Honfleur, the pearl of Normandy

7th of August, 2022

It is impossible to leave Normandy without visiting Le Vieux Bassin (The Old Port) and the historic centre of Honfleur. Although our drive back to The Netherlands will be a long one, we decide to take a two-hour break. The streets are packed with tourists on this sunny Sunday morning, but we understand why the town is so popular!

Le Vieux Bassin Honfleur

Many famous poets and painters (Baudelaire, Boudin and Monet) worked and lived in Honfleur and they left an important artistic heritage. The ever-changing light on the estuary seems an inspiration for artists.  Also the great composer Erik Satie,  born in one of the half-timbered ‘maisons Satie’, worked for a while in the pretty town.

 

There is no shortage of speciality stores, galleries and workshops. We skip the narrow shopping streets and stroll away from the crowd. The best way to find hidden treasures!

 

The town has a long history and dates from the 11th century. It was occupied by invaders during the Hundred Years War. After the Wars of Religion, the port was a base for several expeditions to the North-American continent. One of the French explorers, Samuel de Champlain, founded Quebec in 1608. During WWII Honfleur was spared from the bombings and survived without any severe damage. It didn’t grow into a major port like Le Havre. One of the reasons was the absence of a railway. Therefor, the small town kept its beauty. Like the 17th century harbour, surrounded with plenty of medieval buildings. Or the historic quarter with half-timbered and old stone houses. Maybe the most unique attraction is the timber church of Sainte-Etienne with the separate wooden belfry.

We leave Honfleur behind and drive the car over the modern bridge, the link between Lower Normandy and the important port and city of Le Havre.

One day we will return to the diversity of this region.

I remember a quote from Claude Lelouch (French film director);

Quand je viens ici, c’est comme si je prenais une douche de mes ennuis

When I come here, it is like all my troubles are washed away

J’adore ce climat

I love this climate

Qui fait fuir les imbéciles,

Which scares away the fools

Ce qui fait que ceux

It means that those who are here

Qui sont la l’apprécient.

Are the ones who appreciate it

 

 

 

At the northern tip of the Cotentin Peninsula

6th of August, 2022

Cherbourg is another place we would like to visit and the drive is only one hour from Bayeux. This maritime town is situated on the Cotentin peninsula, which borders the English Channel. We change our plans and stay one more night at “Ma Fenetre”. It means that our trip back to The Netherlands will be a long one!

The highway is very quiet on this Saturday morning and we find a perfect parking spot at the yacht club of the city. It is a clear and sunny day and a cruise ship is rolling into the harbour.

 

We cross the road and walk via the Place Napoleon (with the equestrian statue) into the centre, where a small market is going on.

No shortage of terraces in the old town, where no one seems in a rush! We drink a coffee and just enjoy the views over the market place. Cherbourg is an important ferry port and cruise terminal. In the past a naval defense port and now a charming city with modern and historic elements.

The municipality is surrounded by a splendid coastline and our drive will continue towards the Pointe de la Hague with the Phare de Goury (the lighthouse) on an island. The nuclear plant Flamanville, situated along the main road, is in sharp contrast with the beauty of the country side! Goury is a small harbour with a few colourful fishing boats and some fishermen’s houses. If you prefer to live isolated, this is the right spot!

We grab a local apple cider from the “Goury Fish and Chips” eatery, have a rest in the shade at the picnic table and continue our trip towards ‘ Le Nez de Jobourg’. On top of the hill we quickly park the car to admire the view over the Baie d’Ecalgrain.

‘The Nose of Jobourg’ is starting point of one of the most impressive hikes of Normandy. The cliffs are very high, the beaches pristine and you will find unique flora and fauna. Another reason to go back one time!

It is getting late and we have another stop planned at Grandcamp-Maisy on our way back to Bayeux. Again a place with a WW2 history, as the Maisy Battery formed a part of Germany’s Atlantic Wall fortification. In June 2006, the battery site was opened for the first visitors. The harbour town is laid-back and not as vibrant as the other famous Normandy coastal places. We have a drink at a rustic café, but with nice views over the sea. While leaving the town, we discover the impressive 15 meter high Statue de la Paix from the Chinese sculptor Yao Yuan (We Yuan Yan).

It was a day full of impressions and again a touch of everything Normandy has to offer. Tomorrow, we will drive home, but not without a short visit to Honfleur, where the Seine meets the sea!

 

 

 

 

Historic Bayeux and the famous Abbey of Caen

5th of August, 2022

A visit to Bayeux and Caen is planned for today. It is our intention to leave early, as the Tapestry Museum will be busy later on. The famous embroidery of the museum is 70 meters long and tells the legendary tale of the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy; a highlight for most tourists in Bayeux!

Unfortunately, our breakfast is again too tasty and the company extremely pleasant and we finally arrive around 10.30 a.m. in the old centre. By now, many tourists are already lined up in front of the museum. We decide to explore the other corners of the city and come back during lunch. One of the most impressive monuments is the 900 years old Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux. It was built under Romanesque and Norman architecture, but there are even parts in Gothic style, like the 95-meter high spire.

Beside the cathedral stands the magnificent Liberty Tree, symbol of the French Revolution and planted in the 18th-century.

Bayeux is a small medieval town with many interesting buildings and cute little stores. It was liberated rapidly in 1944 and therefor preserved from the bombings.

Around lunchtime we return to the museum, but the line got even longer. We decide to leave the Tapistry for another time and drive to Caen instead.

Caen has suffered tremendously during WW2. Most of the houses and monuments in the city got ruined or severely damaged. The Caen Castle, one of the largest walled fortifications in Europe, was also partly destroyed by the bombings of 1944, but has since been restored. The Saint-Etienne Abbey survived the attacks. It was a shelter for thousands of inhabitants during the Normandy landings. The abbey church of Saint-Etienne is part of the Abbaye-aux-Hommes and founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror. It is one of the largest Romanesque churches in France. The abbey and cloisters are definitely worth a visit! In the 13th century gothic elements had been adjusted and the monastery was rebuilt in the 18th century. In the monastic buildings now houses the Town Hall.

William’s wife Mathilde was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames and William in the abbey church. Though, on several occasions his tomb was opened and all the bones were scattered and lost. It is said that there is only one bone left in the impressive tomb!

Opposite the abbey are the ruins of the church of Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux still visible. During the Hundred Years’ War it was severely damaged, reconstructed again, but poorly maintained. In 1840 it became a Monument Historique, but the church was hit by a shell in 1944 (aimed at a column of German tanks!).

 

It is time to leave Caen and find a place for our evening meal. We drive towards the sea and arrive in Courseulles Sur-Mer, close to Juno Beach.

The town has a fair going on and is overcrowded with people. In the near future, we do hope to get another house sit in Normandy. In Spring or Autumn, when all is quiet and we can visit the many other important monuments and museums.

We quickly leave Courseulles again and drive back to our favourite Port-en-Bessin-Huppain. Somewhere in the back streets, a small terrace is inviting us for a tasty supper. A group of young guys are playing chansons and some Cuban music. Although one of the guitarist sings terrible out of tune, we fully enjoy the atmosphere on this warm summer evening!

 

 

Along the Normandy coast

3rd of August, 2022

It is time to say goodbye to Sourdeval and continue our trip towards the coast of Normandy. We booked a 4 night stay in a beautiful Bed & Breakfast, just outside historic Bayeux. ‘De ma fenetre’ is an old farmhouse with a lot of character, situated in Saint-Martin-des Entrées. Our room is spacious and very well decorated in the old style. The bathroom is huge and there is even a common area, to share with the guests of the other room. Francoise, the owner, is a charming and welcoming lady and we immediately feel at home. She prepares in the morning a breakfast with all kinds of local produce; home made pastry, different jams, salade from seasonal fruits and fresh apple juice. We all sit together around the big table in the kitchen or under the pergola in the lushy garden. On the second morning a mouse walks into the kitchen and Francoise calmly picks it up and puts it outside again! It is nice to start the day, drinking café with our landlady and the other guests, discussing different topics and switching from french to english and from spanish to french again!

On June 6, 1944, D-Day took place on the Normandy coast. This was the great Allied invasion to liberate Europe. There are many interesting historical sites to discover and we have to make choices. Bayeux is conveniently located for a visit to the famous WW2 beaches, the musea and the memorials. On our first day, we explore Arromanches-les-Bains, where the large concrete blocks are still visible on the beach and in the sea. They were towed over from Britain during the war, to form the artificial Mulberry Harbour or Port Winston. 2,5 million men, 500.000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of supplies arrived via the port (named after Winston Churchill). We decide to go to Musée du Debarquement, just before busloads of tourists are arriving. The museum was built right on the side of Mulberry Harbour.

Our next goal is the charming fishing village of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain. The steep coastline was one of the reasons the British soldiers only could attack from the land. Operation Aubery took place between the 6th and 8th of June 1944. The port was the Normandy terminal of PLUTO, the pipe line under the ocean. It ran from the Isle of Wight to France, to supply petrol. It is very difficult to imagine the painful history, which took place in all of these peaceful towns, along the coastline of Normandy.

We immediately fall in love with Port-en-Bessin, where the fishing boats are sailing in and out of the harbour. The noise of the seagulls is overwhelming and the smell of fresh fish, cooked in the various restaurants, makes us hungry. We find a table right on the quay side, with the best view!

One day we will return to the pictoresque harbour, the lock, the pier and the steep cliffs!

 

Our next stop is the American Cemetery and Memorial, situated on the cliffs of Omaha Beach, in Colleville-sur-Mer. We are just in time for the ‘Flag Lowering Ceremony’ at 5.00 p.m. Although there is still a crowd, everybody is very quiet.

During D-Day invasion, ground troops landed across five assault beaches; Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The US Divisions, which landed on the beach of Omaha, had the highest rate in casualties; 2,400 were dead, wounded, or missing.

We walk in silence along the rows of little white crosses, each with the name of a hero. It is incredible that more than 9,000 burials can be find here. The statue, the monument, the little chapel and the view over the sea in the background, are all very impressive. This is just one of the many war cemeteries here in Normandy.

It is too late to visit another museum, but we have a glimpse on the beach itself and find another majestic Memorial, called ‘Les Braves’. The monument consists of three elements; ‘The Wings of Hope’, ‘Rise, Freedom!’, ‘The Wings of Fraternity’.

Memorial Les Braves

 

Views over dreamy Mont Saint-Michel

August, 2022

It is a cloudy day when we drive to famous Mont Saint-Michel on the Cotentin peninsula. The worst time to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site is during the summer months, but we take the chance. Scenic rural roads are bringing us after one hour to the small village La Rive. From here, we can see the island in the far distance. We park the car in the main street and follow some people, who are climbing over a fence to start their hike towards the island.

The official entrance is reached by highway, but our spot gives us stunning views!

We walk around 4 kilometers over the salt marches, with flocks of sheep grazing on both sides. The clouds are forming a blanket in the sky. In the far distance, we see hundreds of people going over the long bridge. It was constructed in 2015, to replace the former causeway and restore the island status. As a result, the sea surrounds Mount Saint-Michel again, at specific high tides.

The Abbey, which has a Romanesque and Gothic style architecture, stands on a granite inlet. It was built over 1,300 years and always has been a very important pilgrimage site. In 1790 the monks had been banished from the Abbey during the French Revolution. It was then used as a prison until 1860. In 1862 the Abbey became a historical monument. Besides the impressive sanctuary, there is a quaint 15th-century church; Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre.

We enjoy our hike, admiring the different shades of the grasses in the meadow and the colours of the sky.

Once we arrive to the bridge, it is time to mingle with all the other tourists. We climb the steep stairs and reach the walls of the island. From here, the view stretches over the Couesnon River and the shores, where guides are taking groups on a walking tour over the quicksand.

The decor is like a painting from the Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel. So many things are happening down below. Children are playing on the sand, people are wading through the water and the bridge is packed with arriving and departing families.

We try to reach the Abbey, but too many people are standing in line. We decide to visit the small Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre, where a bagpipe player is performing.

The visit to the Abbey has to wait for another time in Spring or Autumn. It is just too busy for us. Instead, we explore the island a bit more, go for a drink and get some very expensive and bad quality food in one of the restaurants. Many of the medieval houses are now turned into souvenir shops. Nevertheless, they maintained their character!

It is time to start hiking back to the car, as we need to take care of our ‘house sit animals’. Finally, the first sunrays are showing their glow over the peninsula. More pictures are taken. We turn around one more time, to witness the changing of the light over one of the most visited cultural sites of France.

 

Sourdeval and Domfront en Poiraie

July, 2022

Sourdeval is part of Basse Normandie (Lower Normandy) in the Manche department. A small village, surrounded by charming mansions, old farms and a dreamy landscape. The dog guides me over the country roads, during our daily walks. The most favorite hike is the Voie Verte, on top of the ridge. This is the old railway track, which stretches as far as Mont Saint-Michel. Very popular among the cyclists and hikers! I love the view over the fields from the escarpment, where farmers are busy to roll the golden hay into stacks.

I take the dog with me in the car on a few outings. Due to the fact that she has some joints problems, we need to adjust the length of our walks! We explore the small waterfalls in Mortain. An area popular among mountain climbers.

Next, we drive up the hill to the cistercian abbey just outside Mortain. The convent was founded in 1112 and it was a nunnery until 1793.  As the habits of the nuns were made from undyed wool, they call it Abbaye Blanche (White Abbey). Recently, this immense building got a new owner, who will hopefully start the renovations. I only can have a glimpse through the gate.

Abbaye Blanche Mortain

Later in the week, we are going to visit Fosse Arthour, a serene lake and a nice hiking area. The small scenic road takes us in 25 minutes to this oasis amidst natural beauty! According to the legends, King Arthur and his wife, who lived in the caves, are laid to rest in the lake. Different trails go around the Fosse, over the sandstone rocks and along the fast streaming river Sonce. There are plenty of picnic areas, possibilities for rock climbing and even an Auberge, with a small terrace overlooking the stream.

After my partner arrives by train from Paris, we explore charming Domfront-en-Poiraie. This fortified medieval town is situated high above the Varenne valley. Even though it is a very hot day, we decide to climb the narrow streets towards the modern Neo-Byzantine style church; Saint-Julien was built in the 20th century.

Plenty of charming stores, half-timbered houses and the remains of the old castle are all part of this attractive town in the lower Normandy region.

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On the road again to the next house sit

 

23rd of July, 2022

It has been a while, since I hit the road to go to France on my own. It was during a house sit in The Lot. This time I have the opportunity to visit Normandy, one of the places from our bucket list. My transponder is installed, to drive smooth through the traffic at the Péage. At 5.00 a.m. I am already on the road to avoid the Black Saturday madness.

Everything is going well, until somewhere in between Lille and Amiens, I notice three uniformed guys, all lined up at the side of the highway. My speedometer says 100, while I am allowed 110. For whatever reason, I just know they are going after me! Maybe my sunglasses are too big? Or they think that a lady, driving on her own in a Dutch car, probably comes from Amsterdam? Suddenly, one guy is in front of my car, two at the back and even another car is following!!! They all guide me to a very quiet place, far away from the highway. I feel like a criminal…..

After opening the window, all three guys with ‘Douanier’ on their jackets are surrounding me. I look as relaxed as possible and my school french is floating out of my mouth; “Qu’y a-t-il, messieurs?” “Controle, madame, where are you going to?” I explain that I am going for a house sit to Sourdeval in Normandy, looking after a funny dog and two ragdolls.

‘ Les Douaniers’ give me a suspicious look. Did I maybe use too many Spanish words? “Did I bring boose?” Yes, sure, one bottle of whiskey for the boyfriend, who is coming by train on Saturday. I get enthusiastic, happy to practise my french, and tell them how long we will stay and what we are going to do.

The guys don’t even ask anymore for my passport, nor check the loads of luggage I brought. “Merci madame, bonne journée” and they rapidly leave. Pfffff…….

The next day I arrive safely at the gorgeous property, where I will stay for ten exciting days.

 

 

Ships that pass in the night

 

9th of January, 2022

Our rental car guides us from the Tramuntana mountain range into the lively capital of Mallorca. We booked a room in Hotel Meliã Palma Marina and the view from our spacious balcony is stunning! Cruise ships arrive late at night and leave early in the morning. I could just sit for two days on that balcony and watch the ships passing by….

 

Our hotel serves the best breakfast I have ever had; all kinds of fruits and nuts, cheeses and meat, juices and marmelades. Everything is very attractive displayed.

Nobody controls your room number or QR code. Last evening, our ID and QR code were both checked in a restaurant. Even our temperature was measured!!!

From our hotel it is an easy walk along the harbour to the impressive 14th century Gothic Cathedral.

 

At the foot of Cathedral La Seu lies Parc de la Mar. It is also the entrance into the Old Town. Medieval streets are connecting historical palaces, churches, arches and cute little stores.

Inviting terraces, where the winter sun just reaches the chairs, are a perfect spot to relax. Most of the tapas restaurants are closed in January. It takes us a while, to find a nice eatery for our last evening. Tomorrow, we will fly back to The Netherlands, after spending three great weeks on the island!

Cathedral La Seu Palma

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