Chris Slade describes the son et lumiere presentation at the abbey of Bon Repos called "Le Pays de Conomor" in Brittany, which takes place during the first two weeks of August.
We bought this stone Breton holiday cottage five years ago. It belonged to an elderly Parisian lady who could no longer spend July and August alone in Malestroit, 22Southern Brittany.
It was a house that was used just two months a year. The rest of the year it was left, shuttered up, unloved. As it was only used in the hot summer months it didn’t matter that there wasn’t any heating or that the windows were rotten and daylight could be seen between the wall and the window frame.
The house had a strange configuration; there was a room above the kitchen which could only be accessed by leaping off the fifth from the top step of the stairs into a small opening which led to a small room with a head height of four feet. A loft, presumably.
On the plus side, the house is located on the edge of a small village with a bar, shop, post office and a restaurant, rooms are large and it has a decent sized garden.
So, for the next year, Mark set to work, taking down the floor in the strangle little loft to produce a light and airy double-height kitchen, restoring the parquet flooring in the bedrooms, installing a new bathroom and kitchen. New windows and central heating were installed throughout. It was whilst Mark was carrying on this building project he discovered the restaurant…
My father was visiting our holiday cottage from England for a few days and they were adjusting the stairs. At midday, lots of vans started arriving at the end of the road, water board vans, builders vans, and electricians vans. There were about 30 of them.
‘Why have all those vans stopped?’ asked my father.
‘No idea,’ replied Mark, ‘They arrive at midday but by 2.30 they have all gone and there are always different vans.’
Curious, they walked to the end of the road. A van stopped. Two workmen got out and went into the bar. Mark and my father followed. The men walked through the bar and through a small door that looked as if it went to the bar owners’ private living area.
Mark, now very curious, asked the woman behind the bar, ‘Where does that door lead to?’
‘The restaurant.’ She replied.
Mark and my father followed the two men into the restaurant.
They passed through a small dark narrow corridor and into a large room with a worn lino floor. There were four long lines of tables and chairs. They sat opposite each other at the end of one of these tables. No, No… they were told to join the other men and soon they were in the middle of the table joined on all sides by plumbers, electricians, builders, and mechanics.
Three bottles were placed between then, water, red wine, and cider. Then came a basket of bread. A couple of minutes later two plates of langoustines (huge prawns). These were devoured with the cider. Then a huge piece of salmon with rice. After this was eaten the main course arrived, braised venison with vegetables, this was followed by cheese and then tarte aux pommes and finally coffee.
Mark and my father were totally bemused by the whole experience. There wasn’t a menu, food just kept appearing. At 2.00 pm they could eat nor drink no more. They noticed that no one paid in the restaurant. A couple of men got up to leave, they followed. The men paid in the bar and left to do their afternoons’ work. Mark went up to the bar, 20 euros please, the woman said.
Mark gave her 40 euros assuming the meal, wine and cider was 20 euros each.
‘Non, non, non, she said smiling, ‘It is 10 euros for each meal.’
What an experience. The restaurant has not been decorated in 30 years, the chairs are all odd and are at least 40 years old, the plastic table cloths, the designs on the plates are hardly visible due to years of dishwasher abuse but the place is clean and the food was amazing… and all for 10 euros each.
Mark and my father returned the next day. The experience was just as good but the food wasn’t quite so easy on the English palate: spam and diced beetroot followed by tête de veau! Every time my father visits France, they always go for a meal in the restaurant. I think not knowing what you will be served is part of the experience… but it is not always for the faint-hearted!
If the REAL French experience is for you, visit our holiday cottage La Maison Bleue, near Malestroit in this traditional French village in the heart of rural Brittany.