It’s an early, early (oh so early) start for the ferry this morning. We’re off to France! Land of boulangeries and fromage…oh and vin. Mustn’t forget the vin…
This year’s French odyssey has a slightly different slant. Over the past 14 years, we’ve traveled France extensively and managed to cover most of the key sights in all bar the southwest region, Bordeaux. It’s here we’re ostensibly aiming for, but our path will be dictated by a new find: the official French guide to the most beautiful villages in France – Le Plus Beaux Villages de France, so selected for their beauty, authenticity and cultural heritage. An excellent find in a favourite bookstore. Early browsing reveals a plethora of new villages to explore, each with their own unique character, each as yet unknown to us, even in areas we’ve been to a few times before. Essentially, a whole “new” France to explore, which can only be a good thing.
Luckily, Chris has left plenty of time – he’s inadvertetly picked the wrong Poole ferry, but we make it in the end and settle in for the 4 hour trip to Cherbourg, on the Normandy coast.
Cherbourg is a new landing point, and as usual, security had increased. Each year it’s a little tighter and as the UK hotly debates its position on immigration in the wake of Brexit, it will no doubt get tighter still.
Our first village is nearby: Barfleur, a fishing village with a history dating back to the Middle Ages, tied to both England and France. The village faces England – as our book notes, in 1066 a man from Barfleur named Etienne was engaged to ferry William to conquer England. More than 300 years later, England returned the favour, returning to Barfleur, burning and looting it as a start to the 100 year war. There’s a reason the English and French are not the best of buds.
The village is a pretty, if austere, picture. Built of grey granite, its 11th century Romanesque church is now a life boat station with the main church Eglise Saint Nicholas built between the 17th and 19th centuries. The houses radiate in a circular fashion, emulating the shape of the bay which is busy with fishing boats and yachts. With the clear blue skies it’s a very pretty setting.
We explore the harbour and surrounding streets, find an awesome bakery with perhaps one of the best baugettes I’ve tasted. It’s a baugette traditionelle, proved longer, hand shaped with a sour dough starter. Good stuff indeed, in a country where the standards are high. Local apples are a must too, being in the heart of apple production.
It proves a good call though: enjoying a book and a cocktail by the sea, our neighbours inform us there’s a seal in the bay. He’s come in to inspect a snorkeler who’s invading his space. Binoculars out, I’m rewarded with his sleek glossy head bobbing out of the water keeping a close watch. Curious creatures, seals. I’ve been swimming with them – they love to come in close for a good look. Excellent whiskers too!