In France, the month of May is eagerly awaited. After the long and cold months following Christmas break, May is the month full of public holidays. When it happens that most of them conveniently fall on Tuesday or Thursday, French do not hesitate to make a four day weekend or faire le pont (to make the bridge). For me this turned out to be a great opportunity to travel around France, exploring different regions.
Last weekend we went to a small town in Lower Normandy called Honfleur. A beautiful picturesque town and its small port are situated on the Seine estuary right across the city of Le Havre. Tall, slate covered, half-timbered houses and narrow streets give you an impression of walking into a scenery of some fantasy story. As if it’s not enough, there is a wide sandy beach offering a view on Pont de Normandie.
Normandy, a historical region where you can find traces of Viking’s passage, the monuments of the second world war (Battle of Normandy) as wells as UNESCO world heritage sites (Mont St.Michel) is also known for its various dairy products, apples and seafood. The long coastal line is a source of fresh seafood and its vast countryside is ideal for the production of some of France favourite cheese such as Camembert. One of the main things to be found in this region are different sorts of fish and other seafood. Restaurants in the port of Honfleur offer seafood dishes, one of the favourites being scallops or coquilles St. Jacques.
Normandy is known for its delicious apples which are used in dishes both sweet and savoury, but also for preparation of apple based drinks. Normandy is the most important cider-producing region of France. Little shops selling ciders and a special Normandy apple brandy, Calvados are scattered all around town. The products usually carry the AOC mark (appellation d’origine controlée) which guarantees that both the product and the ingredients come from the specific geographical area and are produced in a traditional way, allowing you to be sure in their origin. Apples are even used to prepare a special sort of rum called rhum arrangé where the apple slices are put into the bottles containing rum to macerate and give a special taste to the alcohol.
Normandy is a birth place of a popular pastry brioche and the mythic apple tart called tarte normande. We had a lovely laugh with a waiter in a beautiful cafe in the port when a friend asked in English if they had “Normandy pie”, referring of course to the famous tarte normande. Our question and our faces full of expectation left the waiter perplexed for a couple of seconds not seeming to understand what we were talking about. When the translating was done (apparently the pastry is called Norman tart in English) it was only to our disappointment as they didn’t have any, but we were able to taste a sort of an apple pie in a local bakery. It wasn’t actually a typical tarte normande with apples and almonds and a caramelized egg custard, but it was good nonetheless (while we were observing the window filled with pies and pastries trying to decide what else to take, another customer actually took the last piece of the “true” tart).
We also tried a pastry with fresh cheese (gateau aux fromage blanc) which was similar to a Croatian sweet fresh cheese pie that I wasn’t able to find in Paris. Divine.
About 20 minutes from Honfleur, a small river called Touques separates the cities Trouville and Deauville right before she flows into the English Channel. Deauville is one of the famous French seaside resorts where wealthy Parisian families come to spend their weekends. Deauville is therefore often called the 21st arrondissement of Paris. It was there that Coco Chanel opened one of her first boutiques and you can still find a lot of haute couture shops, five star hotels and a racecourse.
The only discomfort of this region is the swift changing weather and an extremely strong wind. So have that in mind when going to a stroll down one of their sandy beaches and remember to hit the bar after the walk to warm up with a glass of good cider.