The Grand European Tour – Week 2
Week 2 – Day 10 – Sunday 8th October 2017 ( cont. )
St Valery sur Somme to Le Treport – 24 miles
At the end of last weeks post I said that we were re-visiting places we had been to in years gone by. Well, this week begins with a place we have not been to before, and I’m not sure why we missed it in the past as we have passed so close to it. Le Treport is not that far from St Valery sur Somme, only 24 miles, but it took longer than expected due to Sunday road closures and a long ‘deviation’. On arrival we did a lap of the town to see if it was worth stopping at, and it certainly was, so we went straight to the Municipal Aire where we got a 24 hour ticket for €10 which included electricity. After lunch we got the bikes out for the first time and had a cycle into town to spend the afternoon wandering about. Apart from the general prettiness of the place, with the locals parading about, the two highlights were the incredible fish market, which was surprisingly open on a Sunday afternoon, and the free funicular ride to the top of the cliffs for a spectacular view over the town and the coast. After our cycle and wander, a reviving ‘tasse de thé’ was called for and I did my bit for the flagging French economy by lashing out €8 something for 2 cups of tea. I’m sure my normal Liptons tea was only 1 Euro and her ladyships mint tea constituted the balance, but we will never know for sure. To cap it all I had to make the tea myself as it was served as a cup of hot water with the teabag in a little packet! Ce la vie as they say in these parts!
Week 2 – Day 11 – Monday 9th October 2017
Le Tréport to St Valery en Caux – 47 miles
Monday morning was bright and a little breezy so we decided to get the bikes out again and head for Mers-les-Baines which is the adjoining town to Le Tréport, separated only by the river/harbour. In the picture above you can see it with the white beach huts, just before the cliffs. It was pleasant enough but the beach consisted of large pebbles and it had that out of season feel to it, maybe in no small measure as it is in fact, out of season! After cycling to the end of the esplanade we headed down a street away from the front to stumble upon a fairly big, if uninspiring market. Lunch back at the van was ‘saucisse aux champignons’ in a ‘pain de Picardy’, bought from the market.
We set off for Saint Valery en Caux, a drive of about 47 miles bypassing Dieppe on the way and arrived mid afternoon. We had been here in 2010 and nothing much had changed. It is a pretty town built around a harbour in a gap between the impressive cliffs. The Aire is right at the harbour entrance and can get very busy, although we managed to get a prime spot with a great view. Most of the shops were closed so we went to see a few men catching mackerel from the north pier. Personally I thought most were too small to keep, but the French being French weren’t passing up on free seafood supper…
Week 2 – Day 12 – Tuesday 10th October 2017
St Valery en Caux to Fecamp – 20 miles
A blustery night resulting in the van being buffeted a bit, not helped by our location right on the seafront overlooking the harbour entrance as you can see in the above photograph. Daylight brought a bit of calm, enough to fly the drone and get some great footage which you will see in the fullness of time when there is time to edit it. The Aire was only €6 for the night, a bit of a bargain given the location. After servicing the van I drove the short distance to the other side of the harbour to be nearer the town as The Navigator went off on a solo mission to figure out the controls of the local ‘laverie’ to freshen up some smalls. That accomplished, we set off for Fecamp, a short 20 mile hop down the coast. We previously stayed on this FREE Aire in 2010, and as you can see from the pictures below, it is a fantastic location, the only negative being the closeness of your neighbours when busy, but luckily it wasn’t, did I mention it was FREE?
Glad to read today that we are not heading into a civil war zone in Catalonia in a few weeks time!
Week 2 – Day 13 – Wednesday 11th October 2017
Fecamp to Honfleur – 42 miles
After a disturbed nights sleep it became obvious to us why this Aire was free. As you can see in the above picture the marina for yachts and pleasure craft was in front of us, but behind the warehouse is another similar sized basin which is used by fishing boats throughout the night. We never really heard the boats, what we did hear however were hundreds of seagulls going mental in anticipation of some scraps which might be discarded overboard in the gutting process. I always believed that birds, apart from the likes of owls, didn’t fly at night, well that misconception was put firmly to rest last night. Not only was it a disturbed nights sleep, but the seagulls left quite a few calling cards on the van! A quick pit stop at a Lidl on the outskirts of town then we set course for Honfleur, one of the prettiest little towns in all of France, and a massive tourist attraction. It was a lovely drive down through mostly agricultural countryside and some very pretty old villages. We stopped for a cuppa on the seafront at Le Havre about 11ish as we had done on this same drive with the van in 2010. Le Havre is an odd combination. A bit like Brighton meets Grangemouth, i.e. A lovely beach resort with a huge port and smelly chemical/industrial plants tacked on. Le Havre is on the northern bank of the river Seine which is a very busy river for both commercial and pleasure craft all the way up to Paris.
To get to Honfleur without taking a 90 minute detour we joined the motorway to cross the spectacular ‘Pont de Normandie’, a tourist attraction in its own right. Sadly my hope of getting around Europe without paying a toll ended here as it is €6.30 to cross the bridge. We were just glad to get over it safely as there was a gale blowing from right to left as you can see from the windsock in this picture…
We arrived at the mega Aire in the centre of Honfleur which is one of the largest and busiest in the north of France, if not for the whole of the country. €11 per night including electricity and I paid for 2 nights as its market day tomorrow, or so I thought.
After lunch we wandered around the historic town all afternoon taking in the sights and guess what? Believe it or not, I had another tea related incident! In need of refreshment mid afternoon we stopped at a little back street kiosk and I asked for a ‘tasse de thé au lait’. A simple enough request I thought, but what I got was a cup of milky hot water and then the mademoiselle pointed to a selection of Liptons tea sachets on a shelf, none of which were English Breakfast or similar. The French seem to prefer an infusion, or fruit tea, so, after her going through the list to my ‘non’ to every one, I eventually settled on the last one offered, an Earl Grey. Now you may be OK dunking an Earl Grey teabag into milky hot water with 3 saccharin tablets already put in the water by the keeper of the saccharins when I was still negotiating for a proper teabag! The resultant concoction was the oddest tasting tea I think I have ever consumed, but it served a lesson – and that is – always make sure a proper British teabag is available before getting to the milky hot water stage!
Week 2 – Day 14 – Thursday 12th October 2017
Honfleur – 0 miles
After reading online that there was a market today in Honfleur, we decided to stay an extra night and take in the sights and atmosphere of a market in these historic streets, only to find out it was duff information and there was no Thursday market, Saturday is market day in Honfleur!
It was a lovely sunny day, so lovely and sunny that The Navigator went out without her body warmer on, a rare event.
We wandered around the town, buying a baguette and ‘Tarte de Normandie’ in the process to have as part of our lunch back at the van. Careful observers of the following little video (press the arrow to play) will see that the tarte is halved. Pre my type 2 diabetes diagnosis we would have one each!
After lunch the bikes came out and we cycled through the town gardens and along the side of the Seine to the beach. Unfortunately there was a breeze coming off the water which meant we couldn’t sit on the sand and had to content ourselves with a lean against the sea wall watching the merchant shipping coming under the Pont de Normandie and out to sea past Le Havre. Merchant shipping spotting – living the dream eh? A lovely talkative Frenchman told us all about Honfleur, Le Havre, the Seine and the Pont de Normandie. I think we understood about 40% of what he said.
Back at the Aire we find another British couple parked-up next to us and we spend an enjoyable couple of hours sitting out chatting to them until the midges forced us to take sanctuary in the van. We did not expect to get bitten by midges in France in almost mid October but have the scars to prove it.
Week 2 – Day 15 – Friday 13th October 2017
Honfleur to Deauville – 14 miles
In 2010 when living in the East Midlands we had a week in the van starting as we did this year with an overnight crossing from Dover to Calais and visited many of the places we have again this year and Honfleur was the turning point so the van has never been further than Honfleur before. Deauville, our next destination, is a seaside resort on the Côte Fleurie of France’s Normandy region. An upmarket holiday destination since the 1800s when it began to flourish as a watering hole for the wealthy. Today it’s known for its grand casino, golf courses, horse races, polo and the American Film Festival. We were in Deauville in 1982 in our little 12′ caravan and spent time on the boardwalk and beach. Its wide, sandy beach is backed by Les Planches, a 1920s boardwalk with bathing cabins.
The beach umbrellas were taken down as the season was over and another change was that the bathing cabins were now all named after film stars, probably a link to the annual Film Festival.
The town has chic boutiques, elegant belle epoque villas and half-timbered buildings, just don’t look north from the beach or you will see the industry of Le Havre in the distance!
We arrived there before lunchtime and parked up in the Aire which was within an easy walk of the ‘centre ville’ and seafront. The Aire in Honfleur can squeeze in about 300 vans in the height of summer where this one had only 10 places, but was free and it also had a free electric hook up but you are limited to one night there.
We packed a picnic and wandered into town and caught the tail end of the market before heading to the beach. Did I mention it was in the 70s with a clear blue sky and hardly a breath of wind? It was the first real scorching hot day of the trip and the type of day we hardy souls from Argyle experience for probably one day a year. So hot in fact, I lay on the beach topless for an hour, but the Navigator kept her top and semmet on! Back at the van it was time for another first – the first barbecue of the trip, and it was worth the wait.
Week 2 – Day 16 – Saturday 14th October 2017
Dauville to Ouistreham – 35 miles
After leaving Dauville the next port of call was a Super U supermarket on the outskirts of Cabourg to top up on bread and salad for the next few days. We intended to stay at Cabourg, but it turned into just a stopover for a few hours. Again, a magnificent upmarket little seaside resort dominated by the Grand Hotel and the neighbouring Casino. One main pedestrianised street led away from the boardwalk and what a street! It had a plethora of superb restaurants and people dining on the finest seafood at the tables outside. Although I had my shorts and t shirt on again today the weather was not up to yesterday’s standard and there was a pea-souper all day making it a bit airy. We bought another (one) patisserie and had it back at the van with a cuppa.
After some deliberation, Ouistreham a few miles further on was settled as our next port of call, a place I don’t think we have been to before but it it is famous as being at the eastern end of the Normandy landing beaches in WW2, known as Sword Beach, and the site of the bitter fighting for the port of Ouistreham itself and Pegasus Bridge, which we crossed over to enter the town. Anyone of a tender age can read about the mission to capture Pegasus Bridge HERE and learn of the sacrifice so many made in 1944 to allow the likes of us to cross it today in a motorhome!
The pea-souper we encountered in Cabourg was meant to relent in the afternoon but didn’t, if anything it was even thicker here at the coast. The Aire at Ouistreham is right beside the harbour and close to the main shopping street. All was well until the next morning when the 6.30am Brittany Ferries sailing departed, about 100 yards away from us. We heard the onboard safety announcement as clearly as if we were on board!
Week 2 – Day 17 – Sunday 15th October 2017
Ouistreham to Jullouville – 94 miles
94 miles is the longest drive so far in France and was done in 2 stages, the first being a short hop along the coast to Arromanches, known as Gold Beach on the 6th of June 1944, and where action was deliberately avoided on D-Day, to keep it clear for the floating pre-fabricated concrete Mulberry Harbour to be put in place after the invasion, remnants of which are still on the the beach and a little out to sea. Arromanches does not have a harbour, only a huge wide beach so from the 1800s it earned a living from tourism and today it is one of the main visitor attractions on this stretch of coast for those coming to see the WW2 Normandy landing beaches and pay their respects at the many memorials and cemeteries. As you approach Arromanches from the east there is a cliff top car park, viewpoint over the beaches and a 360 degree cinema showing film of the D Day landings.
We had our lunch in front of the van looking over the beaches and sea then walked down the steep slope into the very pretty town of Arromanches, which, had there been no WW2, would still be a very busy seaside town. That said, its fortune is now based on the museums and associated military memorabilia that is all around the town. After a walk about we had an ice cream sitting overlooking the beach trying to reconcile the view in front of us of families enjoying a warm sunny Sunday on the sand – to the events of the 6th of June 1944, when there was so much death and destruction on this very spot.
One of the most poignant moments came when we came across a bus load of veterans of all ages on the front, with a few very frail and elderly in wheelchairs reminiscing with their accompanying families exactly where they were and what they did when they were here in June 1944.
NEXT WEEK – Not 1, not 2, but maybe even 3 Blog Posts…