dimanche 8 mars 2009

A weekend in Normandie

For some reason it never occurs to us to visit the western or northern part of Paris. It’s a real shame because there are a number of beautiful little cities that are not too far from Paris and are therefore perfect destinations for a weekend. When a good occasion finally arose, we seized our chance to remedy the error of our ways and set off towards Normandie; destination : Honfleur.
As we set off, a heavy fog actually blanketed the road making it difficult to see the countryside. I was a bit apprehensive but as we progressed the sun gradually chased away the fog and revealed the countryside’s charms. It was a nice uneventful drive and along the way we got glimpses of the wide meandering Seine which I didn’t realize was a lot longer and wider than the placid river I see in Paris. Before reaching our destination, we had a lovely lunch detour at Etretat.

Étretat is a lovely seaside town which boasts the chalk cliffs of France’s Côte d’Albâtre (Alabaster coast). These cliffs thrust themselves dramatically into the sky, with the Needle (“l’Aiguille )“ reaching 200ft. I didn’t realize that these cliffs are as well known in France, as the white cliffs of Dover are in England. It’s a magnificent view to enjoy and a walk along the beach only reinforces this impression of white reaching towards the blue horizon. If you find yourself at Eretat during lunch or dinner, I heartily recommend the Dormy House. It is a hotel but its restaurant features an outstanding view of the cliffs and lip-smacking cuisine. Their calvados glazed apple dessert with the lime sorbet is as memorable today as I write as the day I had it.

Fully satiated, we set off in good humor for the actual destination. Once there, we congratulated ourselves on our choice. Honfleur is quite simply charming. It is a port town and as such its main attraction is the Vieux Port with its fishing fleets and pleasure crafts. You will be tempted as Eugene Boudin and other Impressionists artists were, to try and capture the gentle Northern light that bathes the old slate domed houses and reflects invitingly off the water. This artistic tradition in Honfleur is continued well today with its many fine art galleries. It was amazing to see so many clustered in a relatively compact area. And if only the prices weren’t so prohibitive, we could certainly see several of them hanging in our home (a Magritte lithograph and several wonderful canvasses by Normandie based artist Mitro really captured our eye). If galleries aren’t your thing, you could certainly visit the tiny Impressionist museum located centrally enough at the Place Ste. Catherine. If that isn’t enough, you can also visit the museum devoted to Erik Satie who composed some of his music in Honfleur. When you get hungry, any number of the quayside restaurants and cafes serve deliciously fresh seafood. And if you're a gourmand, there is a Michelin starred restaurant in the Place Ste. Catherine. Along with the apple dessert of Dormy House, I remember with great fondness La Terrasse et L'assiette's fabulous omelette de homard.
After you've finished with the galleries and museums or if the latter is not your thing, you could simply wander around the streets admiring the particular Norman architecture and soaking up the nice ambiance of the town. Its certainly more than enough to make you want to go back to Honfleur.

A view of le Vieux Bassin...

Eglise Ste. Catherine with the Sunday brocante...
One of the many galleries that had memorable art for sale...

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