Château la Chenevière, Port-en-Bessin, Normandy: hotel and restaurant review
Read our review of Château la Chenevière in Normandy, a sophisticated base to explore the region’s cider orchards, tread a scallop shell-lined beach, and snack on salted butter caramels
Looking for best places to stay in Normandy? Want Port-en-Bessin hotels? Read our review of hotel Château la Chenevière, Normandy.
What’s the hotel’s USP?
Set along Normandy’s lush, north-west coast, the honeyed stone of 18th-century manor house Château la Chenevière glows in the mid-afternoon sun. A former mansion and farm – they used to grow hemp here, then bred foals before a German and American occupation in World War II – Chenevière opened as a hotel in 1988. Now with five stars, and membership of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it’s mastered the art of looking after its guests, especially those with food on their minds.
And the general vibe?
Sophisticated relaxation. Beyond the satisfyingly crunchy driveway there are 30 acres of grounds to amuse yourself in – with scented rose gardens (a flower show is held there every May), exotic trees, Chenevière’s own beehives, tennis courts, bikes (you can borrow them for free), a heated outdoor pool, and a hard-working vegetable patch that serves the hotel’s two restaurants. Attention to detail is strong – organic waste is turned into compost for the garden, and rain water is recycled.
Which room should I book at Château la Chenevière, Port-en-Bessin, Normandy?
There are 29 rooms in Chateau La Chenevière, each uniquely designed (think marble fireplaces, velvet-backed beds and wood paneling) but book into the deluxe executive rooms if you fancy an open, marbled bathroom. Wherever you stay, on wet weather days be sure to pick a DVD from the library and order free popcorn and a handful of individually wrapped salted butter caramels to be delivered to your door.
What’s good to drink?
Château la Chenevière’s speakeasy-style Zanzibar bar is decorated with a collection of the owner’s travel souvenirs but looks to its immediate surroundings for menu inspiration. Calvados (apple brandy) is a recurring theme – try the Cheneviere, a combination of pommeau (apple port), peach cream and champagne – or the house ciders.
With a fizz more like champagne, a lower ABV, and a bump in tannin thanks to the bittersweet local cider apple varieties, most of the region’s rusty hued ciders are refreshingly crisp – without any West Country funk you might be used to. There’s also a well-stocked wine cellar and an enthusiastic sommelier on hand.
What’s the food like at Château la Chenevière, Port-en-Bessin, Normandy?
The food is as refined as the building itself. Head chef Didier Robin has created a contemporary, vibrant but recognisably French menu at the hotel’s elegant Le Botaniste restaurant, with its starched tablecloths and shuttered windows.
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Using local produce and treasures from Chenevière’s own kitchen garden, each plate takes you on a journey of the region from the comfort of your chair. Salmon from Bayeux’s fishmonger is served at 38ºC with a cold crab and Normandy saffron broth. Local squab comes with a Normandy cider sauce. More local apples are paired with steamed asparagus, rapeseed oil and roast hazelnuts.
The ‘Twix’, perhaps takes its inspiration from a little further afield, but definitely looks to France for technique with its chocolate biscuit, caramel mousse, crispy coconut feuilletine and coconut and lime ice cream. It – along with the 20-strong French cheese trolley – is definitely worth saving room for.
In the second restaurant, a pop-up called Le Jardin in the hotel's pretty pool house, you can get hot oysters with apples and camembert sauce, shoulder of lamb roasted over open coals with garden rosemary (the scents of which will tempt you while you work up an appetite in the neighbouring tennis court) and seasonal fruit pies.
Or, if you fancy something altogether more relaxed, just ask the concierge to put together a picnic basket for you to enjoy on the lawn.
What’s the breakfast like at Château la Chenevière, Port-en-Bessin, Normandy?
The tables of Le Botaniste stay crisply pressed in the morning – but focus on the long table at the back of the room, where a long buffet is hard to drag yourself away from.
Start with a Chenevière-style, chive-flecked, mushroom and cheese omelette, made with free-range local eggs – just cooked, gently wobbling with every stab of the fork, and a lightly dressed salad. Move onto traditional Norman sausages, or perhaps the local bread and pastries collected daily from Fournil de Saint Loup bakehouse with Normandy butter, the Chateau’s own delicate honey and a dangerous amount of fromage.
Any other food experiences I shouldn’t miss?
This is cider country (Check out our expert guide to cider here) – so plan for days cycling from orchard to orchard, with local dairies as delicious punctuation – but an area rich in history, too. With Bayeux (and its tapestry), Giverny (and Monet’s beautiful garden) and the landing beaches close by – there’s plenty to pack in.
Bayeux is ten minutes’ drive from the hotel. Head there on a Saturday, for the farmers’ market, where you’ll find crates of bulots vivants (that’s live whelks), then sit in the shadow of the dramatic cathedral sipping on more amber cider.
On the coast, only two minutes away at Port-en-Bessin, look out for Paris-Brest pastries so generously filled with praline-packed cream, they burst with every bite. There’s a wet-floored, fresh fish market, too. Grab crab claws to crack on the pavement outside, as you dangle your feet over the edge of the harbour, the sweet shellfish naturally seasoned with the salty sea air.
Take a walk on the scallop-shell lined beach, before heading aboard the Pays du Bessin Bar a Huitres, the port’s own waterborne seafood shack. When it’s not open (this is France – be prepared for unpredictable opening hours) – pop across the road to L’Ecailler, instead, where you can get bargain bowls of rich, terracotta fish soup, with buoys of crispy croutons, grated cheese and slick aioli; and the sweetest, tiniest, little mussels swimming in a cider cream, with shallots, decorative fresh apple cubes and proper, golden fried frites.
When it comes to cider tasting, the fun is in the exploring but Dumaine Dupont is one of the best (with fluent English speakers) and definitely worth a detour. A tasting is free – make sure you try (and buy) the calvados and pommeau and, even better, the calvados laced with cream (think Normandy-style Baileys) – and a wander amongst the orchards are actively encouraged.
It wouldn’t be a trip to France without cheese playing an important role and there are two local producers to Chenevière that should be added to any itinerary. Discover how regional favourites – livarot, pont l’évêque and neufuchâtel – are made at family owned Le Grain d’Orge. Or on the smaller scale, Fromagerie Durand are producing camembert in the village of the same name. There are few raw milk cheese producers that will let people visit their dairy but the two brothers who run this charming outfit do. They also have a small shop, and tables where you can set up a picnic.
Is it family friendly?
Chenevière feels grown up and sophisticated but families are welcome. Extra beds can be made up in the larger bedrooms and suites for an additional charge and thethere’s a children’s menu. Board games, children’s bikes and babysitting are also available.
What can I do in the local area?
A trip to Saint Laurent sur Mer reveals the Omaha beach memorial, its wave-like metal fins spiking out of the soft golden sand a poignant reminder of what once was.
Beuvron-en-Auge – awarded France’s most beautiful village – is a postcard-ready vision of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century half-timbered homes, antique shops, cafés and stores selling macarons, and yet more cheese, calvados, cider, eggs and butter. Or, for something altogether different, head to yachty Honfleur, home of the Impressionists.
The concierge says
The concierge at Chenevière can arrange private tours of the landing beaches in everything from a Jeep to a buggy, a hot air balloon to a helicopter (there’s a helipad at the hotel, so your guide can meet you at the door). Horseback riding, golf, sailing and paragliding can also be arranged.
If you have time make a pit stop in Cambremer to place bets on the horses in old pubs and drink cider in the town square.
Double rooms at Chateau La Cheneviere start from £271, room-only. For the best deals on rooms at Chateau La Cheneviere, click here
For more info see normandie-tourisme.fr
Words by Laura Rowe
Photos by Laura Rowe, Château la Chenevière