Rather like pride coming before a fall, excess anticipation can often lead to disappointment. When I was dreaming about exalting at the crispness of the pastry in my tarte aux pommes Normande I had clearly failed to take into account that, when travelling with two young children, it isn’t possible to spend hours sauntering around looking for the perfect menu at a restaurant with reassuring numbers of locals sitting outside or that most restaurants in France don’t open until at least 7 pm so a not-quite-three-year-old and an eight month old are unlikely to make it to the cheese course, let alone coffee.
In reality, I didn’t have much to complain about.
Our accommodation at Le Franc Manoir was magnifique. The proprietors Mr and Mme Morel have lived in their beautiful home for around 10 years but only started their B&B business last year. It is clearly a labour of love for them. Our room was tastefully decorated and spacious and we were very well looked after. Each morning we were served the most delicious breads, croissants, pains au chocolat and brioche from the bakery with local honey and jam made from fruit from the garden. In addition there might be some cheese, yoghurt or an egg from one of the resident hens.
Our generous hosts were very friendly, trying to speak English with us and us trying our French on them. With varying degrees of success. We were free to use the garden, wander among the fruit and vegetables and talk to the chickens and a gentle and friendly donkey named Pedro.
Prior to our departure my Mum had warned me that Dieppe was rather faded. It was fair comment, it is certainly a little rough around the edges, but we found that it was a great place to visit with the boys and there is definitely some gentrification taking place around the port and pebbley beach. A decent sunset can work wonders too. We spent a whole day there and bought a day pass (just under 12 Euro for the for four of us) for the newly refurbished seawater swimming pool which has indoor and outdoor sections, a 50m pool as well as shallow areas for babies and toddlers.
When we tired of swimming we had lunch at the pool restaurant, which wasn’t the greatest but filled a need, and then went on to play on the pirate ship and other play equipment on the sea front. There was also a semi-permanent beach library (plus second mobile one for children with comfy cushions and rugs) and an area set up for playing draughts and other board games. All free.
We also ate at one of the harbourside restaurants one evening. Le New Haven, recommended by The Lonely Planet. The food was simple but seemed to be traditional and local. I had a delicious, fresh sole Dieppois and I’m happy to report that, yes, fish and apples do go together! I continued with the apple theme and had the much anticipated Tarte aux Pommes Normande for dessert.
A bit further along
Another day, another croissant, another beach. This time Veules-les-Roses, about half an hour down the coast road from Dieppe. At lunch time we stumbled across the pretty salon de the Un Jour D’ete (25 RUE VICTOR HUGO – 76980 Veules-les-roses) which served delicious tartines and tartes and other delicacies. I had rillettes with cider and couldn’t resist an apricot tart and coffee for dessert.
The following day, even further along the coast road we visited Etretat of Impressionist fame although it was the goats cheese I was after, the farm being just 1km down the road from the beach. The beach won though and I had to settle for buying the cheese from a shop in town. It was delicious though, as was the pistachio ice cream from Chocolats Hautot.
On the way to the wedding
We had hoped to have an hour or so in Rouen to stock up on artisan cheese and hand-made chocolates. It was not to be. We left the B&B a little late, the heavens opened and we got soaked (so the 20 minutes I spent drying my hair for the wedding were utterly wasted) and we were parked a 20 minute walk from the centre of town. We took shelter under the covered market and spotted dark cherries and fresh girolles but did not have time to buy.
Even lunch was a sad affair as we only had enough time to get a burger (I almost had to be dragged by my bedraggled hair to get past two shops selling gorgeous macarons) before we had to drive on to get to the ceremony in time. The eldest tasted his cheeseburger and said “Daddy, this is not nice”. True. He enjoyed the chips though. And for me it evoked memories, Nigel Slater style, of my teenage self being given the first taste of freedom – being permitted to go shopping in town with a friend and having a burger from a certain fast-food chain for lunch on the way home.
I’m saving Rouen for another time!
The Big Event
Lovely friends, lovely wedding and party in a beautiful part of France (Gif-sur-Yvette, just south-west of Paris). I stayed up late, ate dessert at midnight and then got up at seven, bleary-eyed, to feed the baby (who had slept through the noisy party in his pram). Thankfully there was a sea of croissants and other bready things to feast on in the morning before we took the long journey back to Calais to take the ferry home.
On the Way Home
Serendipity. We stopped to visit a good friend in Kent for an overnight stop and remembered that his Mother, a Sicilian who has been living in Belgium for around 40 years, would be there too. She is a fantastic cook. Last time we stayed with her she cooked quails stuffed with apricots and liver served with polenta. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten.
Our friend had made a barbeque and his Mum had made some delicious salads including a cold, summery, version of Aubergines aux Tomates (which happens to be one of my all time favourites anyway). Then there were artisan/local cheeses brought over from Belgium and a delicious, moist apricot cake for dessert. I’m wondering if she will part with the recipe.
Best of all, of course, was the good company of seeing old friends.