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Long weekend getaway: Explore the medieval delights of Rouen
The French region of Normandy is a delight: historic towns, lush countryside and coastal walks. Filled with tourists in the summer, off-season it’s quieter but no less charming. Less than half a day’s drive from Brussels lies the cultural, historic and gastronomic capital Rouen. The medieval city is an ideal base for visiting the area, which includes Giverny on the banks of the Seine, Bayeux, the ancient ports of Honfleur and Barfleur and dramatic Mont Saint-Michel. The coastline’s blustery beaches provide a breath of fresh air, from the flat D-Day landing sites to the dramatic chalk cliffs of Étretat and Trouville.
Welcome to the city of 100 bells. On arrival in Rouen, your first sight will be churches and chapels, your first sound the carillon call. Dating from the Middle Ages, Rouen is a cluster of narrow paved streets: Rue Damiette is for antique lovers, while history fiends will head to Place du Vieux Marché, where Jeanne d’Arc was burned alive in 1431. The church that bears her name is a contemporary structure, built in 1979 and bearing the 16th-century stained-glass windows of the former Saint-Vincent church. Don’t miss the Gros-Horloge, a 14th-century astronomical clock atop a Renaissance arch. The Notre-Dame Cathedral is Rouen’s most prestigious site; a gothic structure immortalised in a series of 30 paintings by Impressionist artist Claude Monet.
Pearl of the Alabaster coast, the former fishing village is defined by its towering, photogenic chalk cliffs and arches. Interspersed by green valleys, the coastline is spectacular and a paradise for walkers. Due to the fragile nature of the site and sea erosion, some activities such as horse riding and mountain biking are limited. Walk to the small Church of Notre-Dame for an impressive view of the spectacular Arche de la Falaise d’Aval. A small pebble beach below the cliffs is also popular with visitors.
For 10 days every few years Rouen is transformed into a majestic maritime port thanks to the Armada de Rouen, a gathering of the largest tall ships in the world. Hundreds of thousands of visitors join sailors to enjoy concerts and fireworks and soak up the atmosphere. While waiting for the 30th anniversary edition in June 2019, live like the locals and head to the quaysides of the Seine. They have been renovated and are a popular tourist attraction, filled with refurbished dockyards, restaurants and cafes, cruise boats and barges.
Eat and sleep
In a prime spot in Place du Vieux Marché, Rouen’s oldest auberge is the one-Michelin-star restaurant La Couronne, serving classic French cuisine. It’s decorated with photos of the many celebrities who have dined within its wall. Another gastronomic address is Rodolphe, headed by rising star chef Rodolphe Pottier, who at 26 already has one Michelin star. For luxury accommodation, try the boutique five-star Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde, in the historical centre and equipped with a spa.
This article first appeared in ING Expat Time