Uncover the cultural and historical highlights of Normandy and Brittany with VBT

France, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel, Abbey, Unesco World Heritage

At VBT we pride ourselves on providing active vacations that not only take you to wondrous locales throughout the world, but immerse you in the culture, cuisine and history of your destination. We have a brand new vacation in 2014 that is brimming with all three. For over a thousand years the French regions of Normandy & Brittany have impacted the course of European history. On this extraordinary VBT vacation you’ll visit historic WWII landmarks, medieval relics, an ancient island Abbey and even the home of Louis the IX’s favorite bivalves. Combined with deluxe accommodations and delectable French cuisine, it’s all for you to discover with us on our new Bicycling France: Normandy & Brittany vacation.

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D-Day
The biggest historical event in the region in recent history is the famous Normandy invasion on the shores of northern France and the many remembrances that have occurred subsequently. We’ll visit the coastal town of Arromanches – aka “Gold Beach” in the invasion – which played a vital role in the battle of Normandy. For it was here that the Allies built one of their famous Mulberry harbors—a portable, temporary structure that facilitated the transfer of troops and supplies from the water to the beach—the remains of which still can be seen at low tide today.  Learn more about the harbor, and the historic June 6, 1944 landings, at the D-Day Museum.

Nearby “Omaha Beach” to the west is perhaps the best-known of the D-Day beaches. You’ll have free time for lunch here 800px-Omaha-beach-cemeterybefore we join Guillaume Marie, a World War II expert and our local guide. His passion for his subject will be evident as he leads us along these now-tranquil shores and shares with us the dramatic events that once took place here. We’ll also cycle to the American Cemetery, a 170-acre, meticulously landscaped memorial overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. The site contains 9,387 perfectly aligned white crosses and Stars of David marking the graves of the brave American servicemen and women who perished in Europe during World War II.

Saint-Malo
800px-Saint-Malo_remparts_003Our final destination on Day 7 of our Normandy & Brittany vacation is Saint-Malo, a beautiful medieval city along the Brittany coast. Saint-Malo became notorious in the 18th century as the home of the corsairs who were privateers, authorized by the French crown to conduct raids on the ships of any nation at war with France. Saint-Malo is also the birthplace of Jacques Cartier, who sailed the St Lawrence River and is credited with discovering Canada. After exploring the ancient walled city we’ll treat ourselves with modern day amenities at our luxurious hotel located outside the Old Town, resting at the edge of the beach. It features several spa and therapy rooms, including an indoor, seawater swimming pool.

Cancale Oysters
One of our favorite stops on our journey is the tiny fishing port of Cancale, nestled along the beautifully rugged Brittany800px-Huitres_Cancale coast. The town is known for its superior huîtres –oysters – in fact, King Louis XIV was reportedly so enamored of these briny bivalves that he had fresh oysters brought daily from Cancale to Versailles! Today these oyster beds harvest about 25,000 tons of oysters each year and we’ll have the opportunity to taste these acclaimed huîtres for ourselves during a visit to an oyster market.

Mont Saint-Michel
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Our last – but certainly not least – favorite location that we’ll visit is the spectacular island commune of Mont Saint-Michel.  Accompanied by a local guide, we’ll venture across the cone-shaped islet in the Gulf of Saint-Malo, connected by a causeway with the mainland. The island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is best known for the spectacular and well-preserved Benedictine abbey that sits at its peak. The abbey is surrounded by the winding streets and architecture characteristic of a medieval town. Small houses, shops and street stalls are found on its lowest level mimicking the hierarchy of the feudal society during which it was built.

These are just a few of the historical and cultural highlights we’ll visit on this awe inspiring trip to France’s northern coast. With multiple departures from May – October of 2014 there are plenty of opportunities for you to experience this incredible corner of the world with VBT. For more information about the scenic bike routes, world-class accommodations and unsurpassed value of our Bicycling France: Normandy & Brittany vacation, simply click HERE

Stuffed Clams Recipe

Most New Englanders have three categories for the Atlantic hard-shell Quahog clam. Little necks, usually eaten on the half-shell with cocktail sauce, or cooked in various ways and served with pasta, are the smallest – usually about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. The next size up are called cherrystones, and they average 2-1/2 inches in diameter. The largest are called quahogs, which is derived from the Narragansett word “poquauhock”, and they are thick and about 3 inches in diameter or more.

Many recipes for baked clams exist in New England. Our Marketing Director, Paul Williams, hails from Lil Rhody and offered up his preferred recipe for stuffed clams. It uses cherrystones and includes a combination of both Italian and Portuguese ingredients that are readily available in southern New England.

Ingredients (serves four)

16 cherrystone clams

1 cup of bread crumbsPublic domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

½ cup of chopped large Bermuda onion

½ pound of Chourico sausage

1/3 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese

1 tsp. of dried oregano

¼ tsp. of black pepper

3 tsp. of butter

2 tsp. of olive oil

Directions: I would recommend using cherrystones that are as close to 2-1/2 inches in diameter as you can find. If larger, you will have to increase the quantities of ingredients listed for this recipe to make enough stuffing.  Fish markets in New England will let you select the ones you want.  As you open them in preparation for stuffing and cooking, the clam meat inside will be cut in half. I scrape the clam meat from one side into the other, so 20 clams would make 20 half-shelled stuffed clams. Open them over a bowl to catch the clam juice, as you can use it in the stuffing as it flavors the stuffed clam.

For bread crumbs, I like to make my own, using dried Italian bread.  If available (and it is in many southern New England markets), you can use dried Portuguese sweet bread or muffins.  Leave it on the counter to dry for a day, and then chop it in a food processor. Use enough to make one cup of bread crumbs.

Chourico sausage is also available in most New England markets. If you can’t find it you may use Andouille or Italian sausage, as long as there is some spice and/or a bit of heat.  I take about a half pound of Chourico (remember to remove the casing first) and grill or cook it in a skillet. After grilling, finely chop in a food processor and set it aside.

Finely chop half of a large red Bermuda onion. Hand chopping is best, not in the food processer, as you don’t want it to liquefy.

Steps:

- Open the clams. Save the clam juice. Place the opened clams on a cookie sheet or baking dish.

- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

- In a large pre-heated skillet, add the olive oil and when the oil is hot, add the onion.

- Once they are translucent (about 4 minutes) add the chopped sausage, mixing with the onion while the sausage heats for a couple of minutes.

- Add the butter to the sausage/onion mixture and as soon as it is melted, remove from the heat and add the bread crumbs, pepper and oregano.  Mix all. Add whatever clam juice you collected. If mixture is really dry, add just a bit of water as you don’t want to stuffing to be soggy, but a bit moist so it can be formed is fine. Once fully blended, mix in the cheese.

- Top each clam with an equal portion of the stuffing mix.

- Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until clam is cooked.

- Serve with lemon slices, as a touch of fresh-squeezed lemon juice adds a lot.