Two Sundays in Northern France

Boats on moorings at Le Hourdel

Two Sundays have passed since I last wrote here.  On the first we were treated to lunch at the Restaurant “Le Parc aux Huitres” at Le Hourdel.  This little fishing village stands on a spit of sand and shingle at the mouth of the Somme estuary, and it’s a favourite spot for tourists in spring and summer because of the the huge wide skies, great views across the bay – and the colony of seals that have made the place their home.

Not far away is the historic and picturesque old port of St Valéry sur Somme, which has an almost perfectly preserved “old town” quarter entirely within its ancient formidable protective walls.

Le Parc aux Huitres - recommended for lunch!

Le Parc aux Huitres serves mostly seafood, as you would expect, and we were very impressed by the quality of our meal which we chose from the fixed price menu.  My Sole Meuniere was excellent, and Sue judged her Aile de Raie (Skate wing) one of the best dishes she has eaten in France. We’ve been here 10 years, so that is high praise.

I have to mention my desert, “Moelleux au Caramel” I think it was called. It was a fabulously soft and buttery pudding with an intense caramel flavour surrounded by a little moat of Creme Anglaise custard.  Think of the most deliciously moist sticky toffee pudding ever, remove the sickly sweet sticky sauce but double the caramel toffee intensity, and you might be getting close.

As we were being treated I don’t know exactly what the bill came to, but I think it was about 110 euros for 3 people including wine, aperitifs and coffee.

Hesdin, in the Seven Valleys region

On the following Sunday we took part in a Treasure Hunt organised by some friends who live near Hesdin, in the “Seven Valleys” region, about half-an-hour inland. About the arguments that took place between our team-mates, a very competitive and apparently very happily married couple, the least said the better.  I simply drove, as fast as I could, to the places the navigator told me to go – when he wasn’t being interrupted and contradicted by his wife.  Sue worked out some of the cryptic clues and ran around spotting answers to questions.  Somehow we managed to come second.

At the end of the outing, with drinks in hands and all the arguments over and done with, our team-mates related the story of their first meeting. It was on a motor rally when she had been “volunteered” to navigate for him.  We expressed some surprise that they had ever got around to a second date, let alone ended up married!

It was a beautiful warm and sunny day, and in our search for the Treasure Hunt answers we saw some wonderfully pretty villages, as well as woods, valleys, streams, old mills and other sights, that we might otherwise have bypassed or missed in passing.

If you spend a holiday in this area we recommend at least one day taking in some of the pretty countryside in the Seven Valleys, and, of course, a trip out to Le Hourdel to see the seals – and maybe lunch at Le Parc aux Huitres.

Restaurant “Le Parc Aux Huitres”
Le Hourdel
80140 Cayeux Sur Mer

Tel: 0033 (0)3 22 26 61 20
www.leparcauxhuitres.com

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First bike ride of the year

Originally posted at 1:00 am, March 24th 2011.

Yesterday I pulled my bike out from the back of the garage and went for a ride in the sunshine. As it was my first ride this year I didn’t go very far, and I certainly didn’t try to go very fast.

The village we live in really is a perfect place to have a bike. If you just want a gentle ride there are miles of country roads and farm tracks that enable you to get from here to almost any other place you want to go in the area without ever having to go on a busy road. At worst you might have to cross one.

Stick to the seaward side of our village and of the D940 coast road, and you’ll always be riding on the flat, but if you want a bit more exercise, or a change of scenery, head East and you’re very soon going uphill. The further you go the more energetic your ride will become. Not for nothing do they call the region inland from here “The Seven Valleys”. Between the valleys are steep hills – thankfully the climbs are not too long and you don’t have to be Greg Armstrong or Alberto Contador to get up them. The reward for your effort will be not just a pleasant ride through beautiful countryside, but that, as everything to the East is higher than the flat coastal strip, your ride back home will be almost all downhill!

I took the farm lanes that run close to the River Authie estuary and soon came to the tiny harbour of La Madelon. The boats there all look as though they’ve had no use since last year. They need a bit of a clean-up and some maintenance, but no doubt some proud owners will be along soon to scrub, sand and varnish where necessary before taking their boats out for a few hours of coastal sailing.

Left high and dry by one of the highest tides of the year

Some of the highest tides of the year always occur in March, but it was still a bit of a surprise to find one yacht high and dry on the grass several yards from the river. It looked as if it might have broken free from its mooring and drifted ashore on an exceptionally high tide. One thing’s certain, it’ll be a long, long wait for another tide high enough to float it off. I expect they’ll have to come and get it with a crane and a lorry.

The restaurant at La Madelon, which has developed quite a reputation over the last 4 or 5 years and is highly regarded in French dining guides, is offering a lunch menu at around 13 euros. A very small price to pay for carefully prepared food in a superb setting. Unfortunately I was there on a Wednesday – their weekly closing day.

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