It can be easy to overlook the joys of France – and to make our point, we made two delightful short trips across the Channel in the space of 12 months, the first memorable for being our first overseas visit after Covid.
That was in June 2022 and on that occasion we stayed at a rental house some 15 miles inland from Dieppe. And while that was our first target for the visit, we in fact found a better value and more authentic France when we steered away from the coast and ventured further inland, enjoying the unsung market town of Neufchatel en Bray.
Our very first post-Covid meal was at a classy fish restaurant in Dieppe. The food was fine but expensive and left us feeling underwhelmed. Later in the trip we found much better quality and value in two inland locales. One was at a restaurant at the village of Nesle St Saire, housed in a converted railway station (photograph above).
It is the Au Quai Gourmand - a word-play on its former life - and there was a wedding celebration in the main room but the obliging maitresse d’hotel squeezed us onto a table in the bar. We had a wonderful set menu and the same was true when we ate at Neufchatel en Bray at the Restaurant les Airelles, part of a hotel of the same name.
Neufchatel has a compact but delightful market too, where we bought local cheeses and produce, some of it harvested by their farmers that very morning.
Ten months later we were back in France, this time staying in a rental house near Wimereux, less than 30 minutes drive from the Channel Tunnel. Naturally we explored the local food offerings, eating twice in Wimereux itself – a delightful deco seaside town that connoisseurs have known for some time as offering the delights of France with minimal travelling time.
This is part of the Pas de Calais department, whose other attractions include some splendid clifftop walks, a distinctive cuisine, fabulous local cheeses (see photo above) and a plethora of wartime structures – German bunkers and gun emplacements – that now feature museums recording France’s experiences under occupation. They are often sobering and provoking, leading Brits to compare their country’s WW2 experiences with those of occupied Europe.
Both trips allowed us to stock up with our new post-Brexit wine allowances, minimal though they may be, which we did at the wonderful Calais Wines, where once we loaded all we could on a day trip, now restricted to 24 bottles of wine and 12 of fizz each. We travelled on both trips by Eurotunnel, thus saving ourselves the hideous post-Brexit queues at the main Channel ports.
We will be back in France before too long, confident of rediscovering the buzz that comes from visiting locations with few tourists, hearing the chatter of conversation, consuming local produce, and celebrating la difference.