Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Enchanting Harbours - France

The next harbour on our itinerary is Concarneau in France. Never heard of this destination and knew nothing about it, but a real find! Concarneau is a sparkling jewel that we very much enjoyed. We had originally thought to visit Port Aven, a town nearby that we also heard is lovely, but with only four hours available, we chose to stay in the harbour area, especially Ville Close.

Initially, we took the 'tourist train', a little motorised locomotive with three carriages. It drove us through the village along the sea shore and gave a good idea how folk lived here. It looked a relaxing town. Got off the train at the entrance to Ville Close - the old town, that is located on a rocky island a few meters off the coast and is crossed by a drawbridge. Ville Close is effectively a village built inside a walled fortification. It was great to walk on the ramparts and then wander in the village itself. An atmosphere all of its own. Little shops, quaint cafes and restaurants, mostly in narrow cobbled streets. Very charming!
Concarneau is really an enchanting harbour!

Our luxury train awaits departure. We note the safety notice:
 'All legs and arms cut off by accident will be served 
for barbecue tonight!!'
The tour was comfy and showed us the township of Concarneau. 
The autumn colours certainly helped!

The fortification of Ville Close looked stunning on the day
 and we were looking forward to checking it out!

Together with others, we made our entrance into Ville Close

Just another lovely vista of the harbour side from the ramparts.
Taken from the wall, little restaurants, like the one above
tucked away in a small corner. Great atmosphere!

No wonder we love this place!

Whether we walked together or went our separate ways, there was always something special that drew our attention and our cameras.
Like this open-air theatre. Every town should have one. 
Ask the Romans! The French must have thought it a good idea!

Wandering through the town provides many 
opportunities to spend money!

 But, it is also makes one feel hungry.
Come to think of it, it is twelve noon. Let's eat.
This looks good. Let's do it! 
We thoroughly enjoyed sharing a couple of crepes
- a speciality of the area.

Regrettably, we did not have much time left to enjoy more of this lovely old town. A final walk led us to the exit and then to the harbour where our tender was waiting to take us back to our ship.

St, Malo

On our first overseas trip together in 2010, Jan & we passed through St. Malo on our way to the Channel Island. This is where the fast Incat Ferry provides a service to the islands. Back in 2010, we were short on time and did not have the opportunity to explore St. Malo, which we understand has a wonderful maritime history and magnificent historical buildings. 

The sea has always been the lifeblood of St. Malo. The town has open water on three of its sides and is connected to the mainland by a thin strip of land. Ruthless pirates helped to make this town what it is , and and in the process terrorised all who passed through the English channel. I (Siebrand) remember listening to my Dutch teachers telling pirates stories dating back centuries ago! The Dutch, as well as the English, sailed through this bit of water and often were the victims of piracy! It is not surprising that the French kings had a certain grudging respect for the pirates, probably because they often were the recipients of bootie taken. 

So.........Welcome to St Malo!!

 Assisted by tug boats, we were pushed to our anchorage.
We had to anchor off shore and were tendered by the ship's lifeboats to shore. It was a bit of a toss-up for us what we would do. Explore St Malo itself or take an excursion to Mont Saint-Michel, a place that has always fascinated us, but neither of us had been to? Seeing we had unused shipboard credits and, with the end of the cruise in sight, Mont Saint-Michel won out and we went on an excursion.

A chartered coach drove us for about an hour north to Mont Saint-Michel. Looking at promotional brochures, it does look most interesting. In the past, one reached Mont Saint-Michel at low tide and, as we understand, many a vehicle got caught because of changing tides. Because of its popularity as a tourist destination, work is now being done to have access by bridge. Pretty sensible, though it takes away that exciting adventure of beating the tides. The following pic shows what it will be like once everything is completed:

Our bus had to park in the reception area from where one could either walk to
Mont Saint-Michel or take a shuttle bus. Knowing that we would need lots of energy once there, we were quite happy to do it in comfort - well sort of comfort.

We arrived as the sea mist was lifting and by the time we were approaching
Mont Saint-Michel it was clearing. It made for good photography!

All very imposing!
We chose to go up all the way to the top, wishing to fully appreciate and experience what the early residents had to do. Thankfully, there was a reasonable path to the top as well as steps, as you can see in the next pic:

 It is a long way!

A bit of history, with thanks to Wikipedia:

The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers.
The commune's position made it accessible at low tide for the many pilgrims to the abbey, but defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants. The Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years' War; a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433. The reverse benefits of its natural defence were not lost on Louis XI, who turned the Mont into a prison. Thereafter the abbey began to be used more regularly as a jail during the Ancient RĂ©gime. Over 60 buildings within the commune are protected in France as monuments historiques.
With that bit of history, join me now to discover - in part only, the many incredible items of interest. I say in part only, as you will have observed that there over sixty building in the commune alone, that are protected. Being an abbey, you will appreciate that there many places for reflection, worship and study. Despite it being rocky, there was plenty of green, like below:

The detail of each arch is worth a further look!

Rather like the views from both photos.

The ceilings above are beautifully crafted.

The inside structures are also pretty incredible. Considering that the creators did not have the modern tools and machinery we have today, it is a credit to them.
 There is so much see and it's hard to exclude many photos.
Love the fireplace in the shot below.
Then of course, there were many decorations, figures, glass-stain windows etc. Too many to include them all. We will just have to be satisfied with a small sample:
Simplicity with meaning!

We were really delighted with our visit to this remarkable place and were pleased with our choice even though we missed exploring St. Malo. Who knows, maybe some time in the future. 

While we could continue to talk about Mont Saint-Michel, time is beating us and we need to make our way back to the entrance to the rest of the crew. The walk through the establishment in itself was pleasant.

Our 'passport' back to the ship - well sort of!
As we boarded our shuttle bus, we had a last look at this amazing structure.

And farewell St. Malo!


We have a confession to make. Our wonderful Enchanting Harbours cruise actually began its journey from Southampton to Honfleur in France. It seemed rather a strange itinerary and for us, it would have made more sense to tag Honfleur at the end of the cruise, especially because we were going on to Normandy and do a river cruise on the Seine that included Honfleur. For that reason, we are going to complete this blog with this gorgeous fishing harbour!

Honfleur is a community in the Calvados (a name that we would enjoy for different reasons later) department in NW France. It is located on River Seine, across from the port of Le Havre. The tourist blurb tells us that Honfleur is especially known for its old, picturesque part, characterised by houses with slate-covered frontages painted by well know artist including Courbet. Boudin, Monet and others. More about Monet especially, in a later blog.

Being on the English Channel and so close to England, it is not surprising that much of Honfleur's history is connected to England. The first mention of Honfleur (according to what we read) dates back to 1027 in a reference by Richard III, duke of Normandy. Then in the 12th century it became a significant trading post from for trade between Rouen and England. The French Charles V was instrumental in strengthening the defences of Honfleur to protect the Seine from the English. And so it goes on and on. History tells us that there was always tension between the French and the English. 

Let us have a brief look at this fascinating harbour. The ship provided us with a shuttle service from its berth to the township and immediately we were introduced to Honfleur's delightful harbour.
Vieux-Bassin (old harbour)
Picture-postcard views!

Our enjoyment of Honfleur is evident!
Time to have a look at suburbia
It was Sunday and probably too early in the day for busy streets!

The front door so different from what we are used to in Oz.
A delightful little place for a drink or even lunch. Alas......

St Catherine church is not to be missed. Some part of this lovely church goes back to the 1400s. We were interested to find that the church was originally built to resemble the hulls of overturned boats laid side by side. Of course, the whole the structure is made of wood and is reported to be the largest church in France made out of wood!
It is time for morning worship.
We gladly joined the worshippers for a while. 
Lovely music and a reverent atmosphere.
 The impressive bell tower is part of St Catherine Church

All too soon our watch told us to get back to our ship for the next part of our journey.

Au Revoir!

Once again, it has been a wonderful cruise. We loved all the enchanting harbours we visited and probably would have enjoyed even more. However, there is a time and place for everything. For now, it is time sail to Southampton from where we would fly to Paris for a follow up river cruise on the river Seine. That is a story that is also fascinating as well as enchanting! Watch this space!

Paris.....here we come!