Normandy – On the Coast

Belgian national holiday was approaching, which meant an extra long weekend for us. We were looking eagerly towards the Alps. Liechtenstein was getting our noses tingling. A small country which we could cross on foot, with the most magnificent mountains and castles; perfection.

Well, on Wednesday we found ourselves heading west. No mountains, there was a massive rain storm over them, instead a beautiful seaside in Normandy. We had visited the area mast year in April, then we had found it extremely beautiful, thus worth revisiting. Hopefully the different season would give it a new face, too.

It was late in the evening when we arrived at a spot we had camped also last year. It is a cliff over a beach, right next to a lighthouse close to the city of Étretat. Oh that spot, I like it so much. I used to think, I am not much of a sea side person, but that place might have turned me into one. It is the sounds, mainly. How the waves roll over the pebbly rocks on the beach and resonate on the tall cliffs. And the seagulls flying over and screaming. Can’t do much but love it.

There we slept the first night, before heading further west to the Hague peninsula. The plan was to leave our car somewhere in the western coast, take a taxi to the east and walk back along the coast, where there is the GR 223 trail, Tour de la Hague. Eventually we left our car in a little sleepy village of Biville and took the direction to Urville-Nacqueville (still can’t pronounce that) and started our hike. It would be around 50 kilometers of walking in total. It was past 4 in the afternoon when we hit the trail. The walk started on a quiet beach, barely nobody there and soon climbed up to the green cliffs that Normandy is so famous for.

It was soft going, but Waffle was struggling with a flu, so we had to cut the evening short. We dropped off the cliffs on to more flat grounds as we made our way towards the western tip of the Cap de la Hague. Behind a corner there appeared a paradise. An island, just a short distance away from the shore. It was low tide and we were hoping that the small piece of grassy land would be accessible.

As we approached we saw it, a narrow passage of rocks, dry and leading directly to the island. It was perfect. Smooth, even and covered in soft grass. I was more than happy to let my backpack drop and settle down for the evening. Waffle seemed exhausted too, almost falling off of his feet. Still refusing to let me put up the camp. That bloody man.

Tent was up, food was brewing and we had a pretty great sunset on our backs. That must have been one of our more beautiful camping spots so far. The sea soon surrounded us as the tide came in. It had been full moon, so we were a little worried how high the sea would eventually come. Well, there was no way out anymore, so all we could do, was to wait.

It had been a very comfortable night and I crawled out feeling rather fresh. It looked like it was going to be a very beautiful day. Waffle was feeling terrible and we had a heavy day ahead of us. It was going to be hot, and we would have to walk over 20 km.

We took off, just at the last minute when the morning tide was coming up trying to cut off our way from the island. A few minutes and the passage was under water. We headed on, towards the western point of the peninsula. We passed so very beautiful, white sanded, hidden beaches on the go. The sea was calling us to take a dip, but that is not something you really want to do, while hiking. Swim in the sea and then be sticky with the salt for a couple of days. That temptation still was there though.

There was a small touristic concentration around the Goury, with a beautiful view to the lighthouse. We had some local apple juice and ice cream, perfect treat for the hot hiking day. We had to walk to inland, to the close by village to top off our water reserves.

The villages of Normandy. They would deserve a chapter of their own. They are tiny, and cute. With amazing views to the sea at every corner. There are small farms all over and those country roads are narrow and cornery and deadly, but oh so pretty. And fresh seafood is served just about everywhere, with apple cider.

Back to the coast we were. The heat was taking its toll on us both but still it was rather impossible to stop admiring the views we were walking through. The progress was slow, we had to pause all the time, once for a convenient beer, too.

After the beer there was some calmer nature ahead and we started to look for a spot to put our tent on. We test drove a field, were concerned about the possibility of an angry farmer appearing. So my tired knees had to still keep transporting me up and down the cliff side. That walk payed off. A kilometer or so further, we found an old horse paddock, hidden from the trail right at the edge of the cliff and a curious seagull as a bonus.

We enjoyed a very beautiful sunset, watching the colors of the seaside turn from blue and green to oranges and yellows. The sea on that side was somewhat less calm compared to the north-eastern side of the peninsula. The sound of the waves is so nice to fall a sleep with.

I had slept well, but I still was very tired in the morning. Waffle seemed to have shed off the flu, miraculously. The morning was misty. We couldn’t see the sea and the cliffs were only looming shadows. Soon the sun pushed the mist off, and the heat came again. It was only 10 kilometers left, but for me, that was definitely enough.

We crossed a huge beach and headed off towards a nature preserve with huge sand dunes. It had its own charm, with dozens of birds and hay covered sand piles with lagoons. We thought we were able to walk around the dunes, but we were wrong. The trail soon turned into loose sand and a steep climb up to a dune of 90 meters. Phuah, that was horrible.

Oh the happiness I felt when we finally saw the first houses of Biville. It couldn’t have come sooner. The car was boiling hot, so we went, again, for ice creams and cold drinks. We had to say goodbye to Normandy, since Monday was approaching.

 

There was still time to finally take a dive into the blue sea before getting a very traditional dinner with crepes and apple cider, not my favorite kitchen of France, but not too bad either.  For the last night we drove to Étretat again, to a cut the driving in a bit shorter junks. We arrived late, again and pitched our tent in falling darkness. In the morning we had a slow breakfast on the cliff.

During our last visit we had found a goat farm in Étretat, called Valaine. They make chocolate and ice cream out of goats milk and those are just fabulous. We squeezed in a visit to there for the early afternoon and got our fix of those goodies again. The taste of the chocolate is rather special, it is not too sweet and has a slightly sour taste from the milk. And the ice cream is perfectly fresh and light. I do recommend to pay them a visit if you are in the area, but do not touch the cider they make.

The sweet fix was done, and the final approach to Rupelmonde could began. We had a wonderful holiday. Amazing beauty around and some of the best bits France has to offer. For some reason I was not missing the Alps at all. Normandy has our hearts, and I hope we’ll be getting back there soon.

 

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