Friday, 25 September 2009


After a good night’s sleep we get ready, have a good breakfast and leave an already overcrowded Honfleur behind.
The sky is blue, the sun is out, it looks like a glorious day.
I remember from over 30 years ago that there was a small area called La Côte Fleurie, just up the Coast, South of the mouth of the Seine.
Up winds the narrow road, we squeal with joy, we found it, well, blink and you miss it… a strip of field filled with flowers. Surrounded by a natural hedge of brambles and ‘wild’ roses, it is almost impossible to access, Paul finds a gap…
I photograph from the verge of the road, camera zoomed into the max.
Le Havre is ‘sunning’ on the other side.
Paul is having a great time, it is beautiful, I catch him with the dappled light that I love so much…

Full of excitement, we continue our trek, the road winds on, along the Coast, soon, we see a sign towards another ‘must-see’ place that I remember from my youth… the Côte de Grâce… another ‘blink’ and you’ve missed it…
We drive past big, beautiful old house set in their proper land-settings of orchards and gardens.
This is part of La Côte Fleurie, on the hill some 1,5 km from the town centre of Honfleur, with spectacular views of the Seine estuary, the harbour and Le Havre.
Now shaded by 300-year-old elms, La "Chapelle Notre-Dame de Grâce" is one of the region’s oldest sanctuary chapels and a gem built between 1600 and 1615 on the steep hilltop west of town.
Here it gets a little confusing, some say Notre Dame de Grâce, was founded by Richard II and rebuilt between 1600 and 1615, others claim it to have been founded in 1034 by Robert the Magnificent of Normandy and rebuilt in 1606.
One thing is certain, quickly, the site became a point of pilgrimage for sailors about to embark on transatlantic journeys.
One such sailor-pilgrim, Samuel de Champlain, set sail from Honfleur and founded the colony of Quebec in 1608.
And also somewhere in history it was used by royalty…. (Say no more, hihi.)
Pilgrims still arrive for an annual Seaman's Festival and blessing of the sea each spring.
The sky is almost white from the heat; the trees give a welcoming relative coolness. I seek refuge inside. As soon as I enter, I am enveloped with the strangest feeling of sadness, I cannot explain it, not something I normally experience, hhmm.
The small church is full of plaques for thanks everywhere, some very old some more recent, devote candles flicker, the silence is tangible, some people come in and light another candle, a prayer and gone again. France is still a very Catholic country…
The sun warmly brightens the stained-glass windows, statues and bas-reliefs tracing the usual biblical themes, but alongside them are images and models of elaborately rigged ships from centuries past. (There are also a few pairs of cast-off crutches, leaning in a dark corner, whose stories are not offered.)
Outside, very peculiar, a huge stand with the bells, chiming every 15 minutes…
Their sonorous sound carried far and wide… resounding in your ears long after they stopped...

In the welcoming coolness of our car, we continue, trying to find our way towards Pont-l'Évêque, where I want to buy the famous cheese.
We drive in the shade of tree lined lanes, when it suddenly opens into a clearing with a stunning panoramic view, it is the Mont Joli, and about 50 meters along the road there is a steep, but well made footpath down to the old town.
We don’t seem to be able to get away from Honfleur, beautiful and interesting as it is… it reminds me of a Jacques Brel song, Vesoul , where he sings:
T'as voulu voir Honfleur et on a vu Honfleur
(You wanted to see Honfleur and we saw Honfleur)
… ( )

From where we stand is a great view across the top of the town, the river Seine and on to the Pont de Normandie.
There is a plaque, and it reads:

Honfleur seen from the Mont Joli.

The chapel and the plateau, although situated on the commune of Equemauville, belong to the town of Honfleur since the revolution. The Mont Joli, also belongs to Honfleur since the beginning of the 19th century.

From where you are standing, do not forget to view the monument next to you. It was erected to the glory Of Notre dame de Grâce, as thanks for her protection of Honfleur, Lieuvin, Roumas and the Ouche, during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

Here also the view to Honfleur, The Côte Vassal, the commune of Riviere Saint Sauveur and the upper valley of the Seine is one of the most interesting you will find.

You can measure the importance of the harbour of Honfleur, as the third biggest import harbour of wood and wood products, you can admire Le Pont de Normandie, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world ((at that time, not anymore), inaugurated 22nd of January 1995, the ‘connection' between Haute and Basse-Normandie, with a length of 2.141m, resting on two pylons of 214m.
The span, 23.60 m wide, is divided into 2x2 lanes for traffic.

From here, at one glance, you penetrate the heart itself of our old town of Honfleur. At your feet, huddled together, the fishermen's houses forming alleys and narrow streets.
Behind these old 'cottages’ you’ll often find hidden, small gardens.

The inhabitants of Honfleur (Honleurais), live in the shadow of the Sainte Catherine, Saint Etienne and Saint Leonard churches.
Their lives in rhythm with the tides, close to the old bassin. They nostalgically dream about the great discoveries, navigators, painters, writers and poets who were always so inspired by this magical place.

The 'Honleurais' are very attached to their town. They are proud of it.
They continue to protect it for generations to come, so that they also will always be able to enjoy this highly privileged corner of France.

We take it all in, photograph a few scenes and realise we have to push on again if we want to get to the Mont St Michel, find a place to stay…
We have to cut across Basse-Normandie, decide against the motorways, so the routes Nationales, which takes you from village through village, through small town to small town…
We stop in Pont-l'Évêque, see one of the few shops open… this is inland, and the French HOLIDAY in August!!!
The lady behind the counter is most friendly, ‘vacuums’ our cheese, to keep it cooler, well, stop it from ‘running’?
I also buy a special Cidre vinegar. (which I haven’t tried yet).

Pont-l'Évêque is a French cheese, originally manufactured in the area around the commune of Pont-l'Évêque, between Deauville and Lisieux in the Calvados département of Basse-Normandie, and probably the oldest Norman cheese still in production.

Pont-l'Évêque is an uncooked, unpressed cow's-milk cheese, square in shape usually at around 10cm square and around 3cm high, weighing around 400g. The central pâte is soft, creamy pale yellow in colour with a smooth, fine texture and has a pungent aroma. This is surrounded by a washed rind that is white with a gentle orange-brown coloration. The whole is soft when pressed but lacks elasticity. It is generally ranked alongside Brie, Camembert, and Roquefort as one of the most popular cheeses in France.
The cheese has been made in Normandy since at least the 12th century, and local legend claims that it was first made in a Norman abbey. A manuscript from the time writes that a fine meal should always end with some "angelot", the name used for the cheese at the time.
The cheese became popular across the country from the 16th century onwards, when it obtained the name of the village around which its production was centered.

After that it is straight on, we pass ALL the Saints, Saint Georges de …
Saint Hymer, Saint Pierre de…, St Martin…, Sainte Marguerite, Saint Sylvain, even St Samson…, St Rémy, if we do not pass them, we see signs for them…
The architecture is so typical with the wood and the stones, flowers and orchards everywhere, beautiful hills. Our progress is too slow, so we do take the motorway once past Caen, the capital city of the département du Calvados.
We pass places with wonderful names, I photograph from the car again, passing by more Châteaux and history…
France is so big and we are now in a hurry, when suddenly, I look to my right and I have my first glace of the Mont St Michel… in a haze, it looks like a giant wedding cake, yummy, can’t wait…

Pass another board, Avranches.
World War II was great ordeal for Avranches: after 4 years of German occupation, the American bombings destroyed the vast majority of the town. However in succeeding the "breakthrough of Avranches", General Patton's tanks delivered the town on the 31 July 1944 and this became the prelude to the liberation of the country.
The town was founded on high ground overlooking the dunes and coastal marshes along the bay forming the corner between the peninsulas of the Cotentin and Brittany. From Avranches, it is possible to see the Mont Saint Michel, which was founded by Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in the 8th century.
I visited it years ago, not this time we HAVE to reach our goal… it is a very winding road, we get closer, then further away again till suddenly… there she is, La Merveille, Le Mont St Michel!

(… a suivre… more to follow)
THANX, M, (*_*)
Please do not use this image on websites, blogs or any other media without my explicit permission. © All rights reserved
For the whole story of Day 1:

Thursday, 17 September 2009

THE START of our adventures in FRANCE. Day 1.

1. The North of France.
2. Blériot Plage
3. Cap Blanc Nez
4. The White Cliffs of Dover.
5. Cap Gris Nez.
6. On Cap Gris Nez.

7. Remnants of War.
8. Road-signs,
9. The Lone Poppy.
10. Vallée de la Seine.
11. Honfleur, Coat of Arms.
12. Paul in Honfleur.
13. The Lieutenancy.
14.Quai St Catherine, vieilles façades.
15. Vive La France, reflections.
16. More reflections towards le Quai St Etienne
17. Eglise St Etienne, now a museum.
18. Le quai St Etienne. Le vieux Bassin. Eglise St Etienne.
19. The outer docks.
20. l'Eglise St Catherine (with 2 roofs), the Lieutenancy and the carousel.
21. The carousel. With image of the Mont St Michel.
22. Advert for Cidre.
23. Fasionista dog.
24. Patriotic Fasionista.
25. Taken through the window, a bronze by Bruno Catalano.
26. Taken through the window, another bronze by Bruno Catalano.
27. At the Jazz Café.
28. Of Art and Old buildings.
29. Vieilles façades.
30. Produits du Pays.
31. Produits du Pays.
32. The Carousel, it shows half past nine on the Town Hall.
33. Produits du Pays. Shops are still open.
34. Chapelerie.
35. Les Amoureux...
36. Old street in Honfleur

THE START of our adventures in FRANCE.

Day 1

We have our basis in Flanders, the ‘FLAT COUNTRY’ when we go to visit the Continent…

Mostly we stay for 8/10 days. It is a mad rush from family to friends… doing our lovely round, it is NEVER enough, so this Summer we decided on 18 days, and the promise that we would have not just a ‘visit’ but also a proper holiday.

France was the chosen destination, we were going to visit Burgundy, however, the weather was very hot, so we changed our plans and headed for Normandy and Brittany, the ‘cooler’ Coast.

In half an hour we drove across the border into the North of France, French Flanders.

Already the landscape started to change, hills beginning to roll…

Everywhere the fields had been ‘shaved’, the bales waiting to be collected, scattered over the golden fields…

I spotted this image nr 1, probably owned by a more ‘meticulous’ farmer?

As we did not want to continue on the autostrade (motorway), which takes you places fast but are never very exciting and I always wonder what ‘beauty’ we are flying past and missing…

Once passed Calais we took the exit and headed for the Route Nationale along the spectacular Côte d'Opale,which stretches from Calais to Boulogne along the Strait of Dover or Pas de Calais, the narrowest bit of the English channel of ‘La Manche’ (lit. The sleeve), better known as the CHANNEL, a part of the North Sea and the narrow strait between France and England.

We arrived in Blériot Plage, (On the 25th July 1909, Louis Blériot was the first to fly across the English Channel, from the beach at Sangatte, to claim the prize offered by the Daily Mail. The crossing took 37 minutes in his aeroplane, Blériot XI, built in collaboration with Raymond Saulnier. It was powered by a 3 cylinder 25 horsepower (19 kW) engine.)

Not very big, but with beautiful sandy beaches, quite a lot of wind, hence favoured by surfers and 'kiters'!

It still looked very much like the Belgium, even the beach-huts... albeit with a bit of the French 'nonchalance' flavour.

We had a lovely and quiet moment there, took a few shots and moved on.

The further South we drive, the more the land undulates, the late morning-sun plays with the clouds and gives us spectacular scenes, painting with light on the patch-work fields, but we can’t stop, the roads are narrow and winding, there’s nowhere to stop, so I try my hardest to get some good images from the car as we drive along, (our car windows have a slight tint, so I had to take that out of the photo, the colour cast!)

The scenes change by the second, lots of people are on the route with bicycles, caravans, Mobil-Homes, tandems, we get a taste of what is to come… It is one of the ‘high-lights’ of summer…

We follow the blue sea, as blue as the Mediterranean, there’s also a lot of traffic, ferries, sailing boats, speedboats, fishing- and pleasure boats dotted all over.

We pass Cap Blanc Nez ("Cape White Nose") a cape on the Côte d'Opale, in the Pas-de-Calais département.

The chalky cliffs are very similar to the white cliffs of Dover on the other side of the Channel in England. Cap Blanc Nez is no longer a cape but a cliff that is topped by an obelisk commemorating the Dover Patrol which kept the Channel free from U-boats during World War I.

We see too many people, coaches parked, cars waiting to park…

Onwards we go, surround the bay that divides the 2 Caps, we want to stop and explore Cap Gris Nez (Cape Gray Nose)

This Cap is the closest point of France to England - 34 km (20 miles) from their English counterparts at Dover. The cliffs are a perfect vantage point to see hundreds of ships from oil tankers to little fishing trawlers plying the waters below. On a clear day, the emblematic white cliffs of Dover on the English shore can be seen.

And sure enough, suddenly an opening in the landscape, the road close to the edge, we see England, The White Cliffs, my heart jumps, this is our ‘adopted country’, there stands our home… it seems so close like you can almost touch it, well it is only one hour on the Ferry …

We find a small clearing to park, amongst the dense and thorny wild-roses and dune thistles, I do something I never did before in this special way (not divided by barbed wire, but a boundary of Nature, the sea), I photograph 2 countries in one image. I stand in France and photograph England, across the Channel!

I’m thrilled, I feel with the happiness of a child. Another great moment!

The sun is slowly burning away the haze and clouds…

At last we get to Cap Gris Nez, a huge parking at the bottom of the hill, people still arriving, eager for the unusual view, to see England from France, looking across the 34 km stretch of the Channel, this is the narrowest point.

The wind blows my hair around; I can’t photograph like that so I put it up with a clip.

We begin the long walk, stop and view.

The memories come flooding back, I was first here when I was little young girl, on a school-trip, so excited to be out, how we played on the dunes, the bunkers, we were quite used to them, they were everywhere.

Later I returned with my grand-parents, very strict, a lesson in history and respect.

Now it has been made into well organised, barbed wired and guided paths to protect the delicate plant-life... Some sheep graze in the closed off meadows, maintaining the grass.

We follow the stream of people and get to a platform.

Crowded, we hear Spanish Italian, French, Dutch, German; it is a very international affair! People do come from all over.

We don’t linger very long, we’ve spotted another path, a bit lower, when we get there, we are alone, a clear view, another platform, as I look over I am confronted with remnants of war. After all these years, you still have so many signs of the dreadful battles this part of the world has seen.

Sep 10, 1940 - The Dover area shook tonight when German guns, seemingly located near the Cap Gris Nez lighthouse across a narrow stretch of the Channel waters. Watchers in the Dover area saw orange tongues of flame spurting along the French coast illuminating the Cap Gris Nez lighthouse.”

For the invader it must have been frustrating… so tantalising close and yet…

I see poppies across the fence, melancholic reminders of sadness, horror and brotherhood.

We walk back in silence.

Our goal now is to reach Honfleur, in Normandy.

We push on South and in Boulogne shoot on to the motorway, it is not the most exciting way of seeing a country, but it gets you fast where you want to go.

I keep myself busy with taking shots ‘on the fly’… We pass Boards advertising the delights du pays, Chateaux, artisanales, we fly past the area of the Somme… the terrible battlegrounds, and see nothing of it…

I photograph farmers working on their fields; on a roundabout, I see ‘cows’, well, Normandy is famous for its butter and cheese.

Parts of Normandy consist of rolling countryside typified by pasture for dairy cattle and apple orchards. A wide range of dairy products are produced and exported. Normand cheeses include Camembert, Livarot, Pont l'Évêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchâtel, Petit Suisse and Boursin.

Normandy butter and Normandy cream are lavishly used in gastronomic specialties.

Then I see a Board for the Vallée de la Seine, which means we are nearing our destination of the day, Honfleur, a commune in the Normand département of Calvados in France, located on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine, very close to the exit of the Pont de Normandie.

We miss a turn-off and because of it, also the famous bridge!

Eventually we arrive in Honfleur, and ooohh help, it is hectic…

We do find a hotel that can still accommodate us… after many tries and the dreaded words ‘COMPLET’…

We freshen up and hurry to the center of this beauty spot, that is :


Honfleur is a small commune (around 10 000 inhabitants and 3 million visitors a year) in the Normand département of Calvados in France, located on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine, very close to the exit of the Pont de Normandie.

A visit to Honfleur is in itself a complete history lesson, a ‘settlement’ of the Vikings around the year 900, from the 100 years war, through the voyages of discovery to the New World, as expeditions to Quebec from this harbour led to its foundation, during the 17th century, to the art of the impressionists.

It was a fortified town during the second half of the 14th century.

The old "Caen Gate", the last remaining piece of the original fortifications, most of which were demolished as the town and port were being expanded in the 17th century.

The Lieutenance, formerly House of the King's Lieutenant in Honfleur, used to be part of the ramparts surrounding the city and is now almost the only remaining part.

In the medieval part of the town, known as the "Quartier de l'Enclos", you can see the "Rue de la Ville", the old main commercial and trading street in the town, still showing its medieval architecture and buildings from a bygone era.

As you go around this area you can go back in time as you walk along Prison Street and step onto Little Butchers Street making your way to the Eglise Saint Etienne.

The most symbolic place of Honfleur with the very typical high houses all around the dock is the Old Dock, "le Vieux Bassin" in the heart of the city.

The port is bordered on three sides, by buildings of two distinct styles; large stone houses on the South side (Quai Saint-Etienne), amongst which we see the EGLISE St ETIENNE, dating from the 14th century, making it the oldest church in the town, which is now a Maritime museum.

On the North side (Quai Sainte Catherine) , characterized by the high and narrow wooden houses with slate-covered frontages, painted many times by artists, including in particular Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind, forming the école de Honfleur which contributed to the appearance of the Impressionist movement. That doesn’t surprise me, the light is GLORIOUS indeed!

Both quays are named after the churches that stand on their grounds.

Behind the quarters of the Quay St Catherine, rises the Eglise Sainte Catherine, the largest wooden church in France, built by the ship carpenters of Honfleur shortly after the 100 years war.

AAHHH, les belles, vieilles façades!!!

A law required that the first houses built could not exceed 7.62 metres on the ground floor and not be more than 3 stories tall.

Yet a few decades later, because of its economic and demographic development, Honfleur was facing a serious housing crisis. For lack of space, houses were then built one on top of the other. In fact, these buildings were essentially like two adjoining ones, only instead of being built side by side; they were built on top of one another: the base house had its first floor on the bank, while the second one also had a first floor but it gave onto the opposite hill. On one side, St. Catherine Quay, they rise to narrow slate-and-timber heights of five to seven stories, housing restaurants or galleries in the ground floors. Reflected in the dock waters, they look even taller. On the facing side, St. Etienne Quay, the facades are stone, and most rise only two stories.

I was surprised to learn that one of my favourite composers Erik Satie ( was born in Honfleur in 1866.

An old carrousel stands in front of l'Hôtel de Ville (the town Hall), its fluty melodies floating over the rippling reflections.

We enjoy the gentle warmth of the sun, the soft water-breeze and atmosphere, people come up to us asking if we please can take a photograph on their camera, so that they are ALL in the picture, we laugh, maybe another ‘photographic’ career in Honfleur?

I don’t think so; the place is overfull with Art Galleries… as we discover even more later in the evening!

Later, we decide to join all the diners and have something to eat, all the menus offer virtually the same, also in price, so it is just a matter of finding a (cramped) table for 2.

A little ‘disappointed’, after all we are in France? The ‘cradle’ of great European food? And this is THE place for seafood?

Moving on along the Quay St Catherine, we see the ‘crooked’ façades, the little shops selling the ‘produce’ of Normandie, cidre, pommeau, poireau, Calvados…

We take a long walk, photographing till dusk and beyond.

Honfleur has many harbours and docks, the one in town is the most 'attractive' and touristic, probably one of the oldest, however outside that womb is a whole network, for fishing, industry... yacht lie waiting for the next opening of the bridge to le Vieux Bassin, you can see the surrounding hills, thee is a long, lovely walk to where sluices were built to regulate and control the water-levels.
I remember when I was there over 30 years ago, with my parents, that growing up in a fishing harbour in Belgium, how different things were, we had boats with sharp hulls, there's were 'flat... We dredged our harbours... they didn't so they had to wait for the tide to come in, till they were' afloat' again...
Go literally with the flow, aahhh, that French Art de Vivre!

I like to ‘travel light’, I do not like tripods, I use some flash and otherwise just ‘go for it’ on high iso!! LOL.

Pass a jazz café; see the church St Catherine in darkness and all the galleries around there, together with where we 'should have eaten', because that's where the French are eating! All very romantic...

I discover the work of Bruno Catalano ( and LOVE it!

Saturated, happy and content… tired we head back to our hotel, where we still quickly download and view the images of the day ONE.

We fall asleep with a smile, looking forward to the next day…

Goal: The Mont St Michel.

(… a suivre… more to follow)

THANX, M, (*_*)

Please do not use these images or words on websites, blogs or any other media without my explicit permission. © All rights reserved