Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 20, 2017

© Anita Draycott

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La Vie en vert

Take a swing on France’s finest and most formidable fairways in Normandy and Brittany

Most Canadians don’t consider France when looking for a golf getaway. But you might be surprised to know that France boasts about 600 courses, more than the rest of continental Europe put together. Some of the most scenic are to be found along the coasts of Normandy and Brittany where you can combine your passion for the game with visits to the D-Day Beach memorial sites. The average green fee is only €60. And rest assured, you’ll never be far from a gastronomic feast.

From Paris, my husband and I took the train to Le Havre and rented a car. The first stop was Golf d’Étretat (tel: 011-33-2-3527-0489; golfetretat.com), established in 1908 by vacationing British aristocrats. Back then, there were only 13 fairways which were clipped by sheep.

Today there are 18 well-manicured holes and stellar vistas. From the giddying elevated tees on number 10 you must launch your ball into the wind gusting from the English Channel to a fairway that totters toward the sea. From there, it’s a climb to the green and a million-dollar view of the chalky white cliffs (France’s equivalent to those of Dover, England) and the church spire of Étretat.

Unlike the North American “conveyor belt” mentality, French golf is an unrushed, civilized affair. A lunch break back in Canada is about as exciting as a burger stop; in France expect gourmet fare, fine china and crisp linen.

In the Grand Style

From Étretat, it’s a pleasant drive to the posh seaside resort town of Deauville, where Coco Chanel began designing clothes. We checked into the Hôtel du Golf Barrière (tel: 011-33-2-3114 2400; www.lucienbarriere.com), a palatial grande dame built in the half-timbered style typical of the region.

Normandy is not a wine-producing region but its epicurean bounty includes famous cheeses, such as Pont-l’Évêque and Camembert, an abundance of seafood, as well as Calvados — Normandy’s apple-perfumed brandy. It slides down so well that the Normans often ingest it twice during a heavy meal: halfway through dinner, when it is known as the trou (hole) Normand; and after coffee at the end of the meal.

Two world-class British architects, Tom Simpson and Sir Henry Cotton, combined their talents to create the 27 fairways of Barrière’s courses — the Red, White and Blue nines. If you only have time for 18, play the Red and White. It’s a delightful romp around the countryside with views of the English Channel. The 18th finishing hole is a strong uphill par-four with its green just in front of the hotel’s inviting terrace.

Just 15 minutes away, we took a swing at the Golf Barrière de Saint-Julien, another 27-hole gem in the midst of the rolling countryside. Nearby, you should explore the famous cheese town, Pont-l’Évêque, where you can also drop into the Père Magloire Calvados distillery for a free tour and tasting.

About an hour’s drive south of Deauville, Golf d’Omaha Beach (tel: 011-33-2-3122-1212; omahabeachgolfclub.com) offers two 18-hole courses, La Mer and the newer, inland Le Manoir. Designer Yves Bureau took full advantage of the precipitous seaside location on the English Channel where wind is always a factor.

As part of the D-Day 50th anniversary, each hole was named after a war hero or battle. On the Omar Bradley signature sixth of La Mer, there’s a real German concrete bunker behind the sand bunkers on this par-three set high on the cliffs overlooking the D-Day landing beaches.

Lest We Forget

On this Normandy coast you’re never far from the sobering reminders of the heroic Canadian, American and British WWII soldiers who stormed the beaches and eventually liberated much of Europe from Nazi Germany.

The Caen Memorial Centre for History and Peace (tel: 011-33-2-3106-0645; www.memorial-caen.fr) is one of Normandy’s major tourist attractions. The Centre explores the history of the 20th century with insightful displays, videos and newsreels explaining the events that precipitated World War II.

Nearby, the Juno Beach Centre (tel: 011-33-2-3137-3217; junobeach.org) at Courseulles-sur-Mer is the only Canadian museum on the D-Day beaches. On June 6, 1944. 14,000 of the 135,000 allied troops who landed or parachuted in Normandy were Canadians. The 10-week campaign resulted in more than 18,000 Canadian casualties; of these, about 5500 were killed and most are buried in the Canadian cemeteries at Bény-sur-Mer and Cintheaux.

Up until June 6, 2003 there was no place commemorating Canada’s major contribution. The Juno Beach Centre was created by a group of Canadian Second World War veterans, widows and children of vets to perpetuate the memory and boost awareness of our country’s integral role in achieving peace.

If, like me, you’ve got family who played a part in World War II, you may purchase a brick and have it engraved with the soldier’s rank, name, decorations and whatever other information you’d like to add. The bricks are mounted on the walls of several kiosks located at the entrance to the centre.

During WWII, my father, Clifford Draycott, served as a bombardier in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He flew 30 missions and returned home with a bunch of medals and some souvenir shrapnel. My Dad never liked to talk about the war or his involvement but I think he’d be happy to know there’s a brick with his name on it overlooking Juno Beach.

Archangels, Omelettes & Oysters

Before leaving Normandy, make a pilgrimage to Mont-Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s been attracting visitors since 708 CE, when the bishop of Avranches heeded the advice of Archangel Michael who said something to the effect of, “Build here and build high. If you build it, they will come.”

Indeed, what from a distance appears to be a mirage rising from the sea, Mont-Saint-Michel’s medieval “island” abbey attracts three-and-a-half million visitors a year. Take the causeway and park where instructed to avoid having your vehicle submerged in Europe’s highest tides. The dining room at the Hôtel La Mère Poulard Hotel (tel: 011-33-2-3389-6868; merepoulard.com), opened in 1888 is renowned for its omelettes and its guest list that includes Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill and Claude Monet.

Crossing into Brittany, oyster aficionados will want to slurp a few dozen in Cancale, famous for its flat briny bi-valves. The colourful port is lined with casual eateries and experienced shuckers.

I recommend a couple of nights in chic Dinard at the Grand Hôtel Barrière (tel: 011-33-2-9988-2626; www.lucienbarriere.com). Walking around the town with its Belle Époque villas and striped beach tents is like stepping into the 19th century. Back then, it was France’s top summer resort attracting both well-heeled Brits and Americans and film stars. It’s lost none of its charms.

From town, you are minutes from the Dinard Golf Club (tel: 011-33-2-9988-3207; dinardgolf.com), the second oldest in France. This gem on the Emerald Coast has so many breathtaking fairways, it’s difficult to pinpoint the most scenic. Founded by a group of British settlers, it was designed by Scotsman Tom Dunn in 1887. Covered in gorse and broom, the links-style tract plays over moors, dunes, cliffs and strands. The original Art Deco clubhouse is a welcoming place to linger over lunch.

Nearby, Pléneuf-Val-André (tel: 011-33-2-9663-0112; bluegreen.com) is another seaside wonder you won’t forget, especially the par-five 11th where the cliffhanging tees offer vistas of the rugged Emerald Coast. Designed by Alain Prat in 1992, Pléneuf is a genuine bargain at €55. Jacques Cartier's hometown

On what used to be the hunting grounds of a swashbuckling corsaire (privateer), Saint-Malo Hotel, Golf and Country Club (tel: 011-33-2-9958-9669; www.saintmalogolf.com) sports two parkland courses: the 18-hole championship L’Étang and the nine-hole Old Course. An inviting stone priory houses the comfortable rooms, pro shop and restaurant serving regional specialties.

Nearby in Saint-Malo, Canadians will want to visit the Jacques Cartier Museum and House (tel: 011-33-2-9940-9773; musee-jacques-cartier.com). The Breton explorer set sail in 1535 in search of a passage to Asia; instead, he ended up discovering the St. Lawrence River and founding Quebec City.

Brittany is also the birthplace of thalassotherapy, the ideal antidote to weary golf muscles. We took a relaxing soak at Les Thermes Marins (tel: 011-33-2-9940-7500; www.thalassotherapie.com), a grand hotel and spa on the sweeping Saint-Malo beach. Feeling rather mellow, we sauntered along the seaside promenade to the medieval walls. Inside, the vibrant town is full of outdoor cafés and eateries.

It was our last night in Brittany so we decided to sample the local specialty, crêpes Bretonnes. In Brittany a crêpe is made with white flour and usually has a sweet filling such as berries and whipped cream; a galette is made with buckwheat flour and usually contains a savoury mixture such as eggs, ham and cheese. Either way, they are France’s thrifty rendition of delicious fast food.

Brittany has a history of strong ties to the British Isles. Long before the Romans arrived, trading across the Channel thrived. During the Dark Ages, waves of immigrants from Ireland, Wales and southern England arrived on this Armorican peninsula and left their mark. As they are wont to do, the Brits introduced golf to this fabled coast. And for that we say merci beaucoup.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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