Getting off a cross Channel ferry with just a bike and proceeding to cycle through the French countryside with the aim of finding a holiday bolthole sounds like a potential needle in a haystack … but clearly it can be done.
When Samuel Acford set his mind on finding the perfect place for himself and wife Francesca with the help of two wheels, it could have easily turned into his very own Tour de France so it’s just as well that the unspoilt village of Glatigny in the Manche department is close to Normandy’s ferry ports.
And that’s something, with three boys not known for their love of car journeys sitting in the back, we were very pleased about too.
The house was a wreck when they bought it but, with the help of family and friends, they have renovated it into a three-bedroom home with mezzanine complete with two bathrooms, courtyards and gardens. Part of the barn has also been brought into use meaning that the property sleeps 10.
Clearly, like Samuel, we soon discovered that you can cover a decent distance in relatively little time and without any of the inevitable stress if you were attempting to do the same in the UK.
In fact, the roads were so quiet, it really was possible to drive for miles without seeing another vehicle, save for the occasional tractor.
What strikes you even more is how incongruous it feels to know that some of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War took place in that tranquil and sleepy French countryside.
With the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings this year, the area is preparing for another invasion of tourists as well as family members wanting to pay their respects.
We tried to come up with a day that in some way put the events of 1944 into context but also brought home the scale for our three boys aged between nine and 13, visiting the 173-acre Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer overlooking Omaha Beach, the final resting place of 10,000 soldiers represented by rows and rows of white crosses.
Less than 15 miles away along the coast is Batterie-de-Longues near Longues-sur-Mer, a very tangible and surreal reminder of the war. It was the site of the German guns which pounded allied forces as they arrived across the Channel and they’re still there, rusting and crumbling, in their original concrete bunkers. We were surprised that the guns were left open to the elements and hordes of curious children – including our own - who treated the whole experience like a historic and slightly eerie climbing frame.
The close proximity of Bayeux to the landing beaches meant we could also include a trip to see the tapestry on the same day. Another welcome bonus was that, outside the major cities, we were able to pay on the door at most of the places we visited without having to book tickets in advance, so we could be more flexible.
When you want to explore somewhere, it can be a tricky compromise if, like us, you don’t fancy spending hours behind the wheel, yet it never felt as if we were putting in too many miles, even on our most distant trip to Mont St Michel which was about 90 miles away on mostly deserted motorways.
It’s nearly 25 years since I was last there and there are a few changes, not least the park and ride system which replaces the old system of park-anywhere-you-can but the biggest and most telling was the heavy armed police presence from the car park to the winding streets inside. A sobering sign of the times we now live in.
On the ‘in between’ days, the wide open local beaches had some great dunes, especially Lindbergh Plage, which has the added bonus of a beachside bar and restaurant, Le Bac a Sable, run by an ex pat and his French wife. The moules frites were our top choice from the menu.
Since Samuel and Francesca know the area well their list of suggested days out and places to eat also included Portbail and the nearby market town of La Haye-du-Puits which is well served with supermarkets and a wide range of eating places, including the fantastic Le Commerce which offers steaks cooked on a grill and great value for a family complete with set menus. The city of Coutances with its landmark cathedral is just over half an hour away and well worth a visit too.
If you want a holiday without sitting in endless queues of traffic and a tranquil base from which to explore everything that Normandy has to offer, then Glatigny could be the perfect choice. You could even go on your bike…
How to book:
The property costs between £745 and £1,235/week
For further details, contact www.remarkable-retreats.com, email email@example.com or call 0845 2418881
We travelled with Brittany ferries from Portsmouth to Caen
For further details, contact brittanyferries.com or call 0330 1597000