Fête de la Musique is one of the few annual cultural events for which I'm strict about sticking around town. Musicians, concerts and crowds of jovial locals infuse a new vigor into the city spirit. And since it coincides with the first day of summer, positive energy reaches new heights. This year, however, we set our sights on a different type of experience outside the city.
We were headed to Gouvix, a tiny village in Normandy about 12km south of Caen, to spend the night in an old country manor called The Priory at Gouvix that friends of ours raved about. They make annual trips to Normandy for Easter and always rent a house big enough to accommodate their three children and two other families. When they mentioned that the host prepares what can properly be described as a feast for all guests (which caters to all dietary needs), I checked the calendar and made a plan. Since I perpetually travel by belly, this sounded like the perfect opportunity to try something different and meet some new people.
The property dates to the 18th century and boasts 8,000 square meters of orchard and garden. The multi-level home, situated between the town hall (which looks more like a corner shop) and a church, sleeps between 10 to 12 and feels straight out of a fairytale with its stone stairwell, antique furnishings and lush surroundings. It is in the quieter reaches of Normandy and effectively the town's go-to destination, but not only because of the calm it offers. It's the combination of cozy, country lodging and the fine cooking that makes this place a standout.
"This Camembert is transcendental... it's like walking in a field with cows!" said David Brewer, the owner of the Priory, quite accurately as he presented his cheese selection for the meal. I knew I was in the right place. This was merely one course among many, prepared with produce from the garden or sourced from the local farmer's market. Bookending the cheese plate was a delicious duck rillette, house-cured Gravlax as a nod to Swedish midsummer tradition, roasted rabbit with mustard sauce and green beans and a gooseberry shortcake with a raspberry coulis.
Cider and wine accompanied each course and relaxed the guests - a semi-retired English couple and Dutch-American kayakers in their late sixties. At the head of the table sat our host and generous chef, brimming with stories of his own to share. We chatted, regaled ourselves on David's cooking and laughed until the sky skewed pastel in what felt like a special performance for the solstice.
As we we tucked into the last bites of cake, Cédric glanced at me with a wide-eyed smile he typically reserves for only the most impressive or meaningful meals. I nodded in agreement, poured another glass of wine and thought how fortunate we were to have experiences like these.
The next morning, before each couple set off on their sight-seeing activities for the day, we shared one last meal. And yet again, we bonded over a common quest for connection and, more importantly, experience that transcends age or background. Though it may be fleeting, it's a connection we'll always remember.
9 rue de l'Eglise