Sunday, 1 May 2011

Springtime in France

Veules-les-Roses, Normandy
It's been almost two weeks since we returned from our spring holiday in Northern France, and it is already starting to feel like a distant memory.

We stayed for nearly a week with extended family in Montreuil-sur-Mer in the Pas-de-Calais region. I admit that my initial reaction when we first started planning our holiday was not very enthusiastic; I had an image of Calais as a tacky port full of Brits doing cheap booze runs. While there may be an element of truth to that, the area outside of "Calais proper" is lovely and underrated. Montreuil itself is a walled town and is famous as the setting of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. With cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings, and even a Michelin-starred restaurant, Montreuil certainly lives up to its "storybook" reputation.
The surrounding villages in the Vallée de la Course (those nestled within the valley of the Course River) and Les Sept Vallées (the Seven Valleys) are quintessentially "French": quaint, picturesque, and just about every other cliché adjective you can think of. Northern France is known for its good cheese and chocolate, and I can vouch for that.

During that first week, we took gentle strolls around the town's ramparts, enjoyed long evening meals with good food and wine, and explored some of the surrounding villages and seaside towns. The Étaples Military Cemetery was both surprising and overwhelming, and the Dutch-influenced city of Arras was an interesting day out. I have a hard time slowing down and doing "nothing" while I'm on holiday (my first instinct is to "see" as many things as possible, but I'm working on that), but we struck a nice balance between relaxation and activity.

After we left Montreuil, we headed to Upper Normandy for another three days, where we did a bit of touring. We stayed near Forges-les-Euax, an old spa town in the heart of the countryside, and took day trips to Veules-les-Roses and Rouen. The latter is the capital of Normandy, and The Other Half and I had been there nearly six years ago when I led a group of American high-schoolers on a trip through Europe and he accompanied me as a chaperone. It was nice to return, especially with Crumpet. Funny how it seemed bigger than both of us remembered. Veules-les-Roses was a lucky find recommended to us by the owner of the B & B where we stayed and is probably one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen, so much so that I'm having a hard time doing it justice with an appropriate description.

In the first few days after we returned, we managed to avoid the usual post-holiday blues by keeping ourselves busy every day – mostly with outdoor activities since the weather has been unseasonably hot and sunny. When the sun shines here in England, you take advantage of it because you never know how long it will last. But now that the slightly cooler weather has returned, the chocolate eggs that Crumpet found over Easter weekend are rapidly disappearing, the Royal Wedding is over, and I've had time to catalogue our photos and reflect on our holiday, I'm thinking wistfully of the next time we can hop the Channel.
Chateau Martainville, Normandy

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