We docked in Le Havre in Normandy every seven days, but under normal circumstances got no further than the city’s pebbly beach, stopping here and there for either coffee or crepes, and one particularly adventurous day for real live snails. (Actually, they weren’t alive, they were cooked in garlic butter but, you get what I’m saying!? REAL LIVE SNAILS!!) Le Havre is a nice enough place; France’s second biggest port, with some really beaut parks and gardens but also a whole lot of concrete architecture which sprang up after the Second World War, when almost the entire city was destroyed. It’s a confusing mixture of prettiness and concrete blocks if I’m honest, however this modern architecture put Le Havre on the map and it’s now recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage sight. Anyway, my actual point here is that we’d heard great things about Normandy’s countryside and were determined to get out of the city and explore further afield; so that, pals, is what we did!!
The downside to living on a ship is that you’re consistently restricted by time; you can only set off after the ship’s all parked up and the passengers are off, and then you’re pretty much consistently worrying about being back onboard in time, before the passengers have to be back. So in this instance, planning was key to success. Public transport from Le Havre to the village of Étretat is sketchy, with buses not running particularly regularly. The three of us got off the ship as soon as we could, and made our way to the bus station, although the walk there took longer than we’d anticipated because my pal Toby is highly German and therefore refuses to cross the road unless the man is green, despite the fact that there were absolutely zero moving cars on the roads at that time in the morning. Mainly I found this quite funny to see Toby waiting patiently at every single crossing, however obviously when time is of the essence this can begin to be mildly troubling. What a laugh!
Finally we made it, Toby having practiced his best high school French on the bus driver, and we were off on an hour long sweltering hot bus ride rattling through the Normandy countryside in midsummer. It’s true what everybody told us, the area around Le Havre is really, really, pretty. And probably best explored if you have a car to get you around, in all honesty. Mostly a lot of fields and flowers and little French cottages looking cute in the sunshine, and the type of place that would be ideal for getting an airbnb for a week and appreciating the outdoors and general quaintness.
When we got off the bus at the other end,we were pretty darn tootin’ starving and ready to eat anything that came our way. The lanes of the village are very classically French, but at that time of the year were also fairly busy with people doing pretty much the same thing as us. It was all very lovely and Summer-holiday feeling, you know!? Katha was particularly up for crepes, so we found a little hut selling them and proceeded merrily onwards in the direction of the beach and the cliffs whilst attempting not to look like dribbling fools with Nutella spurting in all directions as we ate them.
Although it’s full of tourists at the height of Summer, Étretat is still a real gem worth taking a trip to if you’re in the Normandy area. Famous for it’s white cliffs, including three archways standing upright in the sea like strange doorways to nowhere, the scenery has been painted many many times by all manner of French painters galore. You know how those French painters like to paint, don’t you!? Even Monet himself painted those bad boys. When I say he painted the cliffs, I mean he painted pictures of them, he didn’t go out and slap some Dulux on them for a laugh. Though that probably goes without saying.
On a Summer’s day the climb up the cliffs was particularly hot and sticky, but so worth it for the beautiful view and the general feeling of accomplishment you get when you climb to the top of anything steep and marvellous. There’s a church located right on the top (people love to build churches in inconvenient locations, don’t they!?), plus at the time also a gaggle of fellow human beings admiring the landscape and taking pictures. Toby took a photo of a mum and her daughters (also several secret selfies on their phone), in exchange for a photo us, because it’s nice to be nice, isn’t it!?
What a downright glorious day. After a dip in the sea (during which we started to worry that Toby had genuinely attempted to swim through one of the arches and drowned in the process. He hadn’t, so that was a big relief), and an emergency trip to the ice cream shop because, sometimes it just becomes vital that you need an ice cream in overwhelming heat at the seaside, we headed back to the bus stop. By the by, lavender flavoured ice cream is officially DA BOMB. I’m embarrassed to say that by despite putting on factor 50 suncream I was burnt to a crisp and in a great deal of pain, but in my opinion it was worth it for such a grand day out.
- Although it’s accessible from Le Havre by bus, I definitely still stand by the notion that it would be easier to get around this area by hiring a car and having more freedom to explore under your own steam.
- Other places to visit in the area include Giverny- the famous garden from Monet’s paintings- Rouen, Mont-Saint-Michel, and the town of Honfleur. My point is, there’s loads to see and do here you guys!! It truly is beaut.
- Whilst I think it’s a bit far-fetched that the unofficial name for Le Havre is ‘The Gateway to Paris,’ it’s true that this part of the world is only a few hours from Paris by train or car, which is pretty convenient if you’re wanting to see a lot in a short space of time.