Moving on from a very interesting wedding date in Lille, we pack the car and head South West to Le Havre. Because it’s not too far away, we decide to take the smaller roads through the quaint country towns to avoid the monotonous landscape of the highway, and being a little treasure hunter at heart, I’m always hopeful for a village Brocante (flea market) on the way. Today it’s pouring with rain, so there isn’t a slim chance that locals are going to brave the weather to sell their wares in plain air. No big deal, the winding road and rolling landscape is nonetheless an inspiring experience. A brief Madeleine and coffee break at a spot alongside some summer seeking campervan-ers and their puppies (who are super happy to be streatching their legs and giving the ground a sniff), our journey to the seaside continues.
Le Havre is characterised by its industry. It’s one of France’s huge working ports. We are welcomed into the Port town on the winding highway with some strange looking unicorn horns that stick out of the ground. These bizarre sculptures have made their way into my memory and stuck for good. We check into Hotel Des Phares, an elegantly understated hotel full of character, and one of the oldest inns around town. It braves the strong coastal winds and looks onto the sea’s horizon. It’s a building that has been maintained with great respect to preserve it’s original attributes. The wooden floors are dressed with jute and gives off a wonderful smell that is sweet and nautical like a ship’s rigging. The walls are papered with elegant patterns and tones of cream and maroon, while the stairs acknowledge your presence with a quiet creek on every footstep. Natural light floods through the tall sea-facing windows, and fresh local apples are placed on every tabletop for you to munch on. Our bedroom is in the attic, so we have a unique view of the town and all of its happenings. I’m impressed by the wallpaper and matching cushions that frame our bed in all of its patterned, fruity wonder. My dream house is definitely going to have finishings like this.
We start off on a foot tour of the beachfront, littered with windsurfers and wake boarders taking advantage of the wild weather. At least some people are getting a kick out of the howling winds. The beach is a pebble one, making for a scene that is full of changing textures from the paintbrush strokes of the choppy sea, the smooth tarmac of the wet sand, and pearl like pebbles that creep up to the boardwalk. I fall in love with the wooden beach front cabins that face the sea in their white paint coats like pawns on a chessboard. These wonderful traditions keep old towns Romantic. I hope they never disappear.
It’s not often that I eat seafood other than when I go fishing, but the local muscles are not only super fresh, but quite a sustainable option for dinner. Also, I’m in Normandy, so Moules-Frites is absolutely appropriate. Both of our smartphones are dead, so we have to trust our instincts to sniff out a restaurant that will serve us good, honest food instead of the excuse-for-food that most tourist traps plate up. There are a few good telltale signs that can point you in the right direction when in situations like these. Firstly, the restaurant should be populated with lots of busily eating customers. When food is good, there is not much room for eye to eye conversation. The next tell tale sign is a menu that isn’t too vast. You want a restaurant that specialises in one or two particular dishes, in this case, Moules-Frites. When every kind of cuising and food group is poured onto one menu, your alarm bells should be ringing. A kitchen can’t possibly nail an alphabet of dishes. Thirdly, check the pricing. A modest restaurant doesn’t need to break your budget. Sometimes it’s worth diverting off the main drag to find good restaurants that aren’t just milking off their location.