Discovering the Northeast of France, Episode 496

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Categories: Family Travel, French History, Hauts-de-France

Have you ever considered exploring the lesser-known parts of France? In this episode, Annie Sargent chats with Ken Ives about his extensive journey exploring La Côte d'through the northeast of France. It is a region filled with history, natural beauty, and unique cultural experiences.

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Discovering the Northeast of France

Ken's trip took place in September 2003, starting in Paris and moving through northeastern France, down the Channel coast, and into Normandy. This adventure included his wife for two weeks and later expanded to include his son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter for a segment in Normandy.

Despite being their first visit to France, Ken and his family opted for this often-overlooked region. Why? They wanted to see the White Cliffs of Dover from France for instance. Although the weather was mostly overcast, they managed to catch a glimpse of the cliffs from Cap Blanc-Nez.

The Opal Coast in the Northeast of France

The Opal Coast (Côte d'Opale), stretching from Cap Blanc-Nez to Cap Gris-Nez, is a rugged and largely untouched coastline. Unlike other parts of Europe, this natural preserve remains free from buildings, offering a wild, scenic landscape ideal for hiking and wildlife watching. Ken highlights the historical significance of this area, especially during World War II. The concrete blockhouses and gun emplacements still stand as silent witnesses to the past.

Hiking and Scenic Trails

For hiking enthusiasts, the region offers fantastic trails. Ken particularly enjoyed the GR 120, a long-distance hiking trail that runs along the French coast. This trail and other trails are part of a larger European network that connects paths all the way from Belgium to Russia and from Portugal to Italy. Hiking along the clifftops provides stunning views of the beaches and the diverse coastal landscape. The GR 120 goes into other European countries and at this point it is called the E9 European Long Distance Path.

Exploring Amiens: From Jules Verne to Gothic Cathedrals

After Paris, Ken and his wife visited Amiens, where they explored the Maison Jules Verne. This museum, housed in the author's former residence, offers an intimate look into Verne's life and works. The couple also visited the immense Notre Dame d'Amiens, a cathedral so large that it could fit Notre Dame de Paris inside it. Their visit coincided with a seasonal sound and light show on the cathedral's facade, adding a magical touch to their experience.

Boulogne-sur-Mer and Beyond

In Boulogne-sur-Mer, Ken explored the old walled city and visited the Boulogne Castle, now a museum with a diverse collection of artifacts. Nausicaa Centre National De La Mer, Europe's largest aquarium, proved to be an all-day adventure, particularly enjoyable for families with children.

Ken also visited the Atlantic Wall Museum in Audinghen, set in a former German gun battery emplacement from World War II. The museum features one of the two surviving K5 railroad guns in the world, offering a fascinating glimpse into wartime history.

Culinary Adventures and Misadventures

Ken shared his culinary experiences, highlighting the regional specialties like "un welsh complet" (a dish of melted cheese, beer, and toast with a fried egg on top) and the more peculiar "pêches au thon" (canned peaches filled with tuna salad). He also recounted his wife's challenges as a picky eater in France, a country known for its culinary traditions that often don't cater to special requests.

Navigating the French Medical System

During their stay in Boulogne, Ken's wife needed medical attention for a bladder infection. Their experience with the French healthcare system was positive, highlighting the efficiency and affordability of medical services in France, even for non-residents.

Local food specialties

Un Welsh complet (cheese melted in beer served on toast with a fried egg on top). The Welsh is offered in many restaurants.

Another odd yet good local specialty served as an appetizer is the Pêches au thon (Peaches with Tuna). Surprisingly pleasant! This is a Belgian thing to be precise, but you may find it in some places in Northern France.

Moules-frites are commonly served in this area, as is hard cider.

Hotels Ken Used on his Trip

1. Hôtel Parc Saint-Séverin (Paris) - great location (Rive Gauche, near Notre Dame), and I can't heap enough praise on the front desk staff.
2. Grand Hôtel de l'Univers (Amiens) - decent hotel, good location (short walk from train station), bathroom recently renovated, but the rest of the room was a bit worn, no air conditioning (didn't really need it), but again a very helpful front desk staff.
3. Hôtel Opal'inn (Boulogne) - good location (near Boulogne Plage and Nausicaá) with ample and easy (pay) public parking, and once again a very friendly staff.
4. Relais Guillaume de Normandie (Saint Valery) - mixed review. Great location, great view, easy to get to, and free on-site parking, BUT 2 problems. First no elevator, so have to drag your bags up stairway a minimum of 2 floors; second, poor design of shower - there was no way to avoid covering the floor with water when using the shower.
5. Hôtel la Diligence (Honfleur). Good location near Vieux Bassin, free on-site parking (but get there early. The lot is quite small; I'm sure there are fewer parking spaces than rooms).
6. Les Lilas de Bellefontaine (B&B in Bayeux). Excellent experience here. Good location short walk from center of town, free on-site parking, host/hostess were super friendly and helpful. They offer (for an extra fee) to make a French breakfast for you. That was a great experience - great meal, and just a lot of fun.
7. Radisson Bleu Hôtel (Rouen). Excellent location near Rouen train station. Large relatively new and modern hotel. Large rooms (very large, by European standards). Pretty much what you'd expect of a hotel with "Radisson" in its name - including the price, on the high end of what we paid anywhere except Paris.
8. Le Grand Hôtel de Normandie (Paris). We picked this one mainly for its location, across the street from Gare Saint-Lazare. Good location, otherwise unremarkable (nothing WRONG, just nothing stands out - good or bad).

Ken's journey through the northeast of France reveals a region rich in history, natural beauty, and unique cultural experiences. From the wild coastline of La Côte d'Opale to the historical sites of Amiens and the culinary adventures in Boulogne, there's much to discover in this often-overlooked part of France. Whether you're a history buff, nature enthusiast, or simply looking for a quieter alternative to the more tourist-heavy regions, the northeast of France offers a rewarding travel experience.

More episodes about the north of France

#FranceTravel, #CôteDOpale, #NortheastFrance, #HistoricalTravel, #TravelPodcast, #HiddenGems, #Amiens, #Rouen, #BoulogneSurMer, #WWIISites, #JulesVerne, #FrenchCuisine, #TravelInspiration, #ExploreFrance, #FrenchHistory


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Discussed in this Episode

  • La Côte d'Opale
  • Cap Blanc-Nez
  • Cap Gris-Nez
  • Calais
  • Mont Saint Michel
  • Amiens
  • Maison Jules Verne
  • Notre Dame d'Amiens Cathedral
  • Boulogne-sur-Mer
  • Boulogne Castle
  • Nausicaa Centre National De La Mer
  • Atlantic Wall Museum
  • Batterie Todt
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme
  • Baie de Somme
  • Rouen
  • Donjon de Rouen
  • Tour de la Pucelle
  • Rue Joan d'Arc
  • market square in Rouen
  • Church of Saint Joan of Arc
  • Montreuil-sur-Mer
  • Berck
  • Dunkirk
  • Battle of the Somme
  • Battle of Agincourt
  • White Cliffs of Dover
  • Rommel's tanks
  • Joan of Arc
  • Jules Verne
  • Julia Child
  • Harry Truman
  • Jean Valjean.
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Ken Ives and his wife on their trip to Northeastern France
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Transcript Guest Notes 

Categories: Family Travel, French History, Hauts-de-France