Somehow we have developed a family tradition of all going off for a week together somewhere on every alternate year. In past years we’ve gone to Tuscany, Mallorca, Gloucestershire, and France. This year we decided to return to France and booked a gite in Normandy, south-west of Rouen.
The journey down was uneventful to start with. We drove to Dover in two cars and took the ferry to Calais, and headed south. We stopped for a late picnic lunch and pressed on.
The first problem came at Rouen, where the main bridge was out of action and there were no diversion signs. Eventually we found the right road and were approaching our destination when a thunderstorm blew up. We also had problems finding the gite, in the pouring rain with somewhat vague directions. When we finally arrived, it was to discover there had been a power cut and there was no electricity.
Paul and Claire went out to buy food for dinner at a supermarket we’d spotted. But they arrived at 7.29, and discovered it closed at 7.30! Eventually they managed to find a small shop that was open, and were able to get a few basic essentials (e.g. wine). We coped well that first night with a scratch meal and some candles. The power cut lasted for 24 hours altogether, which meant we had lights for the following evening. We got used to power cuts in Ghana, but found it more of a shock in France.
The gite itself was quite spacious, sleeping up to 24 people! We didn’t use the large bunk rooms (except as playrooms) but there were five other en-suite rooms for the ten of us. The gite was on a farm with horses and ponies, and a ruined mansion next door.
In the neighbourhood
The village nearest the gite is called Pont-Authou, and is pleasant but unremarkable. Nearby is another village called Le Bec Hellouin, said to be one of the most beautiful in France. It is certainly attractive, with a ruined abbey and picturesque houses, and when we visited there were stalls selling all sorts of stuff on the village green.
Further down the road is the town of Brionne, which has a river running through it and a ruined tower on a hill above it. Nearby is a ‘base de loisirs’ on a lake, with a beach and playground. We took the three youngest grandchildren there one morning, and they enjoyed themselves thoroughly – which involved Charlie and Isobel going in the water and getting wet through.
Just past Brionne is Harcourt, which has a castle and grounds with an arboretum. The whole family went for an afternoon, explored the grounds and played Frisbee.
Another nearby village is Montfort, where we took Charlie and Oscar one morning. We climbed up to look at the ruins of the Norman castle there, which is currently inhabited by goats.
Trouville, Deauville and Honfleur
The nearest stretch of coast is the so-called ‘Cote Fleurie’, which includes the towns of Trouville, Deauville and Honfleur. We made three trips to the coast, starting with Trouville, where we went on the beach and the grandchildren enjoyed playing in the water, despite the fact it was rather cold and began to rain. In between showers and thunderstorms our children and grandchildren enjoyed riding on multi-bikes alongside the quay. Meanwhile we walked along the boardwalk, admiring the many splendid French mansions that line the coast there.
The weather was much better when we went to Honfleur, which has an extremely picturesque harbour. We went on a boat trip around the harbour and enjoyed a pleasant meal (heavy on mussels for some of us) at one of the many restaurants lining the Old Basin.
Our final coastal excursion took us to Deauville, with good weather again and an opportunity for the children and their parents/uncle to go in the sea. Deauville is upmarket and expensive, and after ice creams all round and a walk through the town centre we returned to Honfleur for the last evening meal of the holiday.
Back home again
The next day it was time to load up the cars again for the trip back to Calais. We stopped at Cité Europe for lunch, and bought wine to fill the odd spaces in the cars. Then we headed to the port. We were in good time, but unfortunately a hold-up in passport control meant that the ‘green car’ missed our scheduled ferry, and therefore we were not able to say proper good-byes on the boat. However, we all arrived safely home to Manchester, Faversham and High Wycombe.