Each time we come to France we discover another hidden delight and this trip is no exception. Traveling through the gorgeous greenery of the Parc naturel regional des Boucles de la Seine Normande has revealed a story book world, villages where time has stood still. Today, we plan on following two drives through it: Route des Chaumieres (the thatched cottage trail) and Route des Fruits, (the fruit trail).
These start on the opposite side of the Seine which presents a challenge. Our would be ferry driver, not speaking English, performs an excellent mime: we are too long, too tall, too wide. He directs us back to Duclair where there is allegedly a ferry that might accommodate us. Back we go, in the hope that Chris has interpreted him correctly.
We’re in luck, cross, and it’s off on the fruit trail: acress of apple and pear trees, groaning under the weight of their autumn crop bisect the forest greenery.Normandy’s cider supply is well assured this year.
Our drive commences at the village of Heurteauville. Ironically having gone backwards to cross the river, at Heurteauville the Abbey de Jumieges, our starting point, is literally across the river. With the comfort of size come some sacrifices.
From this side, we can see the Seine racing along at a cracking pace. As we get our bearings, we watch the smaller ferry cross in a flash, pushed along with the current. It struggles though, dragged sideways to come back against it. I’m rather glad we weren’t let on!
The fruit trail is very pretty, following the river partly, dotted with small herds of curious cows, goats with serious horns, donkeys and the occasional sleepy sheep, but the real stars of the day are the thached cottages.
Picture perfect half timbered houses, village after village of them, each topped with a perfectly manicured thached roof. It’s a bit like stepping into a fairytale, so very other worldly, so very pretty. People rave about the beauty of the Cotswolds, which are lovely, but I think this is prettier.
This drive too, meanders with the river, through seven villages, through the green Reserve du Marais Vernier, a stork nesting area. By this stage it’s late afternoon and we’ve spent the day on tiny roads built for one – quite a bit of skill is called for when another vehicle approaches. This stress naturally falls on Chris. Whereas I’m happy to explore a few hours yet, he’s done and has a firm focus on settling for the night. I can’t entreat him to stop at the bird observatory, Observatoire de la Grand’ Mare, but we do see a massive stork’s nest, on top of an electrical pole, of all places.
I’m not too fussed. Having now discovered this spot and Le Havre being our preferred ferry back to England, I know we’ll be here again. Maybe next time we’ll allow more time and cycle some of it – bikes are well catered for with their own routes.
The day starts and ends with a challenge. Finding a place to stay proves problematic. The area is popular with the French and it’s a weekend. It’s busy and the Aires is full. We eventually cross the Seine again and settle in Saint Nicolas de la Taille, where despite the excellent name, no one has a tail.
A walk through the pretty village ends the day. It’s so tiny that it only has one boulangerie – unheard of in France normally. Most villages have two, one that bakes early, one late, a norm that dates back to the Revolution . I try to make friends with a grey and white cat we meet, but she doesn’t speak English. The village of the tails does have an excellent pizzeria and it’s this treat we end the day with: a paper thin crispy crust loaded with local ingredients. Yum! One thing’s for sure in France, there’s no shortage of excellent food. The whole of this trip has been a gastronomic delight actually.