To celebrate the first day of my retirement, my significant other and I decided to rent a campervan for four days so we could explore the Alabaster Coast in Normandy. Equipped with just a small suitcase, a camping table and some bedding, we headed off on the first of what we hope will be many romantic retirement adventures together!

Friday: Dieppe and Varengeville-sur-Mer

It’s from the Plein Air Normandie activity centre in Yvetot, 30 minutes north-west of Rouen, that we pick up the keys to our ride for the weekend. Forms filled and deposit paid, we are led to our campervan and off we go.

The campervan proves to be an easy drive. After an hour of driving through the picturesque area of Normandy known as the Pays de Caux, we arrive in Dieppe at around 5pm. It’s not hard to see why this port town, with its pretty harbour, turning bridge, long sandy beach and castle on the hill, has been a popular holiday destination for French and Brits alike since the 19th century – in fact, Dieppe was France’s first seaside resort!

Pont_Dieppe_-_A_Lady_in_London-A_Lady_in_London-1200px
Dieppe © A Lady in London

We stay here a little while, enjoying a walk around the town and port, stopping every now and then to take photos, before we finally head on our way. Our next stop is a local must-see, the Church of Saint-Valéry, perched atop a cliff west of Dieppe in Varengeville-sur-Mer. The view of the English Channel and surrounding coastline is stunning from the graveyard, which could well have been why French painter Georges Braque chose to be buried here. Interestingly, he designed all of the windows in the church too. We admire them and take some more photos before heading to our stop for the first night, a campervan park in nearby Veulettes-sur-Mer, which overlooks the sea. Not a bad spot to enjoy dinner and a nightcap!

Church of Saint-Valéry in Varengeville-sur-Mer
Church of Saint-Valéry in Varengeville-sur-Mer © L. Recouvrot

Saturday: Veulettes-sur-Mer

We wake up to beautiful views over the beach in Veulettes-sur-Mer, flanked on either side by tall cliffs. The weather is looking fine, so we decide then and there to take full advantage of this and have a beach day. That’s the whole point of a campervan holiday– you can take an altogether more relaxed approach to every day and just decide what you want to do in the morning. We like Veulettes-sur-Mer so much that we decide to spend a second night here. Another plus is that there are great facilities in the campervan park.

Veulettes-sur-Mer
Veulettes-sur-Mer ©otpcm

Sunday: Fécamp and Sassetot-le-Mauconduit

For our last full day, we have a lazy morning then some lunch in the company of some cows grazing peacefully next to the camper van, before driving to the fishing port of Fécamp for the afternoon. As well as being one of the earliest coastal bases for the dukes of Normandy, Fécamp is the number one cod-fishing port in France. We head to Les Pêcheries next to the port, a fascinating museum housed in Fécamp’s former cod-drying factory, which tells the town’s rich maritime history, exhibits local artwork and boasts a 360° observation deck on its top floor, from which you can admire the town, seafront and surrounding cliffs.

Then it’s on to the Palais Bénédictine, a neo-Gothic palace built in the 16th century by local wine merchant and entrepreneur Alexandre Le Grand, who found a recipe for a herbal elixir thought to have been written long before by a Benedictine monk at Fécamp Abbey. Le Grand recreated the liqueur, called it Bénédictine and started marketing it to the public, and the rest is history! We took a fascinating guided tour of the palace followed by a tasting of three versions of the liqueur.

Palais Bénédictine à Fécamp
© J-L. Bohin

For our final night, we decide to treat ourselves to a stay in the grounds of a Normandy chateau, the Château de Sissi in Sassetot-le-Mauconduit, just 20 minutes from Fécamp. Our host, chateau owner Jean-Philippe, shows us to a particularly beautiful spot in the extensive 27-acre grounds, which provides all the facilities we need. After parking up, we decide to explore, discovering a scenic trail leading from the chateau all the way down to the local beach, known as Les Petites Dalles, passing half-timbered houses, thatched cottages and seaside villas along the way.

The round trip takes about an hour, then it’s time to freshen up and head up to the chateau restaurant for our last supper of the weekend, cooked for us by Chef Samuel Hubert. Seated in the grandest of surroundings, we learn from Jean-Philippe that this 18th-century chateau was where the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, whose nickname was ‘Sissi’, spent the whole of her summer in 1875, hence how the chateau got its name. During that summer, Empress Sissi and her daughter would often walk down to the beach along the very same trail we had just taken, where they would spend hours on end by the sea. Given that Les Petite Dalles is thought to be one of the finest beaches on the Alabaster Coast, we’re not surprised!

Les Petites Dalles © Y. Leroux / SMA 76

Monday: Le Havre

After last night’s delicious meal, we opt to also have breakfast at the chateau, and it’s with a full belly and much reluctance that we bid farewell to Jean-Philippe and the Château de Sissi, and head off early to our final stop of the weekend, Le Havre.

We arrive in Le Havre via the pretty coastal town of Sainte-Adresse, which sits high on the hills overlooking the city and the Seine estuary beyond. The city skyline is dominated by a 110m-high tower belonging to Saint Joseph’s Church. The UNESCO-listed city centre, designed by Belgian architect Auguste Perret and completely rebuilt following extensive bombing in WWII, stretches out before us, an urban panorama quite unlike anything we’ve seen before in Normandy. We head down into Le Havre to see the church from closer up. Outside it is vast and imposing; inside it is flooded with light, refracted through thousands of different coloured shards of glass. The church pews are made up of old cinema seats, surrounding a central altar from which you can look all the way up to the top of the tower.

Saint Joseph's Church © F. Lambert
Saint Joseph’s Church © F. Lambert © F. Lambert

Strolling along the seafront past the marina we spot local landmark, the Catène de Containers, a bold, photogenic art installation made up of brightly-coloured shipping containers – Le Havre is the largest shipping container port in France – arranged into two interlocking arches. This installation, along with several others dotted around the city, was commissioned and constructed in 2017 to commemorate the city’s 500th anniversary.

Catène de containers
Catène de containers © V. Ganivet / B. Collier

Last but definitely not least is our visit to the André Malraux Modern Art Museum (MuMa), just around the corner. You simply cannot visit Le Havre without coming here, for the city is the birthplace of Impressionism, being where Monet painted the famous canvas Impression, sunrise in 1872, which gave the art movement its name. The museum is home to a number of original works by artists such as Monet, Boudin, Pisarro, Dufy and Cross, as well as some fantastic temporary exhibitions which change every year.

Feeling culturally fulfilled, we leave the museum and make our way back to the campervan, admiring Perret’s post-modern architecture and Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer’s futuristic theatre (nicknamed ‘The Volcano’) as we go. Time to drop our trusty ride back in Yvetot, after what has been a wonderful long weekend on the Alabaster Coast!

* Covid-19: Please follow local government guidelines in your country before making any travel plans *

Le Volcan © V. Joannon
Le Volcan © V. Joannon © V. Joannon

Useful information

Plein Air Normandie
Zone d’activités de Sainte-Marie-des-Champs, rue des Colverts, 76190 Sainte-Marie-des-Champs  
+33 (0)2 35 56 15 15  | contact@plein-air.fr
plein-air.fr

2021 dates and prices

Campervan hire is available weekends only throughout the year, with pick-up on Fridays at 4pm and drop-off on Mondays by 2pm

September to June: €380-€460

July and August: €1,150

Places to stay

Aire de stationnement et de service de Veulettes-sur-Mer (campervan park)

Digue Jean Corruble, 76450 Veulettes-sur-Mer

normandie-tourisme.fr/aires-camping-cars

Château de Sissi (in the grounds)

Rue Elisabeth II d’Autriche, 76540 Sassetot-le-Mauconduit 

+33 (0)2 35 28 00 11  | info@chateaudesissi.com | chateaudesissi.com

Local tourist offices

Dieppe-Maritime Tourist Office

+33 (0)2 32 14 40 60  | dieppetourisme.com

Côte d’Albâtre Tourist Office

+33 (0)2 35 97 00 63  | cote-albatre-tourisme.fr

Le Havre Etretat Tourist Office

+33 (0)2 32 74 04 04  | lehavre-etretat-tourisme.com

A romantic date night in Le Havre

A romantic date night in Le Havre

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