Friday, 25 September 2009
DAY 2 of OUR ADVENTURES IN FRANCE. Part 1.
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)
… ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T1n7TPF8As )
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, (*_*)
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For the whole story of Day 1: