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Picture Postcard… from Bayeux, Normandy

Bayeux, Calvados, Normandy

Bayeux, Calvados, Normandy

In the heart of the D-Day Landing beaches, the historic city of Bayeux, is best known for the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts life in the Middle Ages and, in particular,  the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. But don’t just come to Bayeux to see the tapestry, be sure to leave time to explore the charming narrow cobbled streets of the old town with quaint shops and inviting bistros, and at its heart Bayeux’s huge Notre Dame Cathedral, a masterpiece of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, consecrated by William the Conqueror in 1077.

And if you visit on a Wednesday or Saturday morning a traditional market sells local produce including many fine gastronomic specialties of the area, many of which make perfect souvenirs.

Image by G. Wait,  copyright OTI Bayeux-Bessin / G. Wait

Place du Vieux Marché ©Rouen Tourist Office


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Rouen, the jewel in Normandy’s crown

Travel writer, Barbara Hopkins, shares her love of Rouen…

Densely packed with half-timbered houses, architectural gems and soaring spires, the medieval city centre of Rouen is a meeting point for both art and history with a flourishing cultural vibe as well as great restaurants, shopping and nightlife.

Sprawled along the banks of the river Seine and like Paris divided into Right and Left Banks, Rouen is the capital of both Upper Normandy and the Seine Maritime départment and cherishes the importance of the heritage  that secures its place as a jewel in Normandy’s crown.

Rouen

Rouen © Rouen Tourist Office

The Right Bank is the main area for exploring the city centre and it’s where most of the monuments, as well as restaurants and accommodation can be found. The Place du Vieux Marché is a good starting point and it’s here that St Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431; the public square is marked with a plaque and 20-metre high cross. Nearby is a contemporary architectural masterpiece, the memorial church dedicated to her and whose stunning wooden-roofed interior is said to represent the flames at the stake.

Church of St Joan of Arc Rouen

Church of St Joan of Arc Rouen © Barbara Hopkins

From the square, the cobbled Rue du Gros Horloge leads towards the soaring grandeur of Notre Dame Cathedral, immortalised by Monet in his series of over thirty paintings. The clock (‘horloge’) which gives the street its name is a beautiful one-handed timepiece which shows the hour, the week and the phase of the moon. Climb to the top of the belfry to see its workings as well as outstanding city views.

Rouen Cathedral: A ToutFrance/Hervo Le Gac

Rouen Cathedral © A ToutFrance/Hervo Le Gac

Gros Horloge Rouen

Gros Horloge Rouen © Barbara Hopkins

Victor Hugo allegedly called Rouen ‘a town of a hundred spires’ and while he may not necessarily have counted every one, the city certainly  boasts the most classified monuments in France, with a lengthy list which includes examples of the Gothic and Renaissance masterpieces which adorn the streets. As well as the Gros Horloge and the Cathedral, take some time to admire  the Parliament of Normandy Court House, the église Saint-Maclou (often noted as the most flamboyant and spectacular example of Gothic architecture in France) and by contrast the Abbey Church of St-Ouen, whose simple lines have a beauty all their own.

The town is also known as the capital of antique bargain hunting, centred on the Damiette-Saint-Maclou district. Antique dealers occupy the half timbered houses which huddle together and cater to every taste and budget, while ceramicists, art gallery owners and bookbinders along with many other craftsmen open their doors to the public. Look out for ‘faience de Rouen’ decorative tin-glazed ceramic ware as well as ‘les coffret de Rouen’ small hand-painted wooden boxes for truly artisanal holiday mementoes.

Near rue Damiette and St-Ouen Church take a detour to the charming Rue Eau de Robec, where a small stream is crossed by a number of footbridges, recalling the era when wealthy cloth merchants lived in the area. Some of the timbered houses have attic workshops where skeins of cotton as well as fabric would be left out to dry.

Rouen timbered houses

Rouen © Barbara Hopkins

Rouen’s timbered houses and cobbled streets are lit with the particular quality of natural light which has fascinated painters and attracted writers to the town. It was in Normandy that Impressionism was born and Monet, Renoir and Sisley were among those who were fascinated by the discovery of the play of light on water, viewed from the banks of the Seine at Rouen. Art lovers may follow in the footsteps of these then-revolutionary artists, details from the tourist office (which is the oldest surviving renaissance building in Rouen) at 25 Place de la Cathédrale. The Musée des Beaux Arts (Esplanade Marcel Duchamp) makes for an absorbing visit to view one of France’s premier art collections with works dating from the 15th century to the present day.

For those in need of some retail therapy, the pedestrian streets near the cathedral are packed with familiar names as well as individual boutiques; the chocolatiers and macaron makers can make for very slow progress!

Eating out in Rouen is a delight with menus to suit all budgets. Regional products are showcased, especially those ‘from the farm’: cheeses, cream, eggs and apples.  Renowned cheeses from the region include Camembert, Pont l’Eveque and Neuchatel, while liqueur lovers will appreciate Calvados, the apple brandy which is produced across Normandy. The regional cider is also very popular. There are plenty of restaurants around Place due Vieux Marché and market stalls are a great place to pick up food to enjoy as you wander.

Place du Vieux Marché ©Rouen Tourist Office

Place du Vieux Marché © Rouen Tourist Office

Night-owls are well catered for too with a number of clubs and bars staying open until the small hours as well as concerts, cinema and theatres. There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy classical music, opera and ballet in a wide variety of venues.

Rouen offers its visitors a richness and diversity of experience which pays homage to its past, while also firmly keeping an eye to the future.

Barbara HopkinsBarbara Hopkins is a freelance writer of features and articles on a wide range of topics, also producing business editorial content across diverse sectors including education, health, lifestyle and beauty.

“My passions include independent travel (top of my bucket list would be a trip to Antarctica) — that’s after the lottery win —  and closer to home I’m passionate about Paris, with an ongoing urge to leap onboard the next train bound for the City of Light.  My French language skills are however a poor second to my husband’s (even the French think he’s French), so I’m trying to catch up.

Family and friends, the Arts, real ale and great vegetarian food in any combination are favourite ways of spending down time and for an instant lift, a walk by the sea never fails to deliver.”

Barbara blog’s at thefeaturewriter, tweets @bhwriting and you can also find her on Google +.

Honfleur harbour


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Impressions of Honfleur

Honfleur, possibly Normandy’s prettiest harbour town and one of the most popular places to live in France, is a delightful place to visit for a long weekend or, for a longer stay, it makes an excellent base from which to explore the region.

Honfleur at dusk

Just two hours from Paris by car or train Parisians escape here every weekend. However long you are there, it is well worth taking your time to explore the pretty meandering cobbled streets with their quaint antique shops, art galleries, local craft shops and some superb gourmet souvenir shops as well as numerous wonderful restaurants.

Honfleur harbour

A ten minute stroll from the cobbled streets of Honfleur, La Ferme Saint Simeon inn, in the 19th century, served plates of fried shrimps and jugs of cider to the painters, musicians and poets that flocked here from Paris. In front of this farmhouse, apple orchids led down to salt marshes and the sea beyond inspiring many an impressionist’s painting, as did Honfleur’s harbour itself with its picturesque fishing boats and quay lined with tall narrow houses clinging to the hillside. Boudin was born in Honfleur and introduced his young friend Monet to his home town. The scenes that they painted are much the same today and at the old port, Le Vieux Bassin, you will find painters and their easels producing works for the tourist.

Don’t miss!

Be sure to visit the Musée Eugène Boudin, on place Erik-Satie, where many original pastels and paintings by Boudin are displayed alongside works by Monet and other impressionist painters. Composer Erik Satie was also born in Honfleur. He worked with some of the greatest artists of his time including Picasso and inspired such famous composers as Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. If you stroll down boulevard Charles V  you’ll find ‘Les Maisons Satie’, a bizarre and fascinating museum dedicated to Satie.

Back in the centre of town, on one side of the port, is the unusual wooden spire of the 15th century church of Saint Etienne, the oldest church in Honfleur and home to the Musée de la Marine. On the other side of the port is the largest surviving wooden church of St Catherine. The first nave is the oldest part of the building and dates back to the 15th century. It was built using naval construction techniques, and unsurprisingly appears like an upside-down ship’s hull.

Every Saturday morning a lively market with a myriad of stalls display produce from the Norman countryside such as artisan cheeses, meats and saucisson, fresh fruits and vegetables and all things apple including cider, pommeau (made form a mixture of cider and apple brandy) and Calvados. Of course the sea also provides her bounty including the local delicacy crevettes grises (a small grey shrimp).

Honfleur

Dining out in Honfleur

There are numerous excellent restaurants, mainly specialising in fish dishes, both around the harbour and in the surrounding streets. One of the best is the delectable, Sa-Qua-Na, on place Hamelin. This Michelin-starred restaurant is so popular that reservations must be made well in advance. For something a little different, and a less expensive, try L’Assiette des Mondes, on Chemin De La Croix Rouge in Equemauville (just outside Honfleur) which serves excellent ‘fusion’ food. If you are looking for something more central, La Petite Boucherie on place de la Porte de Rouen offers delicious, hearty, homemade cooking.

Whether you visit for a few hours, a weekend or a month, Honfleur has been seducing visitors for hundreds of years, and is bound to leave a lasting impression of her charms.

Photography – top:  Jon Banfiled for Great Escapes, middle: Honfleur tourist office and bottom: Hotel du Dauphin

Picture postcard from… Jumièges Abbey, Normandy, France

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the ruined Benedictine Abbey of JumiègesLucy Dodsworth from On the Luce shares one of her lovely images from Normandy

Alongside the Seine in Normandy is the ruined Benedictine Abbey of Jumièges. It was built in the 7th century then destroyed and rebuilt by various invaders over the years before finally being abandoned after the French Revolution. You can now wander around the atmospheric ruins by day and on summer nights when the abbey’s illuminated and its limestone glows.

You can also find Lucy on Facebook, Twitter and see more of her wonderful photographs on Flicker.

 

Picture Postcard from… Port Bessin, Normandy, France

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Port Bessin Normandy France.This week’s picture postcard is this glorious sunset by Claire White.

Port-en-Bessin is a little fishing harbour west of Arromanches in Calvados, Normandy. It is within easy reach of Omaha Beach and it’s golf course, the beaches of Arromanches, the Bayeux tapestry and the Baron Gérard Museum, an interesting museum in Bayeux that re-opened in the Spring.

See more of Claire’s photography on Flickr.