To create your impression of any region, you always want to look behind the beautiful screen saver from the most famous places, and see for yourself how everything is arranged in reality. Well, make your own individual route, depending on your own wishes, to look for exactly what is interesting, and just when the corresponding thought came, without regrets like “which places are beautiful/interesting/unusual, how sad we didn’t think about them right away “. Modern travel management technologies allow all these factors to lead to the desired result: to book hotels, tickets, car rental now you can while sitting in a cafe in real time, after arriving at the desired point. It remains only to determine this point. In our case it was the North of France. And it did not disappoint us!
We began our journey with Paris. And not only because the plane tickets were at a bargain price. You can visit this city an infinite number of times, and still get new impressions. Which we’ve been doing successfully.
Then we headed closer to the coast, Rouen, the historic capital of Normandy. This city is known for its port, inscribed in its history (streets and avenues) the names of famous shipowners. It is difficult to even list all the famous French figures who have been noted in the history of Rouen – Normandy for many centuries, participated in the confrontation of various countries (the wars of England and France were conducted regularly), cultures (North and South of France), religions (Catholics and Protestants). But the main historical figure associated with Rouen is, of course, Joan of Arc, who was burned in the main square of this city during the Hundred Years War of England and France. In the 20th century a Cathedral was built in her honor on this square, and the place of burning was marked with a monument in the form of a cross.
Trite, but true – in the provincial cities of Europe (forgive me, the people of Rouen – a city with almost 2000 years of history!) you have the opportunity to stay in historic buildings, now hotels, at very modest prices. In Rouen, we were especially lucky, and we spent the night in a real palace, equipped as a hotel, at a very modest rate.
The next important point of our route was Mont Saint-Michel, an island-fortress on the north-west coast of France, also in Normandy. We had to drive our rental car a lot, but it was really worth it. This fortress is captured in many movies (especially horror films), taking into account its geographical location – water cuts it off from the main land at high tide (and it becomes an island), and at low tide water recedes opening the way by conventional land. Inside, in addition to the castle, all the old buildings are perfectly preserved, and if it were not for souvenir shops, then you could really feel like a museum of the Middle Ages.
We decided to stay in it for the night, and secured a sea of emotions for ourselves. With the onset of darkness, the gates of the city close, it is cut off from the rest of the land by water, tourists and locals from the tourist sector also left, and almost no one was left in the fortress city. Even in our hotel there was no one at the reception at night, there were written instructions on how to open the front door on your own and solve other household tasks. Since the city has appeared in horror films, where would the inquisitive Russian tourists go at night? Of course, to the cemetery, where else. The feeling was incredible! Dark, empty, not a soul in the street, quiet, and only the wind, blowing, created bizarre sounds, as if someone was howling. Real creepiness. But visit this city, of course was worth it 🙂
Since we recently tasted Calvados, and especially appreciated one of its brands – Chateau de Breuil, then in this region we decided to visit this particular castle, where tours of its cellars and tastings of its products are held. Being in the north of France, it was more than logical to try Calvados and cider – this is where their production center is, because it’s too cool for wine making, but for apples and pears – perfect. We decided to look for a hotel near the place of production of our favorite Calvados (we obviously expected to pay close attention to the tasting!), and it was a surprise when we found the hotel with the name of this calvados castle. We booked it and went to settle. We arrived at Chateau de Breuil, took the suitcases out of the car, and went to look for the reception, because there are many old buildings in the area, we had to understand where the hotel is. While we were walking around with our suitcases, we came across a group of tourists on excursions, and asked the guide where to move in, which he was very surprised by. It turned out that there is no hotel in this castle, only Calvados production and a museum, and the hotel of the same name is located many kilometers from here. We were in a hurry, that we didn’t check the address of the hotel itself… We probably looked rediculous with our suitcases in the eyes of these tourists 🙂 But the tasting was still a success. At least for one of us;)
The next item (and, perhaps, the center) of our journey was Deauville. It is also located in the Normandy region, in the Calvados department (it’s just nice to say it!). This city was built in 1859 on the English Channel in order for the French aristocracy to receive a resort where they could take sea baths, not particularly suffering from the sun, and at the same time maintain their usual way of life. To this day, this city has surprisingly retained its charm. It created such an atmosphere of relaxed refinement, enjoying the benefits of civilization with a local flavor.
In addition to glamorous shops, in this small town there is a significant number of Michelin-star restaurants. In one of them (La Flambee), without exaggeration we had an overeating attack – it was so delicious (ordered a 3-course meal, and could not leave a piece of each of them on a plate). Another restaurant (Le Ciro’s) made us think a bit about … the difference of cultures. The Trip Advisor site for this restaurant contained a long review in Russian, beginning with the phrase “Deauville is no longer the same”, where in an unobtrusive form it was indicated that all sorts of people had come, and they (surprisingly!) are allowed in this restaurant. We mocked a pretentious critic and went to dinner.
But the biggest joke turned out to be the contrast between the refined European public and our compatriots (the ratio was about 50/50). We love our country and consider ourselves a part of its culture, but in these circumstances we were forced to admit – Deauville retained in itself the conserved age-old traditions of unconstrained hedonism as a way of life, which left an indelible imprint on the locals as well as tourists visiting this place year after year. The loudness of communication at the table, the sequence of food choices and their compatibility with each other, preferred drinks, selected clothing and accessories of the visitors – surprisingly, all the details of the restaurant’s guests were shaped into a quaint mosaic that contrasts the difference in mentalities. For the record, we came there in jeans, and no one said a word to us (at the other tables there were also Russians, either in jeans or overdressed). But we felt the difference. The feeling was strange, especially in the era of globalization and “functional consumerism.”
The neighboring town, Trouville-sur-Mer, is very similar to its glamorous neighbor, but it has a greater degree of relaxation in terms of respecting the traditions. It is also cozy, beautiful, and full of historical buildings, but a bit more democratic. In any case, in these places we were in some way nostalgic about the lost traditions of our own country – after the October Revolution and decades of communism, our legacy in terms of leisure time was … an obsessive desire to take photos wherever we were, with all the sights, from all angles, even if escaping from the iron curtain had long since sunk into oblivion.
Then we moved to Honfleur, an old town located in the same department of Calvados (yes, the fantastic name :)). As Wikipedia says, it was first mentioned in 1027 as the possession of the Norman Duke Richard III. After the Norman Conquest, trade between the possessions of the Plantagenets on both sides of the English Channel was conducted through Honfleur. During the Hundred Years War between England and France, the city was passed under the control of the warring parties several times. From here, the 15th century French pirates plundered the English coast. In general, Honfleur is a city of contrasts 🙂 For a general impression of the region, it is certainly worth a visit.
The next point of our route was the city of Etretat, also located on the coast of the English Channel. This city has retained the features of a fishing village, equipped as a tourist center later. Along with being located in an amazingly beautiful landscape, it engraves in memory for many years. On this trip we were lucky twice to move into a real palace, and the second time after Rouen, it happened here. At the top of the hill, this hotel really looks like a palace outside and inside. Not kidding.
The dearest hostess, who met guests at the reception, giving us the room key, asked if we wanted to reserve a table for dinner, because she just had one left. We didn’t pay much attention to this proposal, and thoughtlessly replied that we would first go to see the city. Going down, we appreciated the local beauty, but we were surprised by the lack of restaurants – only a couple of tourist cafes, where, judging by the description in the Trip Advisor, we shouldn’t bother to eat at all, because all serve semi-finished products at inflated prices. We happily returned to the reception, but the hostess with a perfect smile politely said that the last table had already been given to other guests and wished us a pleasant evening, hiding behind the door with a Michelin guide badge.
We really had the most tasteless meal for the whole trip (taking into account the culinary specialties of the region, we were extremely unlucky). Returning from dinner to the hotel, we again met the hostess, who with her radiant smile politely asked us how we had our dinner. We also politely answered that everything was fine and we were satisfied, and here her smile suddenly changed to sincere surprise: “Really? And where did you have supper?” (she surely knew that there was nowhere else to eat decently in the city). We replied that we didn’t remember the name, and left her to wonder further 🙂
We completed our trip again in Paris, having spent there a couple more days. For example, getting into the famous Moulin Rouge was not such an easy task – it was almost impossible to buy tickets for the nearest dates, so we used a priceless lifehack – booking them through Foxiepass.com, where you can book the tickets to many popular places, like Louvre Museum Tickets. And it was worth it! Unfortunately, it is prohibited to take photos inside the glorious cabaret, although it is clear for what reason. In addition to the expected impressions of choreography and costumes (this is something beyond real!), I remember the abundance of Russians (or Slavs) in performance. Of course, we are not professional physiognomists (although there were opportunities to guess the nationality in other body parts), but we recorded approximately half of the corps de ballet were our compatriots. Well, premiere announced entertainer, and all sorts of Tatiana, Olga and Anastasia one after one.
It is a pity that we didn’t come on a tour of the Gaumont film studio – the idea came late to change plans, because we already visited many places during this trip. In general, the visit to the film studio was postponed until the next time. But Paris was itself, imbued with its special atmosphere, visits to gourmet establishments, and, of course, to the Louvre (you can walk around it endlessly). Fortunately, we booked an excellent tour guide in Paris, named Flora. She has a license and she is offering a great choice of guided tours in Paris. We highly recommend her walking tours in Paris!
But we still visited Versailles, since we were nearby. The gardens and the palace, as expected, pleased with their luxury and scope, and lucky with the weather, you could even sunbathe in the famous gardens. One nuance upset us a little – it was difficult to find a restaurant in the city… French cuisine one. Mainly the eastern one was offered. What is in some way dissonant with the idea of introducing to the treasures of French culture, associated with Versailles.
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