Rouen, the capital of Upper Normandy, is one of France’s most ancient and historic cities with a delightful medieval feel to it.
Captured by the English in 1419, returned to French control in 1449, Rouen was largely rebuilt following damage in WWII although the old town on the north bank of the river still has many ancient timber-framed houses leaning over its pedestrianised streets.
A good place to begin sight-seeing is the place du Vieux-Marche, where a tall cross and plaque mark the spot where France’s heroine Joan of Arc was martyred and burnt at the stake in 1431.
A modern memorial church to her adjacent incorporates medieval stained glass with a uniquely styled roof said to represent either that of an upturned boat or the flames that consumed the saint.
At the heart of Rouen, the lofty cast iron spire of the Cathedral Notre Dame signals one of France’s finest cathedrals completed in 1530. The heart of Richard the Lionheart rests here and if the towers look familiar it could be you have seen one of Monet’s 30 paintings reflecting moods of light on the west facade. His canvases are recreated in a special light show projected onto the cathedral daily from late June to mid-Sept at 2245.
Browse the pedestrianised streets nearby for antiques, find bric-a-brac on rue Victor Hugo and small producers of ‘faience’ pottery on rue Saint-Romain. Visit Rouen’s ‘quirky’ wrought iron museum exhibiting everything from nutcrackers to spiral staircases.
The Musee de Beaux Arts houses one of the more prestigious collections in France including tapestries and paintings by Caravaggio and Rubens. The Musee de la Ceramique opposite offers a fantastic insight into the history of the luxury earthenware known as ‘faience’.
Look out for shops selling les coffrets de Rouen (little hand painted wooden boxes) which were extremely popular during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For chocolate lovers, Rouen offers a treat at La Chocolatière on rue Guillaume-le-Conquérant with praline-layered paillardises.
With so many more sights to discover and explore, your one complaint about Rouen may be the lack of time to visit them all. Why not come back in December for the Christmas market!
The traditional fishing port of Fecamp, with its marina and pleasant seafront promenade on Seine-Maritime’s famous Alabaster Coast, has historic links with the Newfoundland fishing industry.
Fecamp’s modern museum of deep sea fishing will tell you more about the port’s maritime past and you can enjoy amazing views from the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Salut where sailors would pray before setting out on their perilous journeys to the cold and distant cod fishing grounds.
Once a favourite residence of the Dukes of Normandy, today’s visitors to this lively designated ‘Town of Art and History’ can tour the remains of the tenth-twelfth century Ducal Palace in front of the twelfth century Abbey-church. Fecamp’s Museum of Arts and Childhood includes an unusual display of feeding bottles in tribute to a past resident of the town, Dr Dufour, who invented their sterilisation.
The shingle beaches are popular with families and lovers of watersports, and the cliff tops offer great walks. Dine on local specialities including cod and smoked fish.
No visit to Fecamp would be complete without a trip to the Gothic and Renaissance inspired Palais Benedictine which combines touring a large collection of art works with a chance to see the distillery where the famous liqueur matures - followed by a tasting.
One of the finest locations in Seine-Maritime, the pretty town of Etretat has a sweeping shingle beach and amazing cliff formations. Etretat’s setting is stunning - at the foot of a wooded valley with tall white cliffs rising on either side as high as 90m including eroded arches and the needle rock ‘aiguille creuse’ standing off shore.
Walk to Falaise d’Amont and Falaise d’Aval for fabulous cliff top views and stroll around the place Foch to enjoy the town’s architecture. Visit the sailors’ chapel on the cliffs with carved stone fish and Nungesser and Colimuseum dedicated to aviators who disappeared here in 1927 trying to fly the Atlantic from east to west for the first time.
For children, there is a playground close to the beach and for golfers, the course at Etretat is thought to be amongst the 25 best in France with wonderful cliff-top views.
Located on the right bank of the Seine downstream from the magnificent Pont de Brontonne suspension bridge, Caudebac-en-Caux is closely involved with the commercial life of the river.
Visit the modern Musee de la Marine de Seine to learn the history of the river and its traffic.
Much of the town was destroyed during WWII but the thirteenth century Maison des Templiers did survive and contains previous records of the town. The fifteenth and sixteenth century church of Notre Dame also survived, its west front like weathered stone lace displaying ancient figures of saints and prophets, musicians and townspeople.
Follow in an ancient tradition and visit Caudebec’s Saturday market which has been in existence since 1390 or take a trip downstream to Villequier to the Victor Hugo museum.