Framed by impressive white cliffs, this historic coastal town offers a heady cocktail of attractions. Fécamp is both port, resort, ducal town, pilgrimage destination, art centre and the home of a famous liqueur.
© Eric Lorang
Surrounded by the tallest cliffs in Normandy, reaching over 300 feet in height, Fécamp stands in a dramatic location along the Alabaster Coast. The setting attracted attention early. In the Dark Ages, a significant Benedictine abbey was established here. When it claimed to have miraculously acquired a phial of Christ’s blood, pilgrims flocked to its abbey church. Several Dukes of Normandy lavished money on Fécamp Abbey; in fact, two of them were buried in the abbey church.
Fécamp was also one of the earliest coastal bases for the dukes of Normandy, becoming a favoured residence, with grand castle. Here in Fécamp in 1035, Duke Robert I declared, to the surprise of his noble followers, that he was heading off on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He got his lords to swear that his seven-year-old illegitimate son, William, would succeed him should he die. He did die on his travels, so the boy found himself thrust into power. After surviving and winning terrible power struggles, William would return to Fécamp at Easter 1067 for a grand Norman celebration of his elevation to the throne of England, which he believed had occurred by divine providence.
Getting back down to earth, or rather, to the sea, fishing was the mainstay of the Fécamp community down the centuries. This was one of France’s main cod-fishing ports, expeditions heading off as far as Newfoundland. The port today caters as much to yachts as to fishing boats. However, Fécamp remains proud of its fishing tradition.
So too does it of its production of an exotic liqueur, Benedictine, produced here in the most elaborate of factories imaginable. A 19th century businessman,
Alexandre Le Grand, rediscovered a herbal liqueur recipe left by a Venetian monk who had served at Fécamp Abbey in the 16th century. Claiming medicinal properties for his tipple, he turned it into a bestseller. He was also passionate about art and left extraordinary collections for visitors to his Fécamp palace of industry.
- Le Palais Bénédictine (Benedictine Palace): this truly palatial building makes a grand impression in central Fécamp, built in neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance styles for Alexandre Le Grand, the entrepreneur who developed the alcoholic herbal drink, Benedictine. The liqueur has been produced in this exceptional site, and exported all over the world, for over a century. The Palais Bénédictine contains three centres of interest: the distillery in which the famous liquor is prepared; its collection of religious works, mainly from the 15th and 16th centuries, displayed just as they were at the end of the 19th century and a contemporary art gallery.
- Le Palais Ducal (Ducal Palace): opposite the abbey church, the remains of the castle here recall the attachment of the Dukes of Normandy to Fécamp.
- L'Abbatiale de la Trinité (abbey church of the Trinity): this huge medieval abbey church, longer than Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, has Romanesque origins but was mainly built in the early Gothic period. The edifice contains numerous gems, including the chapel of the Virgin and its 14th century stained glass, the remains of the 15th century rood screen, 16th century Italian-style balustrades and a bold baldaquin in gilded wood from the 18th century. Two Norman dukes, Richard I and Richard II, were buried here.
- Church of Saint-Etienne: a dramatic shell of a church, all that remains of this vast 16th century edifice are the transept, apse and south door.