Thursday, September 9, 2010

When the Hotel is the Best Part

Hotels in Europe are my nemesis. I sit looking at their shiny web sites… analyzing… skeptical. The restaurant photo, is that crystal on the table? The building is old, how thin are those walls? Do the reviews mention those red-flag words: “sleepy’, “quiet” or “romantic”?

I ignore all claims of a hotel being “family friendly”. I am no longer lured by offers of a “family sized” room. I’ve been to enough hotels. Those hotel marketing people cannot be trusted.

I am not a seasoned traveler any longer, I am a jaded traveler. I have to be:  I am a mother of three small children.

Every so often, though, I do get it right.

Normandy, France is known for a World War II invasion and a certain Tapestry in Bayeux. But in the hearts of my children, it will be known forever as the location of the Manoir d’Herouville.

I found the Manoir on, my travel bible. There were 67 reviews about the Manoir, each of them giving five out of five stars. Could this be possible? No, I thought. These must be honeymooners, or maybe traveling retirees. But, there were reviews by families, claiming to have small children, using phrases like “beyond all expectations” and “everything we wished for.” High praise. This I had to see.

Set in a valley of farm fields and forest, the Manoir offers classic Norman architecture dating from the 16th century. The early 18th century Pigeonnier was our home for the week. In pre-Revolutionary France, owning a Pigeonnier was a symbol of special favor with the king. For a nurse with the heart of an archtectural historian, like I am, it was nirvana.

Of course the kids don’t care at all about the impressive history or the fact that the Pigeonnier ceiling had 15th century timbers (so cool!). Ask them what they liked about Normandy and they will tell you about fishing in the pond, exploring the Manoir gardens, and a certain chicken named Reggie.

Reggie is a chicken who thinks he’s a dog. He begs for scraps, he cuddles, he coos when he’s petted. He chased after us on little chicken legs, betrayed that we would leave him in the driveway.

I loved this place because it offered us space to be a family, to make a little noise, to cook dinner in a kitchen, to put tired, happy, and sunkissed kids to bed on a separate floor, and at night to go out and see the stars of the Milky Way.

Sue and Dave, our hosts, were so accommodating. Sue told me up front, “We just love having children here.” And she meant it. Imagine, someone who was thrilled to see my kids each day. Someone who offered them treats from the kitchen. Someone who gave my son and husband a tour of the Nazi anti-aircraft artillery that just happened to be hiding in the barns.

This was such a far cry from our experience in Vianden, where a B&B owner followed my 2 year old around the dining room buffet hissing, “Shhh!!!” each time she spoke.

This place was like home. Actually, it was better than home, it was a real vacation.


  1. seems to be a lovely place..thanks for sharing this, have made a mental note of it. I am glad you had a positive experience, you cannot trust the reviews at times but so far I have had some good experiences too. Touchwood!

  2. Wow, that looks like an amazing place to visit! You are absolutely right about deceptive hotel websites...we have had too many "surprises" to count when checking in to various hotels. I always make sure to check Trip Advisor's guest candid photos first before booking now!

  3. Candid guest photos? Brilliant! I bet there's all sorts of info there. Thanks for the tip!

  4. I love trip advisor......and to be perfectly honest, I haven't had a contrary experience to reviews when I've used them. I'm so glad you had a great time. Isn't it awful when someone "shhh's" the kids and it isn't you :-).

  5. @KB, Yes, It was awful. We went upstairs, packed our bags, and left 2 days early. I still cringe to think of it. Never again.