Panther Enthusiasts Club UK
Annual French Trip
Return to Honfleur
7th to 12th September 2011
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At the end of last year's French Trip someone requested that we return to that "lovely old hotel overlooking the sea at Villerville" near Honfleur and so it was that the 7th September saw us assembling, as is now the custom, at the Hotel Escalle in Escalles near Calais ready for the drive down to Normandy the following day. Our last trip to Honfleur was in 2003 and for half of this year's contingent this was their first visit. In spite of the current financial situation and the poor exchange rate against the euro, we had 10 cars on the trip (19 people): Dennis & Pauline Power, Malcolm & Liz Jones, Peter & Leigh Heales, Colin & Sue Addison, John & Sue Gibson, John & Linda Deed, Tony & George Ansell, Nigel & Mary Plunkett, Dave Turner and Jennifer and I (Roy Biddle). It was nice to have Nigel and Mary back with us once again after Nigel's health problems, however, conspicuous by their absence were Les and Pearl Pratt. This was the first trip they have ever missed. Let's hope they are with us once again next year.
People arrived at Escalles at various times of the day, some in time for a lunch of moules and frites and all in time for pre dinner drinks in the bar. Some crossed by ferry (far cheaper) others via the tunnel (far smoother), but all arrived in high spirits and looking forward to the break. The suitability of the hotel as a rendezvous can be measured by the fact that we keep using it, in spite of the harridan that runs the bar. We have become so used to her unwelcoming ways and terrible appearance that we now consider her to be a source of amusement and part of the entertainment. The couple who run the hotel though are the exact opposite and, as I've remarked in previous years, know most of us by sight.
At 7:00 we assembled in the bar once again (we only left it to get changed) and at 7:30 went through to our usual long table in the restaurant.
As usual it is necessary to take a picture from each end of the table to get everyone in. Apologies to Colin who is only partly shown in the first picture and Nigel who is obviously chewing something. Some of the others were obviously not paying attention and look a bit glum. It's quite a good one of Peter though!
Thanks to Malcolm I also appear to be there, together with Dave. Unfortunately, Jennifer was not well and had to miss the meal.
We left for Villerville and the Hotel Bellevue at 9:30 on Thursday morning and had an uneventful 180 mile journey via the autoroutes and major roads. We arrived just after 1pm and booked into our rooms. Tony and George travelled south via minor roads and did well to complete the journey in 5 and a half hours. Since 2003 when we were last here the hotel has been sympathetically extended. All were very happy with their rooms and had sea views. The picture here shows Jennifer enjoying the view from our balcony.
Sue must have smiled sweetly at the receptionist when we booked in as she and Colin had the executive suite, with a balcony 3 times the size of everyone elses.
Here Sue is relaxing with a book and putting her legs up. Note the size of the balcony above which was the same size as ours, there's no way we could have put our legs up.
France has some strange habits. About eight of us walked down to the cafe on the front and tried to get a meal. It was 1:50pm and we were refused as they stopped serving food at 2:00pm. We could buy a beer (and did), but they were adamant that the kitchen would close at 2. At the current price of things in France that was quite a chunk of business they turned away.
In search of food we tried the local supermarket that was closed so we made do with alcohol as you can see from this and the following 3 pictures.
The Bellevue was built in 1872 and was originally a private dwelling. There are many properties of similar style and size in the area indicating that this part of France was once extremely affluent.
From the number of photographs taken at meal times you would be forgiven for thinking this was a gourmet trip rather than a car club's long weekend and I must admit we all did look forward to the meal times to have a good old natter and laugh. Our hosts looked after us well and were jovial and very helpful.
I'll use the photographs of this meal to put names to faces.
Here we have Jennifer, Sue and Colin.
John and Linda
Nigel and Mary
Sue and John
How many had you had Sue?
Obviously not as many as Pauline (Sorry Pauline what were you doing?)
Pauline and Dennis
Tony and George still looking fresh after their long drive.
Malcolm in his army surplus shirt and Liz
Peter and Leigh. Another good one of you Peter
Dave and I. Sorry I had to cheat, Dave's picture at the table was too dark and I wasn't seated. This was taken at pre dinner drinks.
On Friday we drove a circular route through the Normandy countryside to Honfleur, where we were to spend the rest of the day. As usual we encountered the dreaded "Route Barre, Deviation", which meant that what was to have been one of the prettiest parts of the journey had to be missed out. However, a second deviation sent us through a very pretty village that wasn't on our original route so there was some consolation.
These famous views must be familiar to everyone. The architecture seems to be unique to Honfleur and I've yet to discover how the existence (can't call it design) of those tall narrow buildings came about.
It is almost compulsory, when in Honfleur to eat at one of the old harbour side restaurants.
You definitely pay for the privilege, but it is nice to do and what the heck you're only likely to do it once.
Linda, Leigh, Peter and John obviously think so.
As did Pauline, Mary, Dave, Nigel and Dennis
Jennifer and I ate on the other side of the harbour, where it wasn't so far to walk and she could park her transport easier! Prices were sky high. We bought some little cakes to take back to the hotel to have in the room with a cup of coffee and nearly fainted when we were charged 18 euros - AND they gave me indigestion.
Prior to going to dinner each evening we had drinks on the balcony of one of the three rooms that were discreetly separate from the main building.
These ladies could feature on a hair colouring chart. Shades darkening from left to right.
The remainder of the feminine line up all scrubbed up and ready for dinner.
and 7 of the ten men 8 if you count me on the end of the camera.
Saturday morning and people are busy preparing their cars for the day's drive for the Pays En Auge tour. Basically a tour through the Normandy countryside. Pays means country. However, if you look up auge in my dictionary it means trough. Somehow I don't think a country drive through the trough aptly describes the beautiful countryside we travelled through. The weather for once was good enough for hoods down motoring, something only the most stout hearted had tried up to now.
We set off at the perfectly respectable time of 10am.
Our first destination was the Chateau du Breuil (www.chateau-breuil.fr) where we had booked a tour of the Calvados distillery.
The chateau building is a very old typical Normandy style building and like many of them very chocolate boxy.
Beautiful homes like this abound in Normandy.
This one was built in the 16th and 17th centuries and is classified as an historic monument.
Inside the distillery. Gleaming copper everywhere. I had trouble understanding our French guide who spoke good English but had a shrill voice and a very strong French accent. However, I gleaned that only apples from their 42 acres of orchards are used, they are distilled twice to get rid of the "roughest parts" of the alcohol and the calvados is aged for various lengths of time in very very old oak barrels. Apparently a master blender or Cellar Master decides which barrels are used to create a vintage. I didn't really understand that bit. Anyone enlighten me?
Inside the old Orangery which is the Chateau's cellars. A bit gloomy as my camera hasn't a strong enough flash. See Nigel's photographs on a separate page of this write up for a clearer picture.
Again take a look at Nigel's pictures.
There is a distinctive smell in the cellars, which we were told is evaporating alcohol which escapes through the top of the barrel and is called "The Angel's Share". We were given a percentage figure but I can't remember what that was.
Then came the best part, the tasting, followed by the bad part, buying some. We started on the low alcohol Pommeau (17%) and very pleasant it was too (most people bought this) and went on to the hard stuff which tasted just like any brandy to me. I don't think anyone bought the 72% proof Calvados, but I believe a few bottles of the 15 year old Calvados were bought.
From the Chateau du Breuil, we drove on to Beuvron-en-Auge which is a typical Normandy country village. We parked up near the tourist office behind the main street (the only street) and went in search of food.
Nigel and Mary dined al-fresco
Omelette and potato cakes seemed to be the choice of most, a pleasant change from the more high class food of each evening.
Having temporarily satisfied our appetites we had a look around the village. Here Jennifer is taking a look at the huge variety of hats for sale at this shop. No she didn't buy that flobber dobber dobber hat from the shop, she borrowed that from Bill & Ben.
In the afternoon the drive went from Beuvron to Dives-Sur-Mer and back along the coast through Villers-sur-Mer, Trouville and Deauville to the hotel in Villerville.
People were invited to take as long as they liked on this part of the drive and stop off wherever they wished.
Jennifer and I headed straight back to the hotel from Beuvron by the quickest route and were surprised to see others arrive back very soon after we did. The lure of a long cool drink obviously was causing the heavy right foot syndrome to arise yet again.
Saturday night followed the same pattern as the previous night with pre dinner drinks on one of the remoter room balconies and then dinner at 7:30. Dinner was the usual hilarious affair with our hosts adding to the spirit of things and singling out individuals for good humoured attention.
Sunday was a "Free Day" with nothing planned. I'd included details of the trips we made in 2003 as suggestions and the majority chose to go to St. Germain-de-Livet, whilst John and Sue went to Bayeux to see the tapestry and a couple of us chose to laze around and take a walk along Villerville's promenade.
I haven't photographs of these trips as I was one of those who chose to laze around, but I'm hoping someone will forward a few to me to be included on this web page.
Our last dinner together (following drinks on the balcony) was again great fun and I'm awaiting some very amusing photos of a certain lady's antics. (Those photographs I was waiting for were finally sent to me by Nigel in early Jan.2012. The delay was due to a malfunctioning computer.)
At the end of the meal John Gibson generously thanked Jen and I on behalf of everyone for all we had done in organising the trip and presented us with a very apt present of a very large bottle of 15 year old Calvados. I made a garbled reply of thanks for the present and expressed thanks to everyone who over the years has supported this event and who no matter what the circumstances or the weather have never complained. The trips have always been a hoot, a pleasure to organise and to be on. Unfortunately, Jen and I can no longer commit ourselves with any certainty to any event be it abroad or in England, consequently, this is the last one that we will be organising and possibly the last one we will be attending as a couple in a Panther. However, don't rule us out altogether, we may be able to attend events in a less official capacity - you never know. The good news is that the French Trips will continue. John Deed and Peter Heales have volunteered to organise next year's trip - watch the events page.
Colin and Sue you were on your first foreign trip with us. We hope you both enjoyed it (you seemed to) and that we have done enough to make you want to come back for more next year. You were good company.
Then it was all over and we had to head back to Calais to take our various crossings to England. The weather was not good, gale force winds and rain. Jen and I were glad we were crossing via the tunnel. I've yet to find out how those on the ferries fared.
THANKS EVERYONE FOR MAKING THE TRIP THE
SUCCESS IT WAS
AND BEING TOLERANT OF THE DIFFICULTIES JENNIFER AND I HAD.
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