Wednesday, 21 March 2007

A Taste of France

We spent another very pleasant weekend in Northern France at the weekend.

A programme we have offered for some years now is 'A Taste of France'. Basing ourselves in the walled town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, the gateway to the Cote d’Opal, we offer delegates a brief tour of French gastronomy.

Montreuil has long had a reputation for its beauty, its fine restaurants – and as the setting for the classic Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables. The town is steeped in history and has many sites of historical interest – from the mediaeval walled ramparts to the statue of the British General, Sir Douglas Haig, who set up his headquarters in the town during the First World War. The impressive fortifications offer numerous facilities to walk or stroll and many visitors also take in a visit to the 15th century citadel in the town. Indeed we have used the town as our base for a number of walking expeditions - using the town as a starting point for a programme of walks spread over two and three days.

The town is also known for its floral displays which adorn the streets and squares through the seasons. But it is probably as a centre of gastronomy that most French people will associate Montreuil-sur-Mer - the town being host to many fine restaurants.

The villages and small towns of the area are as charming as the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer and our weekend began in the bustling resort of Le Touquet which is situated just a few minutes drive away. We arrived in Le Touquet in good time to browse the bustling Saturday morning market. Always popular with locals, the market offers a fabulous selection of local delicacies - from locally produced wines and cheeses through to local farmers selling the fruits of their labour. We always pick up a selection of different kinds of bread, a few cakes for those back home - plus some locally prepared olives to nibble on when we return on Sunday evening.
Our hotel for the weekend is the Hermitage which is located in the heart of the historic town of Montreuil, on the site of the Hotel Dieu Hospital, founded in 1200. The hotel was completely renovated in 2002 and is now a lovely, comfortable, well-appointed three star hotel. We have been taking groups to the hotel since the month it opened and we believe it to be one of the best hotels in Northern France - and our guests are always extremely complimentary about it.

The renovation and rebuilding work carried out over the last couple of years isn’t the first time the site has undergone a transformation. Following its foundation in 1200 by the then Lord of Montreuil, it was rebuilt under the expert eye of Napoleon III. Until a few years ago the building was in use as a hospital and the trained eye will spot some of the current architectural features which give way its past – such as the high ceilings, wide corridors and trolley-shaped lifts!

The hotel currently has 57 bedrooms – each equipped with en-suite bathroom, WC, hair dryer, telephone and satellite TV. If guests fancy a stroll the hotel is situated in the centre of town, within easy reach of the shops, bars, restaurants, the market square and the town walls, complete with walks.

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a wine tasting at La Vinophilie – a very pleasant hour tasting a number of wines plus an opportunity for our guests to quiz the knowledgeable proprietor, M Vigneron. Because we had already purchased a wine gift for our guests there was no pressure to buy although so impressed were one or two of our guests that M Vigneron was kept busy wrapping presents. After the wine tasting we headed for Le Coquempot Restaurant for dinner.

Le Coquempot is another popular destination for visitors and whilst there may be better - and more expensive - restaurants in the town, we have always found the restaurant provides us with great food and wine. Other restaurants worth considering - depending on budget - are the Auberge de la Grenouillere and, of course, the Chateau. The in-house restaurant at the Hermitage is also worth a try. Le Jeroboam is, in fact, owned by the son of the owner of the Chateau and leased by him from the hotel.

After a nightcap in the hotel bar our guests had a relaxing Sunday morning with a spot of shopping for bread, cakes and chocolate in the town before we moved on to the coastal resort of Wimereaux where we once again enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the Atlantic Hotel. The weather was extremely stormy, with access to the hotel along the promenade impossible - but the view of the storm from the windows of the cosy restaurant was spectacular.

The whole weekend offers a lovely introduction to the wonderful tastes of France and we have arranged this programme for private groups as well as corporate guests. We can combine a stay with any number of business or social options. Meeting facilities are excellent and Le Touquet also offers good golf and shopping.But the beauty of the package is that it is often priced much, much lower than a similar programme in the UK.

So, if you're looking for a keenly priced meeting, sales or staff conference or simply a looking for a way to reward staff or clients then why not get in touch? and, if walking and eating is your bag - our three day walking breaks are ideal for groups of six or more!

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