Day 11: White Caps on a Sea of Blue

I woke up this morning after a fantastic sleep and headed down to a delightful breakfast provided by our wonderful hosts, including a myriad of delicious homemade jams and apple juice. We piled into our VW and hit the road towards another seaside town called Étretat, 20 minutes west of Fécamp. I wanted to go to Étretat because it features some really beautiful and interesting coastal rock formations. The drive there was again very picturesque – green hills, quaint villages, cows cows cows.

We took a sharp turn and headed up a steep hill and found parking, bundled up and wandered out onto the cliffs.

The main point of interest in the formations is the one called “l’aiguille”, or “the needle”. It was windy and sky was moody and it was a truly breathtaking sight.

The tops of the cliffs feature rocky winding paths and in the typical European fashion, no safety railings to be seen (if you get too close to the edge and fall over, it’s your own dumb fault). We wandered and meandered, admiring the cliffs, ocean, flora, fauna, and a single white-sailed sail boat on the water.

We had all taken about 200 of the same photo of the cliffs and decided it was time to hit the beach. We got back in the car and headed town to the town of Étretat, found a créperie/pizzeria, had some lunch and headed to the beach. Étretat, like Fécamp has a pebble beach, but does not have as much as a natural protected harbour as Fécamp.

Along the promenade are fact placards about French Impressionist painter Claude Monet and his paintings featuring Étretat and its alabaster cliffs.

As we got closer to the “Needle”, we noticed that there were a fair deal of surfers and stand up paddle boarders in the water, braving the winds and chilly waters.

The rain started picking up so we headed back to our car and drove back to Fécamp.

One of the points of interest of Fécamp is that it is the home of the Palais Bénédictine, a gothic/Renaissance/Art Deco structure that not only houses Bénédictine monks, but is the only distillery in the world of the liqueur Bénédictine. I had no previous knowledge of this liqueur prior to planning our trip, but when I mentioned it to Pa, he was pretty keen, which is part of the reason we chose Fécamp as our Normandy home base.

What we didn’t know is that the Palais houses a wealth of old liturgical relics, art and artefacts, as well as old Art Deco print ads for the liqueur.

We perused the artefacts and ancient letters on our own, but had to join a group tour for the distillery portion. The distilling seems like quite the time consuming process, taking 2 years of macerating, heating and ageing 27 herbs and spices in their basement and cellars until the elixir is bottled.

There have been many many imitations, but the only real Bénédictine is distilled in this one location.

After touring the cellar it was time for a sample, and we could choose between classic Bénédictine, B&B (Bénédictine and Brandy) and Bénédictine single cask. Given there were 3 samples and 3 of us, we all got a different sample so we could share. My apologies to the monks who saved the recipe during the scattering of their props during the French Revolution, but I am not a fan of Bénédictine.

After Pa helped us finish our samples, we hit up the local grocery store and boulangerie for a baguette, some cider, éclairs and gummy bears and brought them back to our B&B where we sat in the dining room, tore apart the baguette and smothered it in salted butter and emptied the bottle of cider. We then retired to our rooms to read and rest before a busy day tomorrow.

Day 10: I’m Free as a Bird

This morning we got up early to catch a cab to a car rental place to pick up our car for the France leg of our trip. We were really sad to be leaving Ghent (and the beer), but excited for a completely different portion.

We got to Europcar and picked up our little white Volkswagen Golf 4-door. The clerk at the office was very interested in our trip and when we mentioned we would be going to Ypres, he put his hand over his heart, clearly very emotional, and said to us that it was a special place and still hangs heavy in the heart of Belgians, and that we will feel the emotion when we get there.

We hooked up my phone to the USB in our rental, and turns out it’s equipped with Apple Car Play, so navigating and playing music from my phone was super easy. We plotted the course for our lunch destination, Boulogne-Sur-Mer on the French coast and we hit the road.

The flat Belgian countryside eventually gave way to green rolling hills and farmlands of France, dotted by brick farmhouses and cows. After 2 hours we rolled into Boulogne-Sur-Mer. We chose a random patisserie that we came across and lucked out – pastries, desserts, breads, sandwiches – all the things. Pa and I each had a delicious fresh sandwich and Ma had a fruit salad and pain au chocolat. We bought a couple of treats and bottles of water for the road and headed on a slight detour to Harley Davidson Côte d’opale so Pa could buy a t-shirt, and continued on our trek west.

The countryside got more and more beautiful the farther west we went, and it was times like this I truly treasure – adventuring with my folks, gorgeous scenery, Otis Redding pumping on the stereo. After about 2 hours, we saw a sign for a rest stop, so we pulled aside to eat our treat. The rest stop, as it turns out, was a slight divot in the grass beside a picnic bench and a pasture of cows. The wind had really picked up, so we ate our treats quickly and hopped back into the warm car.

An hour later, around 1700hrs we pulled into Fécamp, our cute little seaside town for the next 8 nights. We’re staying at a bed and breakfast called A La Maison Blanche, a wonderful little establishment with immaculate themed rooms (we got the China suite. There’s red toilet paper.) and wonderful warm hosts, Marc and Sébastien. We hauled our luggage up the flights of stairs, grabbed our cameras and hit the beach.

Fécamp is an old fishing town nestled in between the white cliffs of the Côte d’alabatre and fronted by a pebble beach. With the wind whipping our hair and the salty sea spray into our faves, we strolled along the promenade.

The Channel waters were rough and very choppy, but we did spot someone windsurfing in the distance. Apparently on a clear day, you can see England.

We found a seaside restaurant and had some dinner and returned to A La Maison Blanche, I hopped in the hot rain shower to rinse the salt from my body, and climbed into bed.