Before Brexit is implemented and we batten down the hatches against Europe, I can recommend a weekend fix of all things French, staying in the pretty town of Honfleur in Normandy.
My husband and I live only half an hour from Newhaven so what could be easier? Readers further afield may want to check out other ports, such as Dover or Folkestone, but by going into Dieppe the driving time in France is cut down considerably. I am used to using our bigger ports and Newhaven seemed impossibly small, but they make a good bacon sandwich in the cafe at the terminal which passed the time nicely as we waited to board.
Everything ran to plan and we sailed on time. I didn’t have very high hopes of the ship, I am a loyal customer of Brittany Ferries whose standards are high, especially with their catering. But I was pleasantly surprised – the ship had plenty of seating and was clean and tidy. There was a bar serving drinks and snacks, a shop and a cafeteria type restaurant with freshly cooked hot meals and salads. The crossing takes about 4 hours so we settled down in one of the quiet lounges in comfy reclining seats and enjoyed the chance to just sit, relax and plan our weekend.
After a very acceptable lunch of salad and cold meats and the inevitable (in my case) gateaux, we had arrived and for the first, and probably only time in our lives, were almost the first car off the ship. As it was Friday afternoon we opted for the motorway route to Honfleur and after an hour’s drive we arrived into town at about 5.00 pm. The cobbled streets were heaving with tourists, but still managed to look exceptionally pretty. We trusted our sat nav, despite being taken along impossibly narrow streets, and eventually found our hotel A l’Ecole Buissonniere.
The hotel is a converted girls school dating back to 1878 and is ideally placed in the centre of town and just a few minutes’ walk from Honfleur’s picturesque waterfront. Our room was spacious and very comfortable with an adjoining kitchen area and dining table so it would be possible to self-cater, but breakfast is a real highlight, served in a small room around an open fire. Flaky croissants, tasty tarts and freshly squeezed orange juice set us up for a few hours.
There was time for a walk around the town before dinner to get our bearings. The day trippers began to disperse and the town slowly settled back into sleepy normality. We enjoyed reading the menus of the many restaurants and final decided on a meal at La Gambetta. Everywhere offered ‘set menus’ at differing prices and La Gambetta was no exception. Smoky fish pate pâté to start, a succulent steak with indulgent dauphinoise potatoes and finally homemade crème brûlée. France on a plate!
Saturday dawned mild and calm with a hint of autumn mistiness in the air. We took a leisurely stroll around town and enjoyed the Saturday market that had appeared along the narrow streets.
We set off along the promenade to the harbour entrance, stopping to watch boats come and go through the lock gates, and finally came to a deserted sandy beach. Walking back, we meandered through public parks still full of summer colour.
Lunch had to be a Normandy speciality – crepes! Washed down with another speciality – Cider.
The weather was closing in and rather foolishly we opted for a boat trip into the harbour. We battled through wind and rain to admire the Pont de Normandie, an impressive cable-stayed bridge spanning the River Seine. Once we were back on dry land we needed warming up and a hot chocolate was called for, yet another calorie laden Normandy speciality.
Dinner that evening was fish at the popular Le Bistro du Port. Great platters of shell fish seemed to be the order of the day, but we settled for simpler fare and enjoyed fresh cod and mussels.
Sunday dawned sunny and bright and after another enjoyable breakfast we said our goodbyes and set off to meander back to Dieppe via the coastal towns of Fécamp and Saint-Valery-en-Caux.
Both towns are very pretty and well worth calling in to explore if you have a few hours to spare. They were bustling with Sunday strollers, all admiring the boats in the harbour, or enjoying a sunny spot on the prom.
But all too soon it was time to check in at Dieppe for our return crossing. As we sailed across the channel we watched a perfect sunset, who needs a Caribbean cruise?