“An elegant and relaxing country retreat in the gentle hills of southern Normandy, with fabulous food, gorgeous gardens and a heated outdoor pool”
A grand oak staircase, worn smooth by centuries of footsteps, sweeps you up to the 5 bedrooms. Each is different, reflecting the taste of the family member it was originally designed for, but all have a charming mix of antiques, heirlooms and homely comforts. Tucked into the eaves at the top of the house are the biggest rooms, and our personal favourites. Aurélie’s Room is decidedly romantic, with soft taupe walls, delicate floral fabrics and a canopied double bed; its bathroom sits off the landing and has a tub and shower. Alexandre’s Room is more contemporary, with slate-grey walls, a leather sofa, spotlights suspended from exposed rafters, and a slick ensuite with a bath and handheld shower. We stayed on the floor beneath in Aurore’s Room, a pretty double decorated in shades of plum and lavender. Its large ensuite has a tub and walk-in shower, and we slept soundly under the snuggly duvet, soothed by the distant hooting of owls outside. At the other end of the first floor sit Yves’ Room and Françoise’s Room - the most traditional in terms of décor - which can interconnect to form a family suite for 4. The former is a rustic double or twin with parquet flooring, chunky beams and floral wallpaper. The latter is a double done in elegant 18th-century style, with duck-egg blue walls and a marble fireplace; it’s the smallest of all, but we’d still happily lay our heads there. These rooms share a bathroom (with a quirky curtained tub and shower) across the landing, but as they’re never booked at the same time (unless you opt for the suite), you’ll get it all to yourself. All rooms come with a few toiletries, piles of thick towels, hairdryers, free WiFi, and views out over the gardens to the hills beyond. TVs are available on request, but we much preferred flicking through the books and magazines (in French and English) dotted around the house.
Isabelle is a deft hand in the kitchen and does most of the cooking herself. She also grows many of the ingredients in the garden, so expect plenty of seasonal fruit and veg. Meals are normally served at a lace-covered communal table in the pale and pretty dining room, where candles sparkle in crystal chandeliers, though a private table can be set up in one of the salons if you’d prefer to dine à deux. In summer, things often move outside to the garden. Dinner, available Tuesday-Saturday by prior arrangement, is a laid-back, sociable affair. Start with an aperitif around the fire, before tucking into a 4-course feast washed down by copious amounts of wine. We were treated to velvety carrot and coriander soup, a spicy Moroccan tagine with melt-in-the-mouth lamb, and a fantastic pear crumble topped with Normandy cream (which, Alain assured us, is the best in France). Rounding things off was a wonderful cheese board with Rocquefort, Comté and - of course - the local star, Camembert. Breakfast, included in the rates, is equally tasty. Wander downstairs and you’ll find the table laden with baskets of baguettes, heaps of croissants, cakes still warm from the oven, and dainty little pots of homemade jam. There’s also fruit and yoghurt, plus cafetières of coffee and glasses of just-squeezed orange juice. On Sundays, you can pay a little extra for an extensive brunch of savoury tarts, cheeses, meats and fruit. When it comes to eating out, there are plenty of options in Alençon, 15 minutes away. Alain and Isabelle recommend Rive Droite, a trendy lounge-like restaurant with Michelin Bib Gourmand acclaim. There are more rustic options in Saint-Céneri-Le-Gérei, where L'Auberge des Peintres gets particularly good reviews.
La Louvière’s relaxed charm and interconnecting rooms make it ideal for families, and Isabelle and Alain welcome kids of all ages with open arms. Their young grandchildren are frequent visitors to the house, so there are plenty of books and toys to entertain little ones, as well as huge gardens that are pefect for games of hide and seek. Children will also enjoy meeting Venus the dog and Shadow the cat, who are gentle, inquisitive and used to being petted and patted.
Babies (0-1 years), Children (4-12 years)
Yves' Room (a double or twin) and Françoise's Room (a small double) interconnect to form a suite for up to 4 - ideal for families. All other rooms can fit a baby cot (free) or rollaway bed (small charge), with Aurélie's Room and Alexandre's Room offering the most space to spread out. There's a tub in every bathroom.
Babysitting can be arranged on request.
Isabelle will happily tailor meals for fussy eaters, and breakfast includes plenty of child-friendly options (croissants, cakes, yoghurt).
Keep a close eye on youngsters near the lake, and on the stairs, which have become a little slippery with age.