Neufchatel en Bray (Normandy) May 2024 (Tour 9)

It’s 21 May 2024 and this morning we left Brighton for a short tour of France in the Van. This is Tour number 9 and, all things being equal, we’ll be on the road for between 5 and 6 weeks. Both Vanya and I would prefer to be out longer but there is just too much going on at the moment.

This tour will differ from our others inasmuch that, instead of going where we please (following the sun and changing direction on a whim), we are going to have to restrict ourselves to relatively flat areas close to quieter towns and villages. This is because our German Shepherd dog, Nala, has succumbed to hip dysplasia (a not unusual condition for aging ‘Shepherds’) but, to compound matters, she has also suffered a disc bulge. There’s no remedy for either condition and, while the pain associated with both is being well managed by appropriate medication (not cheap), her mobility is significantly reduced. We’ve purchased a set of wheels to support her back legs and these help her to get out and about (she can handle 4 kilometre walks with the wheels and for the most part she seems very happy with them) but, we have to be careful she doesn’t overstretch herself. Moreover, we must limit ourselves to visiting those places where she can more easily manoeuvre in her wheels. Her spacial awareness is akin to that of a bull in a china shop… bless her.

So, a 07.15 start saw us heading off to Folkestone to take Le Shuttle to Calais and then on to Neufchatel en Bray in Normandy. The journey went like a dream. There was no traffic to speak of as we travelled along the M23, M25, M26 and M20 to Folkestone and we arrived almost two hours before our scheduled train to Calais. We sailed through the Pet Checks, Passport Control, Immigration, etc and were able to catch the 10.18 train instead of the 11.48. The drive from Calais to Neufchatel en Bray was wet but nowhere near as bad as we experienced in Folkestone.

Tomorrow we’ll press on to the Loire Valley but for the moment we’re parked up at Camping Sainte Claire close, not far from the centre of Neufchatel en Bray and just 300 metres from a sizeable Leclerc. Vanya stayed with Nala and Beanie while I obtained essential provisions from the Leclerc, checked out the town’s eating options for the evening and enjoyed a quick beer in the town centre. Of course, ‘essential provisions’ included some decent French wines and the local cheese (this is Normandy) which has to be Neufchatel cheese. Neufchatel, not to be confused with Swiss Neuchatel cheese, is soft, slightly crumbly and grainy with a sharp tangy taste andit is often produced in a heart shape…

Dinner was at a small but very friendly and accommodating Italian restaurant in the town centre, Le Catanzaro. Yes, I know this is France but it is a Tuesday and many French restaurants are closed on a Monday and Tuesday evening. Hey, we were lucky to find somewhere that would accommodate Nala and her wheels and; the food (and wine – we insisted on a Sancerre in preference to the Italian choices) was excellent.

The town was almost totally destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt along more practical lines but; unfortunately, this makes for very little in terms of photo opportunities. Nevertheless…

And on to the Loire Valley…

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’ above the cliffs at Saint Pierre en Port.

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. It ended 18-17 in England’s favour 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, once again we packed much in. 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 at the usual place on the harbour we made our way up past the Palais Benedictine to the vet. Thereafter, we would find 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 in the carvings below 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.

With the 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, after a long lunch and a few glasses of a tolerable red wine, that 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…

Veules Les Roses (Normandy), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

Two girls we were talking to at a restaurant in Yport recommended Veules Les Roses as a place to visit. Tucked away on the Alabaster Coast just south of Dieppe, it is another of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’. Dating back to the 4th century, it is also one of the oldest villages on the Normandy coast and quite charming.

Veules Les Roses can also boast of straddling the smallest river in France with the River Veules running less than 0.75 of a mile through the village from it’s source to the English Channel. The river is also one of the cleanest as may be demonstrated by the number of water cress farms surrounding the source of the river (water cress has been farmed here since the 14th century) and, most particularly, with Brown Trout returning from the sea every year to spawn.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there is a shorter river in France but it will not be running into the sea.

Until recently this was a flourishing fishing and agricultural area but, for the most part, those industries have given way to tourism and; the many mills which once dominated this district have closed one after the other as the number of tea rooms has increased. There are now 2 dozen tea rooms in the village.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the beach area but…

For all that, one water mill continues to grind grain, the water cress farms are thriving and the local oysters which are farmed offshore (the veulaise oyster) remain popular. More than that, the real beauty in the village is not so much to be found on the beach in the tea rooms and restaurants where the tourists congregate but in following the track of the little river (which track is known as the Champs Elysee) as it winds it’s way around a wonderful mix of houses – the tall stone houses of flint and brick so typical of Normandy; medieval pastel coloured half timbered houses and delightful thatched cottages.

… following the river…

… and seeing so many delightful houses made the visit well worthwhile.

Veules Les Roses was to be the last explore of this, our brief seventh, tour. Yes we returned to the vet (Veto Coeur de Caux) in Fecamp so that the dogs could get the tapeworm tablets necessary for them to return to the UK and we spent our last night at the municipal campsite in Montreuil sur Mer (to facilitate a short journey to the Eurotunnel on our last day) but we didn’t stay long in either place. I’m certain we will return to both at some time in the future (for the same purposes) but on this occasion there was no need for an explore. Until next time… au revoir.

Yport (Normandy), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

One of my favourite small towns in Normandy. I first visited Yport in 2018 (Tour 2) and it hasn’t changed a bit since then.

Nestled in between steep chalk cliffs on the Alabaster Coast, Yport was a tiny fishing village until beach holidays became fashionable in Europe in the late 19th century. It has since become a little a gem of a beach resort with a couple of very good restaurants and it’s own casino (casinos are rare in France). The village is one of the smaller resorts in the region and contains a mix of tiny fishing houses and larger 19th century properties built at the time Yport was becoming established as a seaside resort and it’s a fine place to while away a day or two while we wait for the vet in Fecamp to open after the bank holiday.

The view east along the coast towards Fecamp.

One thing about Yport which stirs me every time I walk into the town is that almost breathtaking moment when, as you turn on to the beach from Rue Emmanuel Foy, you get hit by a rush of fresh salty sea air being channeled through the town by the chalk cliffs. Refreshing is an understatement; it’s almost energising.

The view west and east from Yport’s pebble beach

Yport’s church, L’Eglise Saint Martin dates back to 1838. Apparently, it was erected in just 6 months by the town’s inhabitants who themselves gathered much of the flint and pebbles that was used in it’s construction from the local beach. The last time I visited Yport the church was closed. This time I was more fortunate.

L’Eglise Saint Martin

The inside of the church is fascinating, not least because of the numerous votive offerings on display which reflect the village’s earlier association with fishing.

We used Yport as a base on this occasion to visit both Fecamp (I mentioned already that we were taking the dogs to the vet there) and the small village of Veules Les Roses (which was recommended as a place to visit by two local girls we got talking to and I will write a separate blog on Veules Les Roses) but we invariably took our meals in Yport. The mussels here are the best I’ve ever tasted and Vanya was keen to try them. Previously, I had eaten at the Hotel Normand and one of the open air restaurants on the beach. This time we tried Le Cabestan et sa Plume and, best of all, Le Nautique.

The food (and the ambience and the welcome) at La Nautique was such that I would return again and again. The place was packed but they found a table for us (and the dogs) in the outside seating area at the back of the restaurant. Their oysters were great; the Moules Normande were truly exceptional and; their apple tart (if that is what it was) was delicious. All washed down with the local cider and a bottle of Muscadet.

… and there’s always time to take in a lovely sunset. These next two photos were taken from just outside Le Cabestan et sa Plume.

Le Bec-Hellouin (Normandy), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

Vanya suggested Le Bec-Hellouin as a place to stop at for lunch on our way north from Alencon to Yport. Le Bec-Hellouin was recently voted a “plus beau village de France” (and is fully deserving of the title) but, otherwise, it is most famous for it’s large abbey complex.

The Bec-Hellouin Abbey was founded in 1034 by a former Norman knight by the name of Herluin who had renounced violence and become a Benedictine monk. Sometimes referred to as Saint Herluin (despite not being canonised) Herluin was a fascinating character who inspired various distinguished ecclesiastics (including two early Archbishops of Canterbury; Lanfranc de Pavia and Anselm d’Aostein) and created one of the most influential abbeys in the Christian World. Herluin died in 1078 and his remains can be seen in the new Abbey Church.

The Abbey complex is now wholly owned by the French State and the Abbey is better known these days for the pottery it produces but a community of Benedictine monks do still practise monasticism there.

Left: The primary entrance into the abbey complex from Place de L’Abbe Herluin and Right: The 15th century Bell Tower of St Nicolas.

The 15th century Tour St Nicolas (the Bell Tower of St Nicholas) is the oldest part of the abbey still standing. Some considerable damage was caused to the original Abbey throughout the 100 years war between the English and the French (the village of Bec-Hellouin changed hands many times during that period) and again during both the French Religious Wars and the French Revolution.

In 1948 the surviving buildings were occupied by a community of Olivetan Benedictine monks who with government money have since restored them. In 1959, the remains of Herluin were reburied in the new Abbey Church.

Much of the existing complex was rebuilt in a Regency style. The old refectory (the wing on the left of the photo) is now home to the Abbey Church.

The inside of the abbey church, best described as ‘simply beautiful’, holds Heluin’s relics.

The village of Bec-Hellouin is tiny (just 402 inhabitants) but, it comprises a number of very pretty rows of pastel coloured half timbered houses, all in fine condition. For the most part these houses are gathered around two main squares, the Place de L’Abbe Herluin and the Place Mathilde where the village Church of Saint Andrew (Eglise Saint Andre) is located. The Place Mathilde is so named because William the Conqueror’s wife, Mathilde, was initially buried in the grounds of this particular St Andrew’s (until moved to the Abbey in Caen).

It didn’t take long to wander the village and we soon found a table outside ‘La Crepe dans Le Bec’ where we each enjoyed a buckwheat galette and I was able to sup an ice cold glass of the local cider. There’s nothing like a local cider on a warm sunny day in Normandy.

Awaiting galettes outside a creperie on the Place de l’Abbe Herluin.

Just one piece of interesting news I learned while in Le Bec Hellouin. The London suburb of Tooting Bec (where Del & Rodney Trotter lived before they became millionaires) was so named because the Abbey owned all the land on which the original village of Tooting stood. Now, not many people know that.

On to Yport.

Alencon (Normandy), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

Alencon, in the south of Normandy, was simply a staging post on our way back to the UK. Our timetable required that we head for Yport on the Normandy coast and we had 36 hours to get there. This allowed sufficient time for us to overnight at Alencon and take a short wander around the town centre (and perhaps even take lunch the following day at yet another of Normandy’s ‘plus beau villages’) and; if I could also find a decent restaurant for the evening… well, that would be a bonus.

I knew very little about Alencon and decided to head first to the local tourist office for their advice. The tourist office is housed in an impressive 15th century turreted mansion, known as the Maison d’Oze, which was built for the town’s alderman but some time during the 16th century became home to Charles de Valois (Duke of Alencon). More about him later. It will suffice to say here that visitors can tour the mansion for free.

First impressions as I made my way to the tourist office was that Alencon is neither the prettiest nor the most interesting of Normandy’s towns but, on the plus side, it is not plagued with lots of tourist tack. The tourist office staff were keen to help, producing a decent map and taking time to point out the town’s principal points of interest but when a google search of the best things to see and do in Alencon recommended a visit to an Escape Room… well, my interest in the town began to pale. Honestly, an escape room. Give me strength.

That’s the Maison d’Oze in the centre of the photo with, slightly behind it and to the left, the town’s principal place of worship – the Basilique Notre Dame d’Alencon.

Anyway, armed with the tourist office map I set off to explore the town, starting with the Basilique de Notre Dame d’Alencon which almost adjoins the Maison d’Oze.

The first stone of the Basilica Notre Dame was laid in 1356 but most of the current building dates from between the 15th and 17th centuries and, actually, the building wasn’t elevated to Basilica status until 2009. There’s an imposing main door and it is light and airy inside the Basilica but, best of all, are the splendid stained glass windows in the nave which date from 1530. Odd, isn’t it? We’ve completed almost seven tours over the last few years and it wasn’t until the start of this particular tour that I took any real interest in stained glass windows. It was the trip to Troyes earlier in May that did it. Now that was stained glass.

Inside the Basilica.

The Basilica Notre Dame is famous for being the place where Saint Therese de Lisieux was baptised. Not being a Catholic I know next to nothing about Saint Therese but she is sometimes referred to as “The Little Flower of Jesus” and is revered by many (including Pope Pius X) as the greatest saint of modern times. She was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1925. That is no small feat given she died from tuberculosis in 1897 aged just 24 years. She was born in Alencon and it is possible to visit the house where she was born (Maison de la Famille Martin on Rue Saint Blaise) which has become something of a shrine to the Saint but, I chose to give that a miss.

The tourist office map took me next, past the memorial to the French General Philippe Leclerc (his forces liberated Alencon from the Germans during WWII), to the 15th century Chateau des Ducs.

The Leclerc Memorial and the imposing entrance to the Chateau des Ducs

There’s not much left of the original Chateau des Ducs, although part of it was still in use as a prison until as recently as 2010, but at one time the castle was the primary abode of the aforementioned Francois de Valois, Duke of Anjou. Francois de Valois was perhaps the only serious foreign contender for the hand of Elizabeth I of England. He was 22 years younger than Elizabeth but they exchanged many affectionate letters over a four year period before Elizabeth finally sent him a ‘Dear John’ in 1581. Vanya maintains that she was stringing him along as part of a strategy to make Robert Dudley jealous and who am I to argue with her about the Tudors?

Chateau des Ducs

The rest of the afternoon saw me visit most of the remaining sights listed on my tourist office map – the Merchant’s House known as La Maison a L’Etal, the Eglise Saint Leonard and Le Parc des Promenades. I gave the Corn Exchange a miss.

La Maison a L’Etal and a portrait of Francois de Valois.Is it me or is there a slight resemblance to Rowan Atkinson appearing as Lord Edmund Blackadder?

Given the similarities in appearance of Francois de Valois and Rowan Atkinson (when he appeared as Lord Edmund Blackadder in the 2nd Series of Blackadder) and having regard to the correspondence between Francois de Valois and Queen Elizabeth I, it seems appropriate to quote a love poem created by Queenie (Elizabeth I) which featured in a Series 2 episode of Blackadder:-

When the night is dark and the dogs go ‘bark’; When the clouds go black and the ducks go ‘quack’; When the sky goes blue and the cows go ‘moo’; Think of lovely Queenie, she’ll be thinking of you.

That’s it settled. We’ll be stopping at Le Bec-Hellouin tomorrow on our way to the coast.

Bouafles (Normandy), France February 2022 (Tour 5)

And so begins a short impromptu trip (Tour 5?) down through France to Spain.

Life has been all too restrictive in England during the winter months under Covid and with France & Spain now relaxing their Covid rules and opening their borders to the Brits (provided one is fully vaccinated and has a Covid Passport), we decided to go for a drive down to Spain. Currently, the weather in the south of Spain is pretty good with lots of sunshine and temperatures in the low to mid 20’s. If it holds, that’ll suit us. Such a trip also provides Vanya with the opportunity to practise some Spanish.

I’ll not bore you with details of all the last minute organisation needed to get us ready to go (such as collecting the Van from North Wales and making it ready, securing the necessary Covid paperwork to satisfy both the British and French authorities, obtaining paperwork that would enable us to take our dogs overseas, booking places on the cross channel ferry from Dover to Calais because the Eurotunnel trains were already packed out, etc). It will suffice to say that during the afternoon of Friday 11 February we arrived in Calais, raring to go.

It was cold as we arrived in France (seriously cold) and the weather forecast suggests it will get colder still (well below freezing). This, combined with the fact that the cold spell is to be followed by wintery storms across pretty much all of France has prompted a change of plan. We have decided to make haste towards Spain where the weather forecast is considerably more settled.

That being the case, after docking at Calais we immediately set off some 150 miles south west towards our first camping site, Camping Chateau de Bouafles, which sits next to the small town of Les Andelys in the Eure Department of Normandy.

Ordinarily we would have stayed at Bouafles for at least a couple of days. Les Andelys was originally a fishing village on the Seine, dominated by the 12th century castle of Chateau Gaillard. The castle is a bit of a ruin nowadays but it is steeped in history and offers tremendous views over the River Seine and the surrounding countryside. The castle alone would have kept me occupied for a while but add to this the Collegiate Church and; the charming old town with it’s narrow paths and alleys and half timbered houses and; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s association with the town (he and his family lived here for some time with the castle & town inspiring a number of his books & novels) and; don’t forget the Saturday morning market and; well, Les Andalys is worth at least two days of anyone’s time.

Having written all that, the morning temperature of minus three degrees centigrade and the promise of impending rain/snow brought me back to my senses and into the Van’s driving seat. Perhaps the weather will be better in Les Andelys as we return to the UK?

Fecamp (Normandy), France September 2021 (Tour 4)

And so we came to Fecamp.

I was near here just two years ago, walking the cliffs between Yport and Etretat but, for some reason, I never made it to Fecamp. I missed out then because Fecamp is a pretty little town well deserving of a couple of days of anybody’s time and; that is precisely how long we stayed this visit (although a chunk of our time was spent securing the necessary paperwork to get us and our dogs back into the UK).

Fecamp is a long established fishing port nestled amongst the tallest cliffs on the Cote d’Albatre (the Alabaster Coast). For many years the town’s primary interest was cod (Fecamp being the largest cod fishing port in France) with many of the port’s larger trawlers regularly making round trips to Newfoundland in search of cod. It wasn’t until the 19th century, as sea bathing became popular with high society, that the town moved towards becoming a seaside resort.

The port now holds as many pleasure boats as fishing boats but fishing (together with associated industries) remains a way of life for a significant number of the town’s 20,000 population.

The view back into town from the harbour side is dominated by the 16th century Church of Saint Etienne but, pretty as that church is, the principal tourist attractions away from the seafront are the 12th century Abbey Church of St Trinite and the 19th century Palais Benedictine.

Commonly known as Fecamp Abbey, the Abbey Church of the Holy Trinity in Fecamp was founded by Richard I Duke of Normandy on the site of an earlier church destroyed by Vikings. The church was frequently extended; becoming part of a large Benedictine abbey that would prosper until the French Revolution caused its closure and many of the the buildings were sold or destroyed. Now only the church still stands but it remains a seriously large albeit, from the outside, unattractive church. At 127 metres the nave is as long as the church of Notre Dame in Paris. In addition to holding the remains of Richard I of Normandy and his son (Richard II of Normandy), it houses an unusual yet very important religious relic namely, two vials of Sacred Blood. This blood was supposedly collected by Nicodemus at the foot of Christ’s cross following his crucifixion and was then inserted into the trunk of a fig tree that eventually washed up in the swampland of Fécamp. This legend seems a bit far fetched but it has served to attract pilgrims to the church for centuries.

For my part, the most impressive building in Fecamp is the Palais Benedictine. Built at the end of the 19th century the Benedictine Palace is a masterpiece of Gothic & Renaissance architecture. It is also the only place in the world where the “Benedictine” liqueur is distilled. First created by a 16th century monk, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, and then developed by Alexandre Le Grand some time during the French Revolution, the recipe is a closely guarded secret but it is also very difficult to describe it’s taste. The museum and the distillery inside the building are both open to the public and the distillery offers tours and tasting sessions.

There was time during our stay in Fecamp for me to take just a short walk along the cliffs outside the town. I chose to walk the cliffs to the south of the town, heading towards Yport (although it was never my intention to go quite that far) but I think the better walk would have been to the north.

Cap Fagnet and a more picturesque stretch of high cliffs are to the north. There are also fine views over Fecamp from Cap Fagnet; a number of well preserved WWII bunkers which can be explored and; of course, there is the small Chapel of Notre Dame de Salut with it’s gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on the roof. This chapel is dedicated to all sailors lost at sea. The track to the south has no fine view back over the town and, whilst there is an occasional WWII bunker, the views are not as good as those to the north.

The next day – that was it. The dogs had been seen by a local vet and their pet passports were all properly stamped up. We were in possession of our Covid Test certificates. We were ready to leave for the Eurotunnel. There was just time for a final walk around Fecamp, a spot of lunch (a kind of cheese stew, would you believe?) and then we were off…

The Fourth Tour of Europe was concluded…