Saint Pierre En Port (Normandy), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

Saint Pierre en Port was to be our last overnight stop before we took the Shuttle from Calais back to the UK. It is a little further from Calais than I intended (just over 150 miles on mostly slow roads) but we were there for two nights and wanted a comfortable campsite (with a bar and restaurant) close to Fecamp, such that we could get the dogs seen by our usual vet. We settled on the campsite ‘Huttopia Les Falaise’.

We managed to get the dogs seen by the vet on our first day at Saint Pierre en Port (see previous blog on Fecamp), leaving another whole day to chill and/or explore the area. We filled that morning taking the dogs for walks and I spent the afternoon watching England’s final Group D match against Samoa in the Rugby World Cup. 18-17 to England but what a scrappy performance. They may get through the next round but, thereafter, forget it.

Saint Pierre en Port is a tiny village but it has all the basics; a bar restaurant (Le Saint Pierre), a small store, a boulangerie and a chemist. The little beach is a short but steep walk (some 300 metres) down through a gap in the cliffs. I was surprised by the number of locals swimming down there.

The camp site is perched at the top of the cliffs with good views out to sea. It was taken over by the Huttopia chain some time within the last two years and they completely renovated the place. It is spotlessly clean and has excellent facilities including a heated swimming pool. I suspect it would be an expensive place to stay in the high season but ACSI discounts apply early in October and it proved very good value for money. This would be an excellent place to stay were we using the Newhaven – Dieppe ferry.

But that was it. Tour 8 ended the next day with us driving on to Le Shuttle at Calais and making our way back to Brighton. It was a relatively short tour; just 34 days because of Vanya’s appointment with the orthopaedic surgeon but we packed a lot in again. Roll on the spring and Tour 9.

Fecamp (Normandy), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

You know the Tour is approaching it’s end when we reach Fecamp. That’s our ‘go-to’ place for the dogs’ tapeworm treatment (as required by the UK authorities).

Parking up at the usual place on the harbour we made our way up past the Palais Benedictine to the vet. Thereafter, there would be time for a spot of lunch and a quick look around (not necessarily in that order).

The Palais Benedictine, where Benedictin has been produced since 1863, looks as splendid as ever. I don’t think I mentioned previously, it is a myth that the liqueur was concocted by Benedictine monks. Alexander Grand had a chemist help him develop the drink and then used the story about the monks to help promote it. No matter; it’s not a bad liqueur and; it’s produced in a truly impressive building.

Vanya wanted to spend a little time in the Van on her own and so I went off for a short tour of the town. I’d been to Fecamp three times before and not once seen inside the church of Saint Etienne and I was determined to try again. Sod’s law! I made it inside this time but all three of the naves were curtained off while the stained glass windows were being cleaned. Such bad luck.

The local priest must have seen or felt my disappointment because, after explaining why the naves were curtained off, he invited me to join him in an ante-room at the back of the church and gave me a preview of a large olive wood carving of the Nativity. It was stored, ready for the Christmas festivities, and it is a real work of art. To give some idea of scale, each human figure is about 12 inches high.

It was time to eat so I set off to rejoin Vanya and the dogs, taking a circuitous route around the harbour and past the small fish market.

Lunch outside ‘La Progress’ on the Quai Berigny was fantastic. Vanya went for her favourite, the Moules. I opted for the three course Plat du Jour, enjoying oysters as a starter, the biggest bucket of mussels you’ve ever seen as a main (served with the best ever chips) and finished with a very strong calvados sorbet. The service was excellent and I’d use that place again.

Dogs fit and us fed, we moved on to Saint Pierre en Port, just to the east of Fecamp for what remained of the day and the night. The following afternoon would see us head for Calais and the train to Folkestone. Tour 8 was rapidly reaching it’s conclusion.

Les Andelys (Normandy), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

We have to be back in the UK for 8 October.

We arrived early at Chateau de Bouafles campsite in the Eure Department of Normandy. In many respects it is a first class campsite right on the banks of the River Seine (the staff are friendly and we were offered a very large enclosed plot with private bathroom facilities, a built in BBQ and private covered patio area) but, for all that, I’ll not be including it in my list of recommended sites because, on the downside, it doesn’t have a bar and there isn’t one within a three mile radius of the site. Shame, because in all other respects, the place is great.

Of course there was plenty of food and wine in the Van but, you know how it is when you crave a beer? That craving simply has to be satisfied.

And so it was that after a long lunch and a few glasses of a tolerable red wine I set off towards the nearest town, Les Andelys, 3 miles further down the Seine. Les Andelys is a delightful little town which sits on a long sweeping curve of the river and it is worth every one of the 9 miles I ultimately walked that afternoon. It is called Les Andelys because the town is divided into two distinct parts, Little Andely on the banks of the Seine and Large Andely just behind it

The ruins of a once impressive medieval castle dominate the town. These are the ruins of the famous Chateau Gaillard. This castle was designed and built by no less a personage than Richard I (Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Normandy) and it’s construction, started in 1196, was completed within 12 months. By any standards, that’s an incredible feat of engineering and construction.

So pleased was he with the finished product that Chateau Gaillard became Richard’s preferred place of residence until his death in 1199. The castle’s history didn’t end there, with it changing hands more than once during the 100 Years War, and; in 1314, Margaret of Burgundy, the 25 year old wife of the French King Louis X, was imprisoned in the castle’s lower dungeons after being convicted of adultery. Margaret was supposedly strangled to death with her own hair in 1315. Later still, in 1334, David II of Scotland was forced into exile by Edward III of England and lived almost 8 years in the castle (not in the dungeons).

When built, the castle was amongst the most advanced of it’s time but; over the years, construction methods became more sophisticated and Castle Gaillard was allowed to fall into ruin. Eventually it was deemed unsafe and large parts were dismantled by order of Henry IV of France for new construction projects.

There are two major churches in Les Andelys; the 12th century Collegiate Church of Notre Dame in Large Andeley and the 13th century Eglise de Saint Sauveur in Little Andely. I spent most of my time in Little Andely and visited just the Eglise de Saint Sauveur.

Les Andelys is a pretty place (with a great castle and a magnificent bridge) but the prettiest part by far is the Promenade de Pres (a lovely walk alongside the Seine) and the best part of my visit was having that beer I craved outside a small bar on the promenade.

I made it back to Chateau des Bouafles just as the sun was setting over the Seine…

Chateauneuf sur Loire (Centre Val du Loire), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

Continuing north towards Calais and the UK, we paused for brunch at Jargeau in the Loiret Department of the Centre Val du Loire. Jargeau is where, in 1429, Joan of Arc won her first offensive battle against the English on behalf of the French King, Charles VII. It wasn’t a major battle but it proved costly to the English. Approximately 1,200 French troops laid siege to Jargeau which was defended by some 700 English troops. Inspired by Joan of Arc the French troops breached the town’s defences and the English surrendered after suffering some 300 casualties. The English might as well have carried on fighting because all of those who surrendered, together with several hundred townsfolk, were summarily executed. That’s all I know about Jargeau.

We took a leisurely lunch in Jargeau and then made our way to a campsite in nearby Chateauneuf sur Loire (not to be confused with Chateauneuf du Pape in Provence), entering the town via it’s imposing suspension bridge over the Loire.

There’s not much to see or do in Chateauneuf sur Loire but the chateau and it’s grounds are worth visiting, as is the Saint Martial Church.

The original 17th century chateau was seized and sold at the time of the French Revolution (we can only speculate as to what happened to the original owner) but the new owner Benoit Lebrun demolished much of the original chateau leaving just the existing living accommodation, the large stable block, the orangery and extensive gardens. In 1926 the chateau was acquired by local government and became the town hall. It has to be one of the most beautiful town halls in France. The stables are now a museum and the gardens serve as the town park. They are still considering options for the Orangery. I visited the museum during our short stay but wasn’t too impressed. It’s focus is directed almost entirely towards boats and trade on the River Loire and, I regret that subject does nothing for me.

Also impressive and well worth a visit is the Saint Martial church on Rue Migneron. This church dates back to the 12th century but little if anything remains of the original building. It was significantly altered during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and if that wasn’t enough it was hit by German bombers during WWII. Indeed, the bombing in June 1940 took out almost the whole of the original nave which is now a porch at the new entrance to the church. I particularly like the modern stained glass windows in the current building but another interesting feature of the church is the marble mausoleum erected for the Marquis Louis de Phelypeaux Vrilliere by his son in 1686. The mausoleum survived the bombing.

Well, that entry is short and sweet. We drive further north in the morning, to Normandy, where we will be staying on a campsite in the grounds of Chateau Bouafles and I hope to see something of nearby Les Andelys.

Herisson (Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes), France October 2023 (Tour 8)

Some 200 miles north of Millau, in the Allier Department of the Auvergne, is the tiny village of Herisson; 600 inhabitants, a handful of shops, no hotels and only one bar-restaurant. We stumbled on the place while looking for somewhere to stay and it very quickly blew me away. It’s a picturesque medieval village in a most delightful setting on the River Aumance and it is brimming with history and character.

We parked the Van in the municipal campsite and made our way through the Parc Louis Bignon towards the centre of the village. In case you’re interested, Louis Bignon was born in Herisson some time in the 19th century and rose to become one of France’s most famous chefs and the owner of ‘Cafe Riche’ which at the time was Paris’s most fashionable and expensive restaurant.

From the park, there is a footbridge across the River Aumance which leads to La Porte de L’Enfer, one of two surviving medieval entrances into the village. The views from the footbridge, both up and down the Aumance, are splendid and some of the charming stone houses on the river bank are more than 500 years old.

The most obvious feature of the village and the one I was intent on visiting first is the castle. It is in ruins now but was constructed in the 14th century by the Dukes of Bourbon (on the site of earlier castles) and is steeped in history having been besieged by the English at least twice during the ‘100 Years War’ and again by Protestants in the French ‘Wars of Religion’. It was a small civil war between members of the Bourbon family which finally resulted in it being dismantled in the late 17th century by order of a certain Cardinal Mazarin. It’s walls were then used in the construction of many of the village’s existing houses but what remains of the castle is now protected.

For a village of just 600 souls, Herisson is very well provided with churches. There are four in total; five if you count the 12th century church of Saint Pierre de Chateloy which is just outside the village. My favourite is the 19th century Church of Notre Dame with it’s wonderful staircase at the entrance and some beautiful stained glass windows.

Others to be seen are the Eglise de Saint Sauveur in the village centre (most of the church is 17th century but the belfry dates back to the 12th century), the 16th century church of Saint Etienne and the 17th century Chapelle du Calvaire. This latter building sits on a small hill on the edge of the visit and offers a great view over the village towards the castle.

Originally there were three medieval gates into Herisson. Two still stand, the 14th century Porte L’Enfer (also known as the Porte de Varenne) and the Porte de Gateuil…

As mentioned previously, there is just the one bar-restaurant currently open in Herisson; that is the ‘Auberge’ and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the place. The service was friendly and attentive (despite the fact we were the only diners interested in eating at one of the outside tables), the wine was local and the food was fine given we were staying over for just the one night.

Although the last to finish our drinks at the restaurant, we weren’t too late. We had a fairly long drive the next day and there was still one more place to visit before we could leave in the morning. Herisson is the French word for hedgehog (see photo below of house with hedgehog tiles) and there’s a small distillery in the village (the Monsieur Balthazar Distillery) which produces a whisky called ‘Hedgehog’. Now that’s got to be worth a try.

post script: Hedgehog is actually bourbon with a high corn content, barley and rye – As Charlie Endell would say “That’s nae a whisky. That’s a dirty glass”.