As I said in a previous post, we decided to visit the northern coast of Normandy for a few days to get away from the heat in Paris. Fécamp started out at the mouth of a depression, where the Ganzeville and Valmont rivers meet and flow into the sea. It was the capital of the duchy of Normandy until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, when William of Normandy, who inherited the English crown from his cousin Edward the Confessor, sailed across the channel with a full fleet to defeat Harold, the pretender to the throne, at the Battle of Hastings. This is part of the same Côte d'Albâtre (Alabaster Coast) as Étretat. The section around Fécamp also goes by the poetic name of le Pays des Hautes Falaises (high cliff country) conjuring up the flavor of salty air and the shrieks of circling gulls.
The views of the cliffs and the ocean are extraordinary. Fécamp is not nearly the tourist draw compared to Étretat but it is a larger beach and more relaxing. There are a small group of outdoor cafés at the south end of the beach, overlooking the water, but I would suggest eating in town. You can rent surfboards and kayaks and even this large beach can fill up in the summer.
The harbor takes up the center of town, as you can see from the panoramic picture taken from our hotel. There are really a lot of boats here. Fishing was Fécamp's main activity until the 1970s. The harbor is situated at the mouth of the two rivers, in the center of town. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings you may see the fish unloaded on Quai Bérigny and sold by the fishermen's wives. On Saturday mornings you can also visit the weekly food and flower market. And every day you can buy fresh seafood at La Marée or dine at the upstairs restaurant.
Today Fécamp owes its fame to Bénédictine, the celebrated liqueur that was developed here in the 1860s by wine merchant Alexandre Le Grand, based on an early 16th-century herbal brew distilled by monks. Whether or not his name was predestined, Le Grand had grand ambitions, not the least the building of a flamboyant, neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance palace for his beloved liqueur. Today it still houses the original 19th-century distillery and a section devoted to the 27 spices used to produce Bénédictine. These are displayed in a huge hall in ravishing patterns of multiple hues, wafting aromas for all to enjoy, although the actual recipe for Bénédictine is kept secret. A patron of the arts, Le Grand turned his exceptional collection of medieval and Renaissance sacred art into the Musée des Beaux Arts, also housed in his palace. The visit ends with a tasting under the glass-and-iron canopy of the winter garden. They made us a really delicious mix of Bénédictine and grapefruit juice, really refreshing on a hot day.
Three mansions belonging to the family Le Grand were built in the immediate vicinity of the famous Benedictine Palace: the current Maison du Tourisme, the house “Norman” Vincelli of square and Vincelli the Grandière. Dom Bernardo Vincelli is of course the Bénédictine monk who was supposed to have invented the recipie.
We went out to the mouth of the harbor near sunset. A small group of fishermen were trying their luck and we got some breathtaking views of the cliffs. Fécamp is a beautiful beach town in Normandy with a little something for everyone. It is well worth a visit if you want a cool place to relax this summer. We stayed at the Hôtel Le Grand Pavois which is right on the harbor with friendly and helpful staff. It also got very good reviews on TripAdvisor. Monet also painted near Fécamp, I will end with the painting.