuls, my holiday had started, even before we’d spied the French coast.
Passengers get a gentle wake-up call just after dawn, before arriving at Caen. Then you are off and through customs in a flash.
We were met at the terminal by friendly taxi driver Pascal, who whisked us away as morning broke over the Normandy countryside.
Within 50 minutes we checked into the 5H Presqu’ile de la Touques.
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On the glorious coastline between the glitzy Deauville and the old fishing town of Trouville-sur-Mer, Presqu’ile is perfect for travellers wanting more bang for their buck, with four nights starting at £174 per person.
It is built in a traditional Norman style and blends in with the timber-framed architecture of the surrounding area.
Masterminded by French self- catering giant Pierre & Vacances, the resort’s latest accommodation is Le Batiment des Douanes, a sympathetic restoration of the old port customs house.
The studios and apartments sleep from two to eight and have contemporary furnishings in the bedrooms, kitchen and living room.
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The calming blues and creams are a nod to its nautical location.
Many have balconies overlooking the port or the resort’s large indoor and outdoor pools. If you fancy some pampering, there is an Algotherm spa with a pool, gym, sauna, steam room, snow shower and massage area.
Nearby Deauville, with its elegant beach huts and long boardwalk decked out with the names of famous film stars, is often known as the Parisien Riviera.
It is two hours from the French capital and the immaculate streets are perfect for window-shopping, with dozens of designer shops including Hermes and Ralph Lauren.
But the real star has to be the vast swathe of soft sands.
We take in the view of the town’s beautiful beach and the marina from La Peniche, a restaurant on a barge moored in the marina. For around £32 you can indulge in a three- course meal of local specialities including fresh seafood.
The town’s opulent casino and 5H Le Normandy hotel take you back to the Belle Epoque era (late 19th century to 1914) and inter-war years.
If you fancy a different flutter, the historic Deauville race course is great for a day out. Nearby is the gorgeous Villa Strassburger, built for horse-racing enthusiast Baron Henri de Rothschild and seen as the epitome of a Belle Epoque holiday home.
You can admire the fine exterior and beautiful gardens, and on several days a week, explore the inside.
The Normandy countryside is on your doorstep. Just 20 minutes inland is the Pere Magloire distillery where they have been creating the finest Calvados apple brandy since 1812. The Calvados Experience, from £7, is a chance to discover how this unique spirit is made and includes a tipple or two with an expert taster.
Back on the coast and 15 minutes from our holiday resort is a very different side to the Normandy seaside. Trouville, over the river, is the archetypal traditional Norman fishing town with glorious beaches and imposing Belle Epoque holiday villas.
Its fish market has been there since 1887 and offers the chance to pick up the freshest delicacies to cook back at the apartment. Or you can sit and sample the wares at Maison Saiter, where we indulged in platters of seafood — scallops, lobster, mussels, shrimps and more — washed down with cider made from the region’s famed calvados apples.
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With clear blue skies and bright sunshine, it is easy to see why artists such as Boudin and Monet were inspired by this stretch of coast.
Waving goodbye to France is always bittersweet.
But I ended it as I had started — steak frites and a glass of red in the restaurant on our ferry home.
GETTING THERE: Brittany Ferries sails three times a day from Portsmouth to Caen. Fares from £89 each way for a car plus two passengers or from £39 each way for a foot passenger. See brittany- ferries.co.uk or call 0330 159 7000.
STAYING THERE: Four nights at at Presqu’île de la Touques is from £174pp, based on two sharing. See pierreetvacances.com or call 0870 0267 145.
MORE INFO: For Deauville see en.indeauville.fr and for Trouville see trouvillesurmer.org.
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