Accessible adventures in Normandy!

Looking back, we had a wonderful holiday this summer but I must admit that at one point during our first evening I found myself muttering “Do we have to keep going on holiday?” I had got to the point where travelling and going to different places in a wheelchair had just become really exhausting. What actually caused my disgruntlement was having to transfer onto a dining chair because the tables in the dining room at the Ashford International Hotel were not wide enough to accommodate my powerchair. Transferring like this somewhere I’m familiar with is not a problem, I had just got really tired after travelling down from York with a stop at Grantham service station which wasn’t particularly user-friendly as the supposedly dropped kerb was rather high and the accessible loo had a broken lock. All right for me with Pete to stand guard but a potential disaster for someone travelling on their own. Things like this make travelling a bit tiring and stressful.IMG_1545

Also, the Ashford International Hotel had very bizarre accessibility to the building (see my review on Euan’sGuide for details and photos) and the room, while spacious enough didn’t allow much room between the loo and the wash basin. In the room, there were two mini bottles of prosecco and a note addressed to someone called Hayley explaining that they were the Guest of the Day. Somewhat nonplussed, we ignored them but when we got to the restaurant that evening it turned out that I was Guest of the Day despite not being called Hayley! This meant we had a plate added to our already quite crowded table with my new title written on it in chocolate! The meal and wine were nice and the staff very efficient. Breakfast next day was pretty good although somewhat off-putting was a member of staff with serious body odour issues. This place could do so much better!

The hotel is really convenient for the Channel Tunnel of course which is where we were headed the next day. The shuttle terminal building had marked Blue Badge bays and was easily accessible, including accessible loos. The previous time we had travelled on the shuttle, we had approached in a lane specifically for Blue Badge holders. This time that lane was shut and we ended up on the top layer of the shuttle (the carriages are double-deckers). It occurred to us that this really shouldn’t happen: wheelchair users should surely be on the lower level. After our return, I contacted the company and they said that that should indeed be the case and that were there a problem in future I should talk to a member of staff. So now we know!

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The journey was really smooth and easy and we were soon in France and on our way to our next hotel, Les Saules, in the Baie de Somme area. This was a very peaceful and relaxing place to stay with a spacious room, adapted bathroom and decking outside the French windows so you could sit outside. As we were staying two nights, we had a free day to explore the area so we went over to the coast at Le Crotoy and along to Fort Mahon: very breezy and bracing with great views.

At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme

The next day we were off to our gîte at Ceaucé via a stop at a supermarket for supplies. What a lovely gîte! Designed to be accessible, La Fresnaie has wide doors, an adapted bathroom, low level hob and eye level oven and a covered area to park your car. We loved sitting on the spacious terrace surrounding the house watching the red squirrels running about and listening to the buzzards overhead. During our week here, we explored lots of local villages in the car such as Lassay-les-Châteaux, Domfront, St Frimbault and Bagnoles de L’Orme. I didn’t have the energy to do much intrepid exploring of possible lakeside paths etc although we did visit the rather lovely La Roseraie at Lassay-les-Châteaux.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

Self-catering in France is made a lot easier by supermarkets having a traiteur counter where you can buy home-made style meals such as boeuf bourguignon or poulet basquaise – absolutely delicious. Also, it may seem like a stereotype but people really do go to the village boulangerie for their daily baguette. I can see why people fall in love with the lifestyle and want to move here.IMG_1590

The roads in France were good and not too crowded, although one of the days we travelled was apparently a day when everyone is heading off to Brittany and other places for their holidays which meant when we stopped at an aire or service station, it was very busy. Aires are more individual than our chains of service stations and not all are accessible, but the signs for them on the motorway indicate which services they have.

Lassay-les-Châteaux

We just stopped one night on our way back through France but at a rather special place: La Cour de Rémi at Bermicourt in Pas de Calais. After an international career, Sebastien, the proprietor, returned to his family château to convert the stables into a hotel and restaurant with fabulous but unpretentious cooking using lots of home-grown and locally sourced ingredients. They need to work on their accessibility: the tarmac was very rough and they had to put a board in place as a ramp into the restaurant as they haven’t built a permanent ramp yet. This was done with such alacrity that you really couldn’t fault them. I’m sure if we were to visit again (and I would love to!) these things will have been sorted out and they are also planning to create a little museum as the château was the headquarters of the British Tank Command during the First World War. Breakfast was equally fabulous, including their speciality of an entire brioche loaf between the two of us with home-made jam.

La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

A smooth journey on the shuttle again brought us to Folkestone and as we had some time to kill before going to our next stop, we drove along the coast and saw the Royal Military Canal at Romney Marsh. It was quite sunny and it was in a very attractive, tree-surrounded setting, but there was too much of a howling gale for exploring it to have been feasible but if we are ever down this way again it would make a lovely accessible little visit. I since contacted the local tourist office who said that the stretch of the canal nearest to Folkestone was deliberately created to be cycle and wheelchair friendly.

The Black Horse Inn, Thurnham, Kent

 

Our final stop was The Black Horse Inn at Thurnham near Maidstone, a historic but accessible pub which has rooms in single-storey chalets. They have created a pathway which takes you to the back of the pub and the lower level of the pub is accessible. This is where we ate in the evening and had breakfast the next day. The evening meal wasn’t great although the breakfast was good. I found the bathroom a little tricky to use so I wouldn’t choose to stay here again but it was interesting to see how a historic building can be made accessible and the rooms were generally very good and spacious.

Accessible, family rooms at The Black Horse, Thurnham, Kent

Using the shuttle was much preferable to last summer’s experience of using a plane and I would definitely do it again. The only trouble is that to reach somewhere like Spain you would have to do a lot of driving and planning of places to stopover so you would then have the issue that I started this piece with, of it being tiring to stay in lots of different places. It would be brilliant if travelling in a wheelchair on a plane was an easier and pleasanter experience. Next summer, in order to avoid potential Brexit-induced queues, we are holidaying in Britain but will no doubt head for Europe again soon via the shuttle!

Read about more accessible adventures!

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Accessible gourmet stopover

La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

It’s just as well we only stayed one night at La Cour de Rémi otherwise we might not have fitted through the door on the way out!

If ever you need somewhere that is a bit of a treat and within easy reach of the channel ports, this is it!

La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais
La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

The hotel rooms and restaurant are in the stables of a château that was the headquarters of the British tank command in the First World War. Sébastien, the proprietor, has created a lovely relaxed atmosphere with his friendly team of staff, comfortable rooms and fabulous food. There’s an additional room in a treehouse.

La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais
La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

It is slightly a work in progress still: the paths need redoing, they were very rough and there was no slope into the restaurant. The staff had to bring a wooden board but that worked a treat and everyone was very jolly and good natured about it. In other circumstances it could all have been a bit awkward but it certainly wasn’t here – all just part of the laid-back atmosphere. They will be sorting out the access so maybe we’ll just have to go back to check it out!

Parking space, La Cour de Rémi
Parking space, La Cour de Rémi

Our room (chambre 2, if you are looking at the website) was really spacious with a sofa and two upright chairs with arms. It wasn’t entirely user-friendly as they make use of original features, so what had been the trough for the horses’ feed overhung the head of the bed and did not make a very good headboard! Also, the bed was a bit low and the bathroom floor very slippery when wet but generally it was fine as a disabled-adapted room as it had grab rails and a shower seat. The toiletries were lovely and there was also tea and coffee making facilities. Only one coffee sachet though, so we had to ask for some more but it was worth it as it was surprisingly good coffee!

Chambre 2, La Cour de Rémi
Chambre 2, La Cour de Rémi

Dinner was a really fun experience. Once we had negotiated the temporary slope, we entered a restaurant with tables I could sit at in my power chair (hooray!) and with a huge wooden table down the length of the room, apparently hewn from a single tree trunk. At this, a member of staff was industriously slicing home-made bread. We were brought some of this along with a terrine dish half full of rough-hewn home-made pâté plus a stone jar full of gherkins. This was our ‘amuse-bouche’ or appetiser! Pete would happily have eaten nothing but that all evening! Our food was equally wonderful (best fish I’ve ever eaten!) and they use plenty of home-grown vegetables, fruit and herbs from their lovely walled garden as well as other regional produce.

La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais
La Cour de Rémi, Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

Breakfast was equally fun: a brioche loaf between the two of us with two kinds of home-made jam, ham and cheese and boiled egg along with lovely coffee and hot milk. I love it when they offer you hot milk so you can have milky coffee that isn’t cold!

Tank Corps memorial, La Cour de Rémi
Tank Corps memorial, La Cour de Rémi

They are planning to add a little museum about the tank corps but if we were to visit again, it would be for the location, the atmosphere, and, yes, the food.

The chateau de Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais
The chateau de Bermicourt, Pas-de-Calais

For more details about the accessibility and more photos, please see my review on Euan’s Guide.

Click here for more reviews of accessible places to stay.

 

 

 

Relaxed, accessible hotel

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

Les Saules was a very relaxing place to spend a couple of days on our way from Calais to our gîte in Normandy. We spent two nights here which meant we had a day to explore the local area, the Baie de Somme, so we went to the coast for some extremely bracing sea air!

Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The hotel is quite modest in style but does what it does very well, which is to provide a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere in pleasant, comfortable surroundings with good food and helpful, welcoming staff.

Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Les Saules, Baie de Somme

Our room was on the ground floor and had a terrace outside with table and chairs, looking over the grounds which were very attractive, including a couple of ponds with ducks. In fact the terrace reached all round the hotel and there was an outside dining area which would have been lovely had the weather been more settled. There was a bit of a door sill to negotiate to get out to the terrace but Pete had cunningly brought a couple of pieces of slightly chamfered wood for just such an occasion and they made it easier to get in and out.

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The hotel has a spa but it’s just as well we weren’t intending to use it as it would have meant negotiating the pebbly car park. There was a disabled bay in which we parked initially before realising that I wouldn’t have been able to negotiate the pebbled surface. Access was fine at the front of the hotel, just a couple of slight bumps, so we used the driveway as a drop-off area then Pete would park the car afterwards. There was further parking on a tarmac surface.

The Spa, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
The Spa, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The bathroom had grab rails and a shower seat; I would have welcomed an extra drop-down grab rail so that there was one each side of the shower seat and the loo was very high but I guess different arrangements suit different people. You can see more or less what the room was like on their website if you look at the ‘chambre premium.’

It seems to be becoming more common for hotel rooms on the continent to have tea and coffee making facilities and they were happy to provide us with some milk.

Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Les Saules, Baie de Somme

When we went to the restaurant the first evening, we realised that the majority of the tables were too narrow for my power chair to fit under so I would have had to transfer to a dining chair, which I can do but it all adds to the hassle, so I was pleased when a member of staff pointed out that a nearby table in a different style would work (it was one of just a couple of old, wooden circular tables) so we used that and asked if we might reserve it for the next evening and they even reserved it for us for breakfast!

The terrace, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
The terrace, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

The food was good without being fabulous and they use local produce and have some local specialities on the menu. Disappointed they had run out of decaffeinated coffee though!

Breakfast involved croissants, pastries, and cheese, fruit and yoghurt and also eggs. This provided us with a slight puzzle: we had assumed they were hard-boiled and started to peel one when we realised they were in fact raw and you are supposed to pop them into a bath of hot water to cook. The laughing waiter assured us that we were not the first people to make that mistake. Fortunately we realised in time to avoid getting raw egg everywhere!

The next day we investigated Le Crotoy, Fort Mahon and other places along the coast. It was incredibly windy so we didn’t venture outside the car other than to take photos and try to find postcards but I think it would have been possible to get along the prom at Le Crotoy at least. It clearly suited the people windsurfing and kite surfing at any rate!

At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme
At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme

I would stay at Les Saules again as it was a very pleasant place and the access was OK. It was just over sixty miles from Calais, so convenient for the tunnel or ferry.

At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme
At Le Crotoy, Baie de Somme

For further details on accessibility and more photos, see my review on Euan’s Guide.

See my website for more reviews of accessible places to stay.

 

Lovely, accessible gîte in Normandy

Beautiful, spacious, peaceful and with a fully accessible ground floor, La Fresnaie is a great base for exploring the local area with its picturesque towns and villages and wonderful, rolling countryside.IMG_1590

La Fresnaie can be booked for four people or six: the ground floor has two bedrooms and a wet room style bathroom, while upstairs there are a double and a twin, a bathroom and toilet.

The terrace, La Fresnaie
The terrace, La Fresnaie

Surrounding the house is a terrace, some of which is shaded so you can enjoy the sun or keep out of it, whichever you prefer and there is plenty of garden furniture for if you want to eat or sit and relax on a sofa. The car parking is also covered so you can easily pack or unpack the car, whatever the weather.

The terrace, La Fresnaie
The terrace, La Fresnaie

The grounds, which include the home of Paula and Nigel the owners and two other cottages, are beautiful with plenty of the ash trees that the place is named after and we were thrilled to see red squirrels running about and to spot buzzards wheeling overhead.

A lot of thought has gone into the accessibility: grab rails by the loo and shower which has a drop-down seat. The doorways have a very low threshold so there is no problem with access and in the kitchen the worktop which includes the hob is at a lower level with space underneath.

A few things could be improved to make it even more wheelchair-friendly, for example, the dining table was of the sort that you cannot fully pull up to in a wheelchair (we popped a book under each leg to raise it up but of course that did make it rather high!). Fortunately, the table outside was of a different design and we were able to eat out there quite often. I could have done with a vertical grab rail by the loo but I guess that sort of detail is going to be different from one person to the next.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux
La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

We were not too worried about whether there were many accessible things to do in the local area as we fully intended to have a very relaxing time after the incredibly stressful few weeks I had just had at work (long story). There were recommendations in the visitors’ book but this is where the difference between perhaps pushing somebody, a child may be, in a wheelchair and accessing things in a power chair are two different situations. I tend to duck out of exploring things which look rather hard work as, the greater the hassle, the less worth doing it becomes. Just driving around spotting ‘dream cottages,’ getting glimpses of castles and absorbing the still traditional French village way of life was great fun in itself.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux
La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

For all there were big supermarkets on the edges of some of the towns, many people still pop to the local boulangerie for their daily baguette.

La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux
La Roseraie, Lassay-les-Châteaux

The supermarkets were useful as, much as I like to support local businesses, quaint little shops are not generally accessible. Many French supermarkets have a ‘traiteur’ counter where you can buy portions of home-made style meals to take home. They are so much nicer than a ready meal and much easier than actually cooking from scratch. We tried a good range of them as with hotel stays on the way to and from the cottage, we were not bothered about eating out during our week in Normandy, and they were delicious.

Lassay-les-Châteaux
Lassay-les-Châteaux

When we visited Lassay-les-Châteaux, a lovely little town with a wonderful castle, we explored La Roseraie, a delightful rose garden, perhaps slightly past its best so late in the season but still full of a huge variety of beautiful roses. It is very easily accessible from the main car park of the town which is tarmac and the paths in the rose garden are fine gravel. We also visited Domfront, Bagnoles de l’Orne and St Fraimbault – all very picturesque. Many towns and villages are ‘villes fleuris’ – full of flowers at this time of year.

Domfront
Domfront

Our intention was to have a really relaxing time and we certainly did. We had chosen somewhere that was lovely to be at even if we didn’t do very much and that was pretty much exactly what happened. Just being at La Fresnaie, relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet was exactly what we had hoped for!

La Fresnaie, Loré, Basse-Normandy
La Fresnaie, Loré, Basse-Normandy

For further details on accessibility and more photos, see my review on Euan’s Guide.

 

League of Historical & Accessible Cities

Avila

Who knew there was a League of Historical & Accessible Cities? The city walls of

Avila
Avila

Avila are fully accessible – amazing! I’d love to see how they achieved that. There is of course a debate to be had about how far you alter a historic building to make it accessible and of course, here in York it is particularly relevant.  Other European Accessible cities are Salzburg (Austria), Turin and Lucca (Italy),  Mulhouse (France), Sozopol (Bulgaria) and Viborg (Denmark).  Each city has its own page on the LHAC website with information, promotional videos etc. Great to know that there are moves out there to make places accessible to everyone!

http://www.lhac.eu/?i=accessible-cities.en.home

http://www.accessibletourism.org/?i=enat.en