To Falaise and back

A very civilised 10am breakfast gave Mirinda an excellent opportunity to increase her conversational French with our host and hostess who are the loveliest people a traveller could hope to meet. I highly recommend this place.

After a petit dejuener of delightfully miniature pastries and odd puffy sweet soufflé things, crusted in lumpy sugar, I popped over to the post office to send cards worldwide, we set off for Beuvron-en-Auge. In her usual free spirited style, Mirinda changed our plans that originally meant visiting everything in the same direction, to new ones which meant we would drive up the same stretch of straight Roman roads 50 times. Still, as I always say, you can’t get enough of those fabulous Roman roads and they are very straight.

Once more we swept through the pretty village we call Our Lady of the Croissants (Notre-Dame-de-Courson), once more through Livarot (avoiding, again, the Cheese Museum) and out through St-Pierre-sur-Dives. Once more we passed Crevecoeur-en-Auge until we reached the prettiest village in Normandy (or perhaps France?) Beuvron-en-Auge. Thankfully we had our lesson in half-timbered house construction techniques yesterday so the buildings of this too good to be true village held few mysteries and many wonders.

Beuvron-en-Auge in the rain

Beuvron-en-Auge in the rain

Although a protected village, it didn’t save the market hall which burnt down twice (1845 and 1959) however, it was rebuilt in 1975 using those old authentic building techniques. The origins of the village go back to the Gaulish times and Viking settlers back in 876. One of their descendents served us in the shop – a very miserable woman who reminded me of the Duchess in Alice, sans piglet.

But back to B-e-A. As we arrived the heavens opened up and tried to drown us so we circled the flower drenched rebuilt market hall and settled in a bar for a coffee and Leffe. As the rain eventually subsided, we once more ventured forth and visited Monsieur Pascal, a local sculptor in bronze – no, he isn’t bronze, he WORKS with bronze). Mirinda fell in love with a pheasant he’d cast so we bought it, both as a very personal memory of the Pays D’Auge and, of course, also of Percy of East Worldham.

It was after our visit with Monsieur Pascal that we managed to incur the wrath of the sour faced shop keeper and I have to ask how she can possibly sell caramel with such a face? We then walked on through the town to the Church of St Martin’s which, quelle surprise, was open. A lovely little church, though very dark and no handout in any language. I did notice that the French branch of the Osmond family appears to be buried in the churchyard though.

We then retraced our steps all the way back to St-Pierre-en-Dives then on to Falaise, the birthplace of William the Bastard who eventually inspired the Bayeux Tapestry and became William the Conqueror.

I have to say my general opinion of Falaise the town is not high. It struck me as being seedy and unwelcoming, a bit like a gite with sticky banisters. Upon further research it seems two thirds of it were destroyed in WWII along with 10,000 Germans. The town was destroyed by Allied bombing and it’s a wonder they missed the castle because it is high on a crag and very obvious. Apparently industries in the town include the manufacture of household appliances and food products. We spent very little time in the town but the castle…

William the Conqueror's birthplace and castle

William the Conqueror’s birthplace and castle

The castle at Falaise is one of the best tourist sights I have ever seen. I thought the Tapestry was brilliant but this surpasses it. Whoever is responsible for this amalgamation of old and new should be awarded very high tourism accolades. It is so far beyond superlatives I can’t…well, that’s it really. I will try and describe its brilliance.

A lot of the original castle has obviously gone or fallen into serious disrepair and instead of repairing it with the ‘authentic materials and techniques’, it has been unashamedly added to with very modern bolt-ons. For instance, the first part of the castle has battlements made of sheets of steel but retain the arrow slits at an authentic size so you can still experience the real feeling. This then preserves the original intent but allows the visitor to differentiate between old and new. But the battlements are nothing!

The entrance fee (an incredibly reasonable €6) includes a headset which automatically turns on as you enter particular rooms. These rooms are set up with stylised objects indicating the rooms use and the narration takes you through both a history of the time and a history of William.

At one stage I climbed to the top of the tallest tower, fortunately as the sun came out. It was incredible, though not for the vertiginously challenged as there is a see-through grid going around the edge with a lovely view straight down. Okay, you can just not look down but it gradually spirals up then down the other side, making it virtually impossible to walk without looking at your feet. Seriously worth the fantastic views.

If you’d like to know more about this fantastic site, click here.

Having learnt heaps about William and Mathilda, I bought a t-shirt then we retraced our oft beaten track to Orbec for a pre-dinner pause.

We deliberately avoided lunch today so we could have a proper Normandy feast for dinner tonight at La Orbecquoise and boy did we have one! Appetisers then entrée then main course and sorbet then cheeses and, finally, dessert all washed down with an excellent French white wine. We managed to sit there for over 2 hours and ate for Australia. Because we missed lunch, we didn’t feel as sickeningly full as usual and I have to say it was seriously yum.

Orbecquoise restaraunt in Grande Rue, Orbec

Orbecquoise restaraunt in Grande Rue, Orbec

A slow walk round town to aid digestion then back to the African room to sleep.

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