In an effort to escape the dullness of Paris in January (or more specifically, our lives in Paris in January), Marc and I decided to finally venture North and explore the beaches of Normandy this weekend. It’s a place we have been planning to visit for some time now; as the combination of epic scenery and amazing history seemed like a win-win. This weekend ended up being very fortuitous- both because it’s currently the off-season so everything was quiet and cheap, and because we managed to pick the first weekend of sun that France has seen in months! It was completely and utterly spectacular.
We set off from Neuilly mid-morning on Friday and arrived in Caen in time for lunch. We knew we only had a few meals in Normandy, so it was important to start with a classic….galettes de sarrasin (savory buckwheat crêpes) filled with all sorts of amazing things. I chose one that contained Livarot (a strong-smelling local cheese), chorizo, potatoes, and caramelized onions. I know it sounds like a lot, but all the flavours were subtle and harmonious- the whole thing tasted amazing! Marc’s was a more traditional mix of ham, mushrooms, cheese and an egg on top. Naturally we had cidre to drink (when in Normandy…), which was served in the traditional ceramic cups/mugs. It feels so strange to drink cold cider out of a mug- I kept wanted to blow on it to ‘cool it down’!
We didn’t spend much time in Caen, but what we saw looked really beautiful- it had a lovely church and a big castle with some serious fortifications!
Our next stop was breathtaking and sobering and humbling in so many ways- we visited Juno beach, which was the site of the Canadian landing on D-Day. This offensive was part of the five-pronged Operation Overlord and Juno Beach, along with the other four beaches, was the site of so much death and destruction (and ultimately, victory) on June 6, 1944.
The beach itself was stunning- fine, soft sand stretched as far as the eye could see, and there were numerous remnants of the war which had been preserved and left in place; german bunkers and trenches, Canadian tanks, etc. There is also a museum on the beach dedicated to the Canadian war effort, but sadly it was closed for the month. Like I said…it’s definitely the off-season! It was incredibly sobering to look around this beautiful place and think of the sacrifice that so many young people paid here for our freedom.
After the beach we decided to head to our hotel in Honfleur. Well, it wasn’t exactly a hotel- it was called the Manoir des Impressionistes and was an old house converted into a small hotel and spa. It was the kind of place that is normally above our price range, but the fact that we came during the off-season and rented the smallest room allowed us to stay there for a really reasonable price. We LOVED this place for a number of reasons: the family running it was super nice, dogs are allowed and Murphy was welcomed warmly (despite the fact he tracked sand everywhere), the place was right on the beach, and there was a giant, roaring fireplace in the common room to sit by in the evening and have a drink. What more could you ever want?
After checking into the Manoir and enjoying our complementary apple juice (no, not wine or cider or champagne, but apple juice….only in Normandy!), we walked on the beach with Murphy and then set off to the town center of Honfleur for dinner.
As we had already had one Northern specialty for lunch, we needed to choose another for dinner….which made seafood an obvious choice. Marc and I both had moules à la Normande– mussels made with cider, crème fraiche, parsley and onions. The sauce/broth was absolutely amazing, but I have to confess that Northern mussels aren’t my favorite….or maybe they are just out of season? The ones we had were so much smaller than the ones served in the South and had more of a meaty/stringy taste and texture. They were still delicious, just not the best I’ve ever tasted.
After dinner it was back to the Manoir to enjoy a glass of Calvados by the fire. Calvados is another local specialty, a brandy made from…you guessed it, apples! It was really nice, I’m not usually one for hard alcohol, but the Calvados was nice and smooth and had enough of an apple taste to soften the alcohol burn a little. It didn’t hurt that we got to drink it in giant leather chairs next to a roaring fire….we even had our faithful dog curled up beside us. What a perfect moment!
In the interest of keeping these blogs to a manageable length, I will save our second day of adventures for the next post….featuring our morning at the Marché in Honfleur followed by an afternoon in Étretat.
Until then, bon dimanche!