Black pudding, cider and a dollop of joie de vivre...
This weekend the French decide who will be their next president.
It’s sad that such deep divisions are arising in such a wonderful country.
I fell in love with France just last year when an invitation I couldn’t refuse pinged into my email inbox. Would I like to go on a gastro tour of Normandy?
Yes, I jolly well would.
That Friday night I hopped on a Brittany overnight ferry to Ouistreham from Portsmouth International Ferry Port.
After a quick nightcap at the bar, I got my head down in my comfortable cabin and woke up in France.
We drove straight to the beautiful, belle epoque-era Grand Hotel in Cabourg for the first meal in what would be a gastronomic tour par excellence.
Watching the sun rise over the Channel as we tucked into the most delicious coffees and pastries in the ornate dining room set the tone for the trip.
Outside, sophisticated-looking Normans were walking their tiny dogs along the promenade. It was very French. And I felt very fancy.
From there it was a short drive to the charming town of Dives-sur-Mer, to catch the morning market in a huge medieval hall.
The French love meat and there was every kind imaginable on sale next to extravagant cathedral-shaped coffee cream cakes, wild mushrooms, game pies and cheese.
What an absolute delight it must be to spend your Saturday mornings shopping here.
William the Conqueror set off from Dives-sur-Mer in 1066 and I imagine he left with a deliciously-full belly.
Next stop was Cormeilles, in the heart of the Calvados region of Normandy.
I’d never tried the apple brandy before visiting Busnel distillery.
The visitor centre has some of the original stills on display and you can sample all the different types of Calvados, including a cream liqueur which is similar to, but in my opinion much nicer than, Baileys.
Lunch was at Gourmandises, a Michelin restaurant, where head chef Alexis Osmont surprised us by serving snails with mushrooms and a tarragon foam, to start, followed by curried cod.
Would I have been brave enough to choose the dishes myself? No.
Would I choose them again? Absolutement.
That evening was spent at Logis de Brionne, in Brionne, where Joelle and Alain Depoix run a hotel and Michelin restaurant.
Alain is almost a caricature of the French chef. Passionate about his dishes, yet jovial, he greeted us afterwards in his chef’s whites (including the comical toque blanch hat).
He explained a little about our superb meal of mascarpone and truffle amuse bouche, fish terrine wrapped in artichoke and topped off with savoury shortbread and caviar, guinea fowl with caramelised apples and Alain’s famous foie gras.
The baroque Chateau du Champ du Bataille, in Eure, is set in 90 acres of the most stunningly-landscaped gardens.
It was well worth the drive across Normandy to visit.
Owner Jacques Garcia, one of France’s most successful designers, has been restoring the property for decades, spending millions of euros, and, luckily for us it is now open to the public.
It is exquisite and there is a romantic tale behind the gardens.
Mr Garcia fell in love with his gardener.
Our next stop was the cidre festival at Le Sap, for traditional Norman dancing and a look at how this famous apple region traditionally made cider.
As a one-off, the horse-driven cider presses were started up.
Warm cider kept the cold at bay as we enjoyed a really fun afternoon with our ex-pat hosts Robert and Maggie who introduced us to blasts of spicy apple eau de vie.
Le Tribunal is a cosy hotel in medieval Mortagne-au-Perche, which is famous for its black pudding, boudin.
I know not everyone loves blood sausage but I urge you, if you ever visit, try chef Freddie Pommier’s boudin noir maison. The best I’ve ever tasted.
My final day in France was spent in style, relaxing with a massage, followed by lunch, at the Pom Spa at the Domaine de Villeray.
It was everything you imagine a fairytale French chateau to be – a bit tumble down on the outside, opulent on the inside.
The massage, using apple-infused oils, naturally, was totally heavenly.
We stopped at Le Channel restaurant, in Ouistreham, for an enormous seafood platter before our crossing home.
After a weekend of fine dining, it almost beat us. Almost.
Whatever the outcome of the elections, I know I can’t wait to go back.
Visit normandy-tourism.org for information on Normandy. Brittany Ferries operates routes from Portsmouth to Le Havre, Caen and Cherbourg in Normandy. Travel overnight by luxury cruise ferry in your own en-suite cabin, or choose the three-hour summer fast-ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. Fares start from £79 each way for a car plus two. For offers and to book, call 0330 159 7000 or go to brittanyferries.com.