Normandy’s white cliffs on the Côte d’Albâtre (Alabaster Coast), broken up by small valleys called valleuses, throw off a beautiful bleached light that once inspired Claude Monet (amongst other artists).
We wend our way down the eroding cliff via the Valleuse des Moutiers at Varengeville-sur-Mer, stopping to admire the Church of Saint-Valery balanced near the cliff’s edge. Along the downward path are boards bearing copies of Monet’s works, and a structure marking the spot where his La Cabane des Douaniers stood. It plays with the sunlight.
Taking careful steps through the narrowing gorge, we reach the beach: an immense, sunny sweep of sand, seaweed, and chalky stones (plus a dead crab), lapped by the waves of a glittering sea. Dieppe and Pourville are visibly bright in the distance. The children free themselves and run.
Later, we spare a few minutes at the precariously perched church above, and gaze out to sea. Many fishermen are buried in its graveyard – La Cimitière Marin.
Four days is just enough to form an impression of a place, scratch the surface a little. The landscape of the Seine-Maritime Département of Normandy reminds us of home in the South-East of England. Chalkily familiar, with cliffs that mirror Dover’s. Winding country lanes, and a similar climate. But the land, like the beach, is altogether bigger in scale. And the colourful timber-framed buildings are new to us too.
Time passes more slowly than at home, which suits the holiday vibe, although we learn the hard way to be more in tune with shops’ and restaurants’ opening hours – the kids start to doubt my repetitive reassurances “Don’t worry, I’m sure we will find some lunch soon…..”
Normandy’s gentle hues blend with periodic bursts of photos sent from the Arabian Peninsular that are full of the exotic colours, textures and lights of Dubai’s waterways, and the arid evening shadows of its desert. No. 1 is visiting family and is fired up by his first trip outside Europe.
Food features in our shared photo stream. The delicate yet meaty taste of Moules Marinière sampled in Dieppe’s pretty port is followed by the Middle Eastern warmth of flavour that fills a chicken Shawarma wrap. The ubiquitous – and (mostly) excellent – French frites are spiced by a sizeable scoop of flashing red paprika from the Spice Souk in Dubai.
I layer up in pragmatic anticipation of a Spring day out in Northern Europe, then my phone pings to show my son chilling out in a T-shirt and shorts. I shiver in a brisk sea wind while my son cools off with his cousins in the Persian Gulf.
My glimpses into a world I’ve never seen are tantalisingly brief. But I’m happy in the Seine-Maritime with my three youngest children – chomping frites, imbibing Belgian beer (me), a little bereft without wifi, but feeling oddly at home whilst making new discoveries (detailed here).
Back to that illuminating shared photo stream: Monet’s soft light … the bright glow of Dubai … then – ping ping – two stark views that my husband ‘appreciates’ whilst working at undisclosed locations in the UK.
Do we feel guilty? We think about it.