The medieval port of Dinan - food for a FrancoFiler soul!
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Recently I spent a couple of months in France and through some podcast episodes every now and then over the coming months I’ll chat about various experiences I had.
This blog post goes into a little bit a detail about some things to consider when setting about planning and heading off on a roadtrip in France. For those who have listened to the podcast before or if you follow the Loulabelle’s FrancoFiles on Instagram you will be in no doubt about how much I adore a French roadtrip! So much so that I managed to squeeze in a few separate roadtrips on my recent French visit. But the one I will focus on today is where I started in Dieppe and drove all the way across the north of France to Brittany.
I started this roadtrip in the village of Dieppe for one very good reason. I have watched an episode of Rick Stein’s Secret France a squillion times where he ate fish straight from the docks in Dieppe and he raved about it so much that I thought I absolutely must go there! It was also the place that was always mentioned in my French books at school so I thought it must be somewhere worthy of a visit! I stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of the town as I was only staying one night and then drove to the city centre to check things out both after checking in and the next day. Dieppe is essentially a fishing village and a port town. There’s loads history including from WW2 like many of the northern beach areas of France as well as from much further back when William the Conqueror departed from here to head off to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. These days though there are loads of cafes, shops and restaurants and a brilliant boulangerie I found.
I left Dieppe to head to Honfleur which was about a 2 hour drive. You could do the drive in an hour and fifteen minutes using toll roads and freeways, but I set my Google maps to find the routes that specifically avoided tolls because then I meandered through loads of little French villages and found magic places that would be completely missed if travelling on a freeway.
Honfleur is a beautiful village. The port has restaurants and shops surrounding the water with mussels and scallops being the specialty at nearly every restaurant menu displayed out on the street. So I settled into a table at one and ordered a bolée of Normandy cidre which is a little earthen ware cup of the local apple cider which was delicious when consumed with a serve of moules frites, with the mussels also cooked in wonderful Normandy cider and cream. I order moules frites a lot and love them all over France but I hadn’t had them before with the cider and cream and I have to say, it was absolutely incredible! I have sought out a recipe below to recreate wherever you are around the globe. If you’re a bit of a whizz in the kitchen and your creation is anything like what I had in Honfleur, you will want to make it again and again!
After spending a night in Honfleur I drove to Deauville the next morning. Deauville has a famous racetrack and is a very well-off town. On the surface it looks very swanky, but for me it didn’t have the soul of Honfleur or the other villages I visited in Normandy. It is absolutely worth a visit though, but a day trip might suffice in my opinion.
A magical surprise en route
En route from Deauville to my next stop at Bayeux I found something that will stay with me forever. As I said I avoided the toll roads to find the magical pockets of country France and I saw a sign pointing to the Jerusalem Cemetery. I searched for the cemetery and got lost for a while which took me on a gorgeous little route through a dreamy petit hamlet. But when I eventually found the cemetery, I saw that it contained the graves of 47 English and one Czech soldier who died there during WW2. I have been before to the big cemeteries commemorating the soldiers, but there was something about the intimacy of this one that pulled at my heart strings that day. There were many officers buried there but also one soldier aged only 16, Private J Banks. I thought of my boys at home only slightly older than that and I thought of this soldier’s mama at home, poor Mrs Banks never to see her boy again. I cried for a while and even though the gardens there were impeccably kept, I picked a little flower from the road-side and placed it at the 16 year old’s grave, almost as if I was leaving a flower from one mother in memory of another mother all those years ago.
One thing I noticed in upper Normandy was the amount of camping cars on the road with people visiting the Normandy beaches commemorations and memorials. If you are planning a trip to visit those WW2 memorials, don’t forget to visit the neighbouring villages and regional areas. They are absolutely exquisite.
That night I stayed in a village not far from Bayeux in a terrific apartment I booked on Booking.com and headed the next morning for a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry. This is a tapisserie, or actually a work of art made from embroidery or needlepoint rather than tapestry, created to tell the story of the battle of Hastings and the defeat of the English by the Normans in 1066. Historians think it was almost certainly created in southwest England and brought back to be displayed in the newly built cathedral in Bayeux. Given that the majority of the population couldn’t read or write during that period, it was a form of propaganda telling the French version of the battle in pictures. It’s now displayed in a dimly lit long room under special lights and when I closely examined the whole length of it, I was blown away by the absolutely amazing work done a thousand or so years ago. Even looking at the linen that it is sewn on, with the precise stitches, it’s just an incredible connection to the people of that era. It was stunning.
Now from Bayeux I travelled to see Mont Saint Michel and then to Brittany to Saint Malo, but both of those destinations will be covered in more detail during upcoming blog posts so I will take you now to the town I visited after Saint Malo which was Dinan.
The town of Dinan is sizeable and definitely worth a stay, but it is the historic little port that is down a hill at one end of Dinan that got my tourist juices flowing! I drove down a steep hill with what looked like a roman viaduct crossing over it, which is actually a bridge, then saw a little river with a few shops, restaurants and houses all medieval style alongside. There were loads of boats on the river with locals or holiday makers hiring boats for joy rides and kids playing games on the side of the river to throw in a big magnet on a string to see if they could hit a round metal token on the floor of the river and take it to the game organiser to redeem a prize. There were people wandering eating glaces and meandering medieval streets winding up the hill. I loved this area so much that I returned here on my last day in this region to have what became my fave meal in Brittany, a galette complète which I like to order with the addition of champignons and a bolée of cidre.
After Dinan I stayed in accommodation for a few nights that I only booked the day before on Airbnb, but it was one of the most gorgeous places I stayed in and I will definitely return. It was a traditional stone Bretagne cottage in the little village of Pordic. It had an exquisite garden and was only a few minutes walk to the beach on the rugged north Brittany coast. It was also not far from some other sweet villages in Brittany that are worth exploring such as Moncontour which is a Plus Beaux Village de France.
Rennes to Paris
So after 10 days it was time to return my little Fiat 500, which had served me so well and catch the train from Rennes back to Paris. My last little tip for you here is when you’re dropping the car back somewhere different from where you collected it at the start, ensure you get very detailed directions of how to find the drop off place! I had allowed an hour and a half before my train departure to drop off the car and get to the platform, thinking I would get there at least an hour before departure. I ended up making the train with just under 5 minutes to spare! Always be aware of the closure for lunch time too. This isn’t usually a problem for car drop offs as there are often lock boxes to pop the keys into, but it is more the fact that there is no one around to ask for assistance if things don’t go to plan, so in my case there was a heap of road work being done at the station meaning I couldn’t get in the usual entrance and as it was lunch time there was no one to ask! It all ended well and I made the Paris train but not without some huge stress!
I heard this song a lot driving along this road trip. It has a haunting sound that is almost a little Celtic. It feels like it fits right in when heard in that wild northwest corner of France with its Gaelic influence. The beautiful voice of Pomme is perfect for this style too.