Road Trip: Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme
Last year, for my birthday, X, Rose and I drove south, so this year, we decided to point our compass north, and go somewhere that neither of us had been before. Someplace that we could get to in two hours or less, and ideally, that would include water and sunshine.
It was summer, after all. And I figured we deserved a day and a half away from Paris. All of us.
So we gased up the car – not an SUV, as you may guess by the price of the gas below, but merely a VW Golf (now perhaps you’ll understand why I’m not more sympathetic about the $4 or $5 a gallon gas in the U.S.), and by 9 a.m. on Saturday, were on the A16, headed towards Amiens.
We drove in the pouring rain for more than two hours. It was around 60 degrees and windy. It didn’t feel like a festive birthday trip.
But we pressed on, and soon we were in the fishing village of Le Crotoy, on the upper part of the Baie de Somme, a small bay off of the Picardie coast, in the department of Somme, just to the east of Normandy.
The sun, it seems, finally got the message.
We walked on the beach for awhile, let Rosedog run and bark at the water, the gulls, and at us for not walking fast enough, meandered through the town, and settled in for some moules de bouchot, which the area’s known for. I had my pick of moules any number of ways: with cream; with Roquefort; with ham, mushrooms and cream; with curry; with escargot butter; with wine wine (which X chose) or Provencal (my choice), and when we saw the sign that said frites maison, we knew we’d found the right place.
After lunch, we decided to drive west along the coast, but before we did, X spotted a van parked alongside the road with a whole mess of baskets, just sitting there, waiting for me, it seemed. Turns out there was a man inside weaving sturdy baskets.
Of course, I bought one. Just like the ones that you see here. You don’t find handmade baskets for sale on the side of the road for 30 euros very often, anywhere.
We pressed on, and visited a couple of seaside towns that were less than memorable — rocky beaches, or no beach at all — and by mid-afternoon, were circling back to where we were planning to spend the night when we met Renaud, a retired British guy on a Vespa who told us that he had a B&B in the nearby town of Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, where we’d stopped briefly and let Rose run earlier that day, but had neglected to go into the town. Silly us. We nearly missed it.
Turns out, Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme is a pre-Roman town with loads of history. It was originally settled by the Gauls, then later, by the Franks, and after surviving attacks by the Vikings in the 8th and 9th centuries, it became the site where William the Conquerer assembled his fleets. Joan of Arc was imprisoned here. A few centuries later, Degas, Jules Verne and Victor Hugo had houses here.
It’s pretty. And peaceful.
As lovely as the bay is, I connected with the textures of the place itself, which seemed to tell stories of their own.
Renaud came to meet us on his scooter and led us up the hill to Poppy Cottage, which he shares with his adorable wife, Katie. We barely put our bags down when Katie was bringing us a glass of rosé, and Renaud was on his cell phone, trying to snag a dinner reservation for us at one of the restaurants in town.
Thing is, we would have been happy to stay in our little room at Poppy Cottage and not move an inch. There, we had a full kitchen, two sofas to stretch out on and watch television if we were so inclined, or go upstairs (!) to the loft bedroom, or sit outside in the back garden.
X and I were ready to move in.
The next day, after a loooong walk along the bay with Rose, we hit the Sunday market in town and tried out the area’s famous cake, Gateau Battu, a light and fluffy cake that’s traditionally eaten with rhubarb jam or toasted and smeared with foie gras. It’s an interesting cake — brioche-like in texture, yet very rich – the yellow color comes as much from the amount of butter in the batter as eggs.
I bought a small sack of ouefs de mouette, seagulls’ eggs – candy eggs filled with hazelnut and chocolate, and we ate them in the car, on the way home.
It was a very good weekend, we decided. A very good birthday, too.