William Crossley is conquered by Normandy’s food culture on a weekend away across the English Channel

In 1066, William the Conqueror’s invasion fleet set sail for England from Dives-sur-Mer on the coast of Normandy.

Just over 950 years later, it provided the starting point for my cross-Channel mission, exploring some of the region’s culinary highlights.

The town’s bustling Saturday market is housed in a medieval building, with butchers, bakers, cheesemongers and grocers all vying for the attention of customers.

Just down the street was a sight to gladden my heart as the grandson of a baker - two artisan bakeries, selling loaves of all shapes and sizes proving there is more to French bread than the baguette.

Next door is the Dupont patisserie, a local institution dating back to 1912, enticing shoppers in for a tea break with window displays of macaroons that are works of art.

A short drive inland, passing through the cheesemaking town of Pont-l'Évêque, brought us to Cormeilles, the home of the Distillerie Busnel, one of the main producers of Normandy’s famous cider brandy, Calvados.

Calvados has been produced on the site for more than 100 years and some of the original stills are still in use. The visitor centre is open from March until December, with guided tours (available in English) including the chance to sample Busnel’s drinks.

Cormeilles also offers an ideal spot for lunch at the Guide Michelin-listed Gourmandises restaurant, in a former cheesemonger’s shop.

You can choose from the menu or ask for chef Alexis Osmont to size you up and then select dishes for you – we opted to be surprised and I was served roasted snails with mushrooms to start, followed by roast duck, with a tangy tarte au citron for dessert.

We then worked off a few calories with a walk at the Harcourt Arboretum. The French version is home to more than 500 species of trees and comes complete with a medieval castle, It is open from March to mid-November.

A short drive away lies the town of Brionne, where we stopped for the night at the Logis de Brionne hotel and restaurant, run by chef Alain Depoix and his wife Joëlle.

Monsieur Depoix’s menus, which offer a modern take on traditional French cuisine, with an emphasis on seasonal, local ingredients, including vegetables from his own kitchen garden, have also won him a mention in the Guide Michelin.

Also close to Brionne is the Château du Champ de Bataille, which takes its name from a battle fought nearby in 935, when Viking invaders secured control of Normandy.

The baroque chateau was built In the 17th century. In 1992, it was bought by leading French interior designer Jacques Garcia to house his collections of art and antiques.

He has spent the past quarter-century restoring the house and creating a dramatic formal garden, inspired by sketches of the long-lost original, assisted by gardener Patrick Pottier.

The chateau also has its own tearoom and restaurant and a shop selling a selection of interior design items. Opening hours vary, depending on the time of year.

Our next stop was the small town of Le Sap, which celebrates the apple every November with a two-day festival of traditional cider.

It is held at the Ecomusée du Grand Jardin du Sap, a former farmstead that retains much of its historic equipment, including a horse-driven wheel for pulping apples and a massive wooden cider press. Other attractions include a mobile still producing fiery eau de vie, stalls selling local produce and crafts, traditional Norman dancing and, to ward off the autumn chill, hot cider.

Suitably refreshed, we headed south to find a bed for the night at the Hotel du Tribunal in the medieval town of Mortagne-au-Perche.

The buildings of the hotel date back to the 16th and 18th centuries but its restaurant offers a 21st century dining experience. Chef Freddy Pommier learned his skills at Michelin-starred restaurants around France and now has his own listing in the guide.

If you prefer a countryside retreat, the Domaine de Villeray, in the heart of the Perche national park, offers options to dine and stay at the 16th century chateau, overlooking the valley of the River Huisne, or in the Moulin de Villeray watermill, alongside the river. It also boasts its own spa, named Spa Pom in tribute to Normandy’s favourite fruit, just the place to relax and steam and soak away the stresses of daily life.

If you have room for a last taste of French cuisine before heading home, Le Channel restaurant in Ouistreham could be just what you are looking for.

A stone’s throw from Brittany Ferries’ terminal at the post of Caen-Ouistreham, seafood is a speciality. I am allergic to shellfish, so while my travelling companions worked their way through a towering Plateau de Fruits de Mer, I enjoyed a substantial côte de boeuf.

Suitably refuelled, we took the short walk to the quay and boarded the ferry Mont-St-Michel for a rather swifter and smoother crossing to Portsmouth than that enjoyed by my namesake when he embarked at Drives-sur-Mer in 1066.

For more information about visiting Normandy, see www.normandy-tourism.org

Brittany Ferries operates routes from Portsmouth and Poole to Le Havre, Caen and Cherbourg in Normandy. Travel overnight by luxury cruise-ferry in the comfort of your own cabin with en-suite facilities or be whisked across the channel in as little as three hours on the summer fast-ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. Fares start from £79 each way for a car plus two passengers. Book online at www.brittanyferries.com or call 0330 159 7000. Brittany Ferries also has a wide range of money-saving sail-and-stay offers – to find out more, visit www.brittanyferries.com/offers