A couple of weeks ago we had a rare, sunny, not-too-cold day in May and knew that we had to take advantage after weeks of hibernation and faux-spring blues. We knew without discussing it that our mini trip would involve the coast. There’s nothing better than blue water and salty air and picnics on the beach when you’re lacking in spring. What we didn’t want to do, however, was end up at the same place that every other French person was at that day. We wanted a calm lunch by the sea, a quiet stroll afterwards to help our digestion and to stretch our legs, and a picturesque setting that would make us forget the last few days (weeks?) of cold and grey depression.
If any of this sounds appealing to you, or if you feel the same way about crowds, then you should take the time to visit Varengeville-sur-Mer. France’s national pride Claude Monet did, and actually painted several fairly well known pieces of this very church, and this very hillside. The village itself is sexy in a way that only little French villages that work really hard at it can be. It’s managed to keep some sort of charm from centuries ago and seems to be stuck in time. Everything is cute. Even the banks and bakeries and supermarkets have to follow a strict color scheme and aren’t allowed to pollute the scenery. Antique shops and little cafés and tea parlors line the streets, and all the way at the end is the church, and that first glimpse of the sea, and that magnificent view of the rolling green hills and beach off in the distance. And the cliffs. Did I mention the cliffs? You should really go here.
Park you car near the church and take a look inside. It’s nothing exceptional, but any old church in France is usually worth a visit. Head back toward the village on foot, and on your left, follow the grassy path on down. You’ll notice a sign telling you that this promenade can be dangerous; ignore it. Admire the reproductions of Monet’s paintings as you head down towards the cliffs. Here, you have a choice: take the stairwell all the way down to the beach, where you’ll most likely be alone, save a few fisherman, or head on up the other side of the trail where you will likely end up in the middle of a beautiful park with English gardens and flowers in bloom. Either way, you can’t lose, but I definitely recommend the beach detour (although your legs will not be happy after the walk back up).
Find yourself a nice smooth rock like we did, unpack your picnic and admire the scenery. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a bit of sun and not too much wind. If you’re even luckier, you may just have the beach to yourself. Don’t forget to take a few photos and most importantly to take your time, taking it all in (especially that salty sea air… It’s supposedly good for your health!). You may also notice that the ground appears to be made of chalk… I don’t know if it actually is, but it writes like chalk, and we immortalized (well, at least until the tide came in) our afternoon on a nearby rock before hiking back up.
Once you make it back to the path, you can go back up the way you came, turn left and walk up the tiny, snaking street for about ten minutes until you come to the Bois des Moutiers, a fantastically large and diverse floral park boasting one of the most beautiful old houses I’ve ever seen, pay 10€ to go in (it’s worth it) or take the left path and possibly somehow end up inside said park and visit for free. This happened to us the first time we visited; we decided we should be nice and pay this time ;)
This park is pretty much amazing. The rhododendrons were in full bloom, as was the wisteria, but we were unfortunately a little too early for the roses and various other flowers. But wow, those rhododendrons! They really were superb. Not to mention that the entire park takes at least an hour to walk through, and something is always blooming somewhere. It’s peaceful and incredibly beautiful, and definitely worth your time.
We ended our day with a quick trip to the Ango manoir, which although very beautiful to look at, was a bit of a disappointment to visit. Five euros each got us a ticket inside, although there wasn’t much of an inside to visit. A couple of the manoir’s many rooms were open for visiting with a few random artifacts and information about the place’s history, and other than that it was a quick ten minute tour of the grounds before hopping back in the car and heading home.
I wouldn’t recommend spending a week here, but Varengeville is definitely perfect for a day trip or a side trip if you’re in the area. This was our second visit, and it may just become a yearly tradition, because after all, who could pass up those beautiful flowers and that view. That view! I hope you’ll be able to enjoy it one day, as well.