Normandie definitely lives up to its reputation of being a gorgeous French region. With its gorgeous
falaises (i.e. cliffs) and its quaint villages, it is the perfect escape. While the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey is the most visited landmark in the region, don’t forget to take nice little detours to gems such as the Bénédictine palace or a local farm. And most importantly, don’t forget to try all of Normandie’s crepes and apple ciders !
Etretat and the Falaises Bénédictine Palace Cider Farm
View of the city of Etretat with a view of the
Chambre des demoiselles (i.e. the ladies'' room) and the Aiguille de Belval (i.e. the needle of Belval).
Built August 6th 1856, Notre-Dame de la Garde is a church dedicated to sailors. It was destroyed during the second world war and rebuilt in 1950.
The monument behind it is in memory of a pair of pilots--Charles Nungesser and François Coli--who attempted to fly over the ocean towards the United States on May 8th, 1927. They disappeared somewhere over the ocean.
Between these two monuments is the Heritage Museum of Etretat that explains the history of the city and the region.
falaises at Etretat include named rocks, including this one, named Roc Vaudieu. It is the remnant of a cliff.
The towns near the coast are all very quaint and very well-kept. The cities are no longer well-kept secrets though so make sure to stay away from the tourist traps to really take advantage of the city.
In front of the
Halles (i.e. covered market) fly both the French and the American flags. The American flag is pictured to thank the American soldiers that landed on the coasts of Normandie to help free France from German occupation.
While Etretat might be famous for its
falaises, all the cities along the Normandie coast have gorgeous falaise, including Yport pictured here.
View from the top of the cliffs at Yport. (The city is adamant about the fact that these cliffs could crumble at any moment and advises to not approach the edge.)
However, approaching the edge does give the benefit of a nice sunset to end a lively day.
The Bénédictine Palace as we know it today was completed in 1900. The architect Camille Albert was commissioned to build the palace by Alexandre Le Grand, the owner of a mysterious French liqueur named Bénédictine. The palace was to serve as a museum and factory for the special beverage.
In 1510, the monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli was sent to the Fécamp Abbey (in France) from Italy in 1509. He was an alchemist in search of the ultimate cure-all. He came over from Italy with various herbs and spices from around the world, some of which are used in the Bénédictine recipe. The alcohol was produced for three centuries until the French Revolution, when the monks had to flee and go into hiding. One of the monks from that period, Dom Louis-Ambroise Blandin, gave the recipe to Prosper Coillard, who was the grand-father of Alexandre Le Grand, who later discovered the recipe. The seal of the Abbey can be seen in a smaller glass window above. It was later chosen by Alexandre Le Grand as the symbol of the alcohol.
The Palace displays an interesting mix of gothic and renaissance styles. Facing the stained-glass window of Dom Bernardo Vincelli the alchemist is a statue of Dom Bernardo Vincelli the pious.
It was carpenters from the nearby port of Fécamp who built the roof of this room. This becomes very obvious if you try to picture the roof upside down. It's a boat! That’s what the carpenters were skilled at doing and that’s what they did. Currently, this room houses some of the religious objects of the Abbey that was abandoned.
In this stained-glass window, Alexandre Le Grand's ambitions are very clearly represented. Le Grand is on a thrown-like chair with his hand on the globe. He is extending his hand out to an angel who is holding out a bottle of Bénédictine. This clearly symbolizes that this drink is a drink from God that he intends to make known all around the world. In the back, a rendering of the Palace in white is also visible. Finally, on both sides, at about head-level is visible the symbol of the Abbey that will later be used for the packaging of the bottles. The two sculptures and the reliefs to the right all depict Bible stories, emphasizing the origins of the alcohol.
The Renaissance room contains various objects in iron, with a focus on keys and keyholes. My favorite part of this room is the ceiling though. Look closely at the flower reliefs on the ceiling. Is there something out of place that you notice?
The oratory is a room that is intended to mimic the feeling of a church, with the gothic ceilings and the stone walls. There are various religious statues and reliefs lining the walls.
This stained-glass window depicts the welcoming of King Francois the first by the Fécamp monks in 1534
This room is dedicated to the 16 most important monks of the Fécamp Abbey.
This room served as the bottling section of the factory until the late 20th century. The workers in this part of the process were often orphaned girls. Now, it is an explanation of how Alexandre Le Grand developed the publicity over the years.
When Alexandre Le Grand, pictured here as a bust, initially discovered the recipe, he had an architect build a modest factory and museum for the production and publicity of the spirit. The original building was built in 1888 but burned down four years later, as can be seen in the painting behind the statue. Le Grand had the building be rebuilt in a more grandiose fashion, and it is the palace that we know today.
When Le Grand found the recipe in 1883, he still took a year to get the production right. He used this distillery machine to test the various processes.
This is a model of the new palace. I find it impressive how large the palace is.
As mentioned before, Alexandre Le Grand had ambitions to make the drink well-known across the entire world. Russia was the first to accept the liqueur. The United States then became the second country to be interested in this alcohol. International sales slowed once Russia was pulled into the first world war and as the United States declared prohibition.
Le Grand never underestimated the power of marketing and legal protection. As soon as patents became part of the law, Le Grand would get the shape of the bottle and the name trademarked in order to fight against copycats.
Some of the stained glasses in the ceiling of the ancient bottling plant.
The distilling process is a four-step process that uses 27 herbs and spices. Due to the secrecy surrounding the recipe and process, the herb mixer is in Switzerland and ships the prepared herb mixtures to France. Then, the technicians responsible for the production use the herb mixture to make Bénédictine. It is important to keep recipe know-how separate from technical know-how in order to protect the secrecy of the recipe.
The museum highlights some of the herbs and spices that are used to produce Bénédictine as well as reputable bartenders who use Bénédictine in their cocktails. The goal is to give the drink a second life in a world where no one takes an apero.
Part of the distilling process involves putting the liquid in barrels for fermentation several times. It takes about 2 years to produce a bottle of Bénédictine and all of the production and fermentation is done on premises. There are twelve caves under the palace in order to have an area with a constant temperature for the fermentation process. The Palace produces three different types of Bénédictine: the original, B&B (Bénédictine and Brandy) and the sweet cider.
The ornate courtyard of the palace
Several hundred years ago, the machine in the center of this photo was used to break apples into pieces. Those pieces were then brought to a presser to extract the juice from the apples for cider production.
In the back a large cone shaped building is visible. This building is from 1754, before the French Revolution (in 1789). It was a pigeon loft at the time. Only lords were allowed to have pigeon lofts at the time, that likely served as messenger pigeons. Unfortunately, these pigeons would often eat the peasants' crops, but it was illegal for the peasants to kill any pigeons. After the revolution, having pigeon lofts and raising pigeons became illegal.
Many animals contribute to the survival of this cider production farm. The geese in view here serve to mow the lawn and to eat overly ripe apples that fall before the cider production season. In the back, two metal water containers are visible to offer water to the geese. Unfortunately, at night, owls would come over to drink water and would fall into the water and drown. Because the owl serves to eat voles, which hurt apples trees by eating their roots, the apple farmer wanted to help preserve the bird. So, he laid one stick in each of the water containers to help the owl safely land in the water container to drink water without drowning.
Two more animals are very beneficial to cider production. The first is very obvious: bees. Bees serve to pollinate trees and thus it is rather commonplace to have a beekeeper right next to an apple farm. The beekeeper is happy because he has honey, the bee is happy because it gets to eat the apple flower nectar and the apple farmer is happy because his trees get pollinated and grow flowers. The next useful insect is the ladybug. A carnivore, the ladybug eats aphids, who drink the sap of trees. Because sap is the lifeblood of trees, ladybugs are key to keeping apple trees alive.
After the farmer has successfully protected his apple trees over the season, he collects the apples. This process used to be done by hand. However, with the rise of wages and the decline of apple cider demand, it was no longer a profitable process; one day’s apple picking results in about 500 thousand apples being picked up, which equates to about 50 EUR. As a result, this apple farmer shares an apple picking machine with his neighbor, which greatly speeds up the process and reduces the amount of labor needed. This machine was initially intended to pick up nuts.
Next, the apples get washed thanks to a machine designed to wash potatoes and the apples then enter a conveyor belt where the farmer picks out the rotten apples to throw away. After that, the apples are passed through a grating machine that cuts the apples into small pieces--the smaller the pieces, the more juice can be extracted. Finally, the apples are passed through a presser where all of the juice is extracted. Typically, the juice extraction process is about 60% efficient, resulting in 60% juice and 40% pulp. The pulp is then driven off to a neighboring cow farmer who gives it to his cows. This is a true win-win process as the cows are happy to eat the apples and the apple farmer is happy to find a way to get rid of the waste produced in apple production.
The apple juice can then be turned into three main products. It can either be heated to a temperature of 80 degrees to kill all of the yeast in the juice to prevent fermentation and keep it alcohol free. Another option is to put the juice in barrels for a four-month fermentation process to create apple cider. (This producer makes about 5,000 bottles per year.) After the four-month fermentation, some of the yeast is killed and the liquid is bottled for a second fermentation process in the bottles, to create the bubbles in apple cider. Depending on how much of the yeast is allowed to ferment in the first fermentation process, the wine will be either brut/dry (long fermentation and low sugar), semi-brut/dry (medium fermentation and medium sugar) or sweet (short fermentation and high sugar). (This producer makes about 50,000 bottles per year, half of which he sells directly from his store.) The last product that can be done from the apple juice is Calvados. It is an apple-based, whisky-type liqueur. It is made in the machine pictured here behind this apple farmer. After this process, the distilled liquid is at around 65 percent alcohol. As a result, water is added to bring it down to about 40 percent, like all other hard spirits.
This producer not only sells his products but also products that neighbors have made. For an apple farmer to make a decent living, he needs to produce at least 100,000 bottles per year. However, producing too much will bring the price down and further hurt the farmer's situation. As a result, he has taken on side businesses such as production tours and this shop. I highly recommend the
if you are ever in the neighborhood !
Another service that the farmer offers is sleeping in a barrel. At 90 EUR with one double bed and two single beds, this is truly a
unique and affordable experience
The scenery all throughout the region was filled with hay bales. This is a tractor we saw while leaving the apple farm that I thought was rather interesting.