While lounging around the house reading, going on a few country walks and doing a bit of hard landscaping was all very well for the majority of our week in France, for my Dad's birthday we decided to venture out into Combourg (the nearest town to our rural idil) for lunch at one of his favourite restaurants. Happily, we arrived on market day, so we could prepare ourselves for the meal by looking at all of the local produce on offer on the way to the restaurant. Nothing builds the appetite like the sights and smells of a good French market.
Combourg Market, in the town centre every Monday morning, is a traditional village market. Start at the church end, you'll find clothes (including lots and lots of stripes - Brittany is the spiritual home of the Breton stripe, after all!), gradually moving onto plants and things for the home like tablecloths and kitchen knives. If you turn left here down a side street, you'll sometimes find chickens for sale, or perhaps other small, live, farmyard animals, but if you'll keep on going you'll reach the food. Most of the fresh fruit and vegetables are both hyper local and hyper seasonal, otherwise things like strawberries that need a warmer climate this time of year will have only come from elsewhere in France; these came from the Dordogne. Among the vegetables you'll find local cheeses, cured sausages and salamis, and Brittany butter biscuits, making the market the best place to buy authentic, local (non-tacky) gifts to take home.
Unless you have another destination for lunch in mind, the market is also the best place to grab a hot lunch. You'll find a couple of crepe vans up and down the market; I adore the local speciality in Brittany of a crepe saucisson, a rich, juicy, hot pork sausage wrapped in a big, savoury, buckwheat Brittany galette pancake to make a sort of northern french hot dog. If you ever have the opportunity, promise me you'll try one?
However, if I had been eating from the market last week, my beloved sausage galette would have had serious competition from the guy roasting whole chickens, sweet hunks of local pork and knarly looking ribs, all accompanied by soft, griddled local apple pieces. Don't worry. I'll be back.
We finally drew ourselves away from the market to find out table at La Cour du Temple, our favourite place to eat good, local food, just at the foot of the castle. If you get there early when they just open for lunch, you'll probably manage to get a table, but you can call up and book if your French is okay. It is owned by a lovely couple, Sonia (who is front of house) and Anthony (who is the chef). Sonia speaks perfect English, but last time I called up to book a table I got Anthony who does not speak a word of English!
While we have tried a lot from the menu, we now pretty much order the same thing. My Dad has an entrecôte steak (a fantastic cut of steak really common in France that we don't really get here in the UK) cooked to perfection with their excellent chips, and my Mum and I always have a traditional Breton galette, stuffed with soft, creamy leeks and perfectly cooked scallops. And we order the house wine, which is wonderful.
We're also rather predictable with our dessert choices (I don't know why Sonia even bothers to give us a menu anymore, to be honest!), my Dad and I go for crepes sprinkles with sugar and drizzled with warm, local butter, and my Mum goes all out with this epic looking coffee ice cream sundae.
It was a beautiful day, so before making out way back through the town to the car, we headed down to the lake to take in the view. If you type 'Combourg' into Google Image Search you'll be bombarded with pictures of the castle with the Lac Tranquille stretching out before it; it is certainly what makes the town unique. The castle was built in the 12th century, and is famous as the once home of the French writer François-René de Chateaubriand. Surprisingly I have not made it up the the castle yet, but I've got it marked for my next trip.
After a brief stop off at the bakery for a loaf of bread to make a light supper later in the evening with a bit of pâté we had in the fridge (if you're ever in Combourg, the bakery furthest from the church on the main street is the best), we made our way back to the car, now the market had cleared stopping off at the church to admire the beautiful stone and the cherry blossoms in full bloom on the way. I'd never actually been to Brittany at this time of year before, so the stunning white and pink blossoms simply everywhere, brilliant yellow rapeseed fields and carpets of bluebells in the forest came as something of a surprise to me. It is certainly a very pretty time of year to visit (and the local oysters are at their best, but more on that later!)
Now we've settled into the house more, and I'm in the position again to take a few more breaks that I have not been over the past year or so, I'm hoping to spend more time in Brittany to explore some more of the local area, both revisiting favourite towns, and discovering new spots. Keep an eye out for my next post from the trip, where we're headed out to the coast to visit Cancale, world famous for their oysters to take in the view and eat our body weights in Fruits de Mer!