Les Manoirs de Tourgeville, France
Robert Clayman travels to the French coast where the Norman invasion was plotted and discovers why they’re considerably more than happy to stay put these days.
Those LUSSO readers who are keen followers of my oeuvre (hello to Mrs Glenda Vyber of Port Vale, hope your grandson is well and you got the maintenance cheque as demanded) will have noted that cinematic references are not something I am totally alien to. Specifically, when dealing with all subjects à la Française. Sometimes one feels it appropriate in gilding the lily of a quotidian review, but on many occasions it’s just the natural option. France being the cinephilic country it is, many destinations and places have been woven into the national mythos by a process of celluloid osmosis. Never ones for big studio productions, le maîtres du cinéma prefered location, location, location.
Take last year, when I visited Hotel Byblos in St.Tropez. How could one ignore the significance of Roger Vadim’s ‘And God Created Woman’, featuring the feral winsomeness and semi-naked golden flesh of Bardot? In 95 minutes, it created the subsequent celeb culture and the lascivious, playful air that 60 years later still surrounds the little fishing village. French directors sure did like their coastal resorts – especially ones in Normandy. Truffaut’s 400 Blows ending enigmatically on the beach at Honfleur, Catherine Deneuve and her bloody umbrellas in Cherbourg…
These were the resorts that the Parisian middle class turned into their own riviera. Pretty, with a temperate climate and with a ready requisite of great local fayre including camembert, oysters and the best digestif in the world, Calvados, the Normandy coast was a draw since the Belle Epoque and would have been a central part of many a film director’s childhoods. Deauville is one of the jewels of the Normandy coast. An inspiration for artists and writers for over a century, together with Cabourg and Trouville, it provided the basis for the Norman coastal resort of Balbec in Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu. Monet, Édouard Manet and Berthe Morisot all painted their aristocratic clientele on the long sandy beaches at Deauville and Trouville, whilst Fitzgerald mentions the town in “The Great Gatsby” as a place Tom Buchanan and Daisy visit on their honeymoon. Even our own Bond’s escapades in the Casino Royale are based on Fleming’s tragic losses at Deauville’s own famous casino.
For it’s cinematic close up, the town had it’s starring role in Claude Lelouch’s 1966 classic Un Homme et Une Femme. Whilst Bardot sizzled in St. Trop, Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant wander around the wind-swept freshness of Deauville, longing for each other whilst being haunted by previous love. It also spawned an iconic slab of French cultural cheese – the film’s louche and scatty theme tune.
Lelouch first conceived of the film whilst on the boardwalk there and subsequently bought a beautiful farm-house 20 minutes into the countryside. Now the Hotel Byblos’s owners, Group Floriat, own the property and have created a haven of ultra-relaxed, civilised wonder, Les Manoirs de Tourgeville. Ostensibly, I’m invited for the annual Deauville American Film Festival, a celebration of US art-house and independent features, where uncharacteristically, French judges view American culture positively. It’s become a draw for top talent, such as George Clooney, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Nicholas Cage and, this last year, Steven Soderbergh, Matt Damon and Michael Douglas for ‘Behind the Candelabra’.
The town was conceived in glamour. Originally a fishing hamlet of about 80 inhabitants, its luck changed when The Duc de Morny, politician, financier, half-brother of Napoleon III, looked across from already popular Trouville at Deauville’s wide, empty sands and persuaded three friends to join him in creating an exclusive enclave of villas, plus a racecourse and a train link to Paris in the 1860s. Within 50 years, Grand hotels Normandy and Royal, a second racecourse and the lovely boardwalk, the Promenade des Planches, sprang up. The town’s symbol is taken from the vibrant closed beach parasols that dot the sands – recreated on posters, festival literature and even rather delicious madeleines.
Today there’s perennially still much to keep the mind and wallet occupied. Play golf at a choice of four professional courses close to Les Manoirs, attend horse racing, yachting regattas, tennis tournaments, international jazz festivals and vintage car rallies. Shop in the Saturday markets, in particular the fish market or at the boutiques, selling diamonds, couture clothes, leather handbags and gourmet foods (one of Coco Chanel’s first little outlets opened here). Being an equestrian centre, the town hosts annual International Polo competition. You can also access everything in the town on foot or bike.
I’d be exhausted after such an itinerary. Calm and peace is thus available at the hotel itself. An almost zen collection of half-timber structures reconfigured into a lawned quadrangle with elegance and unpretentiousness, the original main building now has four accompanying manor houses, spread throughout the gardens. Each features 8 rooms or 4 duplex apartments, complemented by private terraces. All are furnished in the open, bright style of Groupe Floriat matron, Mme Mireille Chevanne. They cleverly marry their rustic original architecture, whilst opening the rooms to frame the verdant pastoral views outside.
What’s so impressive is how perfectly cocooned one feels, once ensconced. The terraces invite you to lounge for the whole afternoon. A deliciously warm swimming pool and sun terrace that also houses a subterranean spa offers pampering and relaxation, whilst dining has been elevated. Given its own panoramic outhouse constructed in harmonious style with the existing buildings, the 1899 restaurant is both luxurious and practical.
Warm and informal service belies the classy takes on Normandy classics and some other regional treats. A gorgeously bright and zesty bisque is brimming with vivacious crustacea. My meuniere is as good as any I’ve encountered in a lifetime of sole searching. And then there was chocolate. Oh yes. A selection of the finest Calvadoses known to humanity were called upon to deal with this situation. And, garçon, they did not disappoint. Fully laden after supper, I still sleep like a baby.
Claude Lelouch was already a hero to LUSSO. He made maybe the greatest ever short film celebrating the essence of male aspiration, C’était un rendez vous. Basically, he strapped a camera to the front of his Merc 450SEL 6.9 and over eight uncut minutes breathlessly bombed it through Paris at around 85 mph, up to Sacre Coeur to be met by a rather lovely young lady. When it was released in 1976, he was nicked. Les Manoirs de Tourgeville is a rather more sedate testament to the life well lived, but everyone needs to slow down at some point. And if you’re going to pull up, here’s as good as anywhere.
Prices at Les Manoirs de Tourgeville in Deauville start from £145 per night in a double Manor room which includes breakfast and WiFi. To stay in a triplex, prices start from £245 per room per night. www.lesmanoirsdetourgeville.com