During my first year as an assistante, I did a considerable amount of traveling not just throughout Europe, but within France itself. More specifically, I spent the first two months traveling extensively throughout the Upper Normandy region, where I was based. From cities to villages, I saw as much as I could, all the while taking in the atmosphere of what the region had to offer.
That said, I visited Fécamp twice while in Normandy, making trips in September and October. I first visited it with a couple of other assistantes over a weekend before we started teaching (we’d also made a mini-tour to Étretat and Le Havre), and the second time with one of my colleagues. Prior to visiting Fécamp, I’d been told by locals that there isn’t much to do in town, and while it certainly wasn’t like Paris or Lyon, Fécamp still had some things to do that I found otherwise, all the while being rich in World War II history and stunning, nautical landscapes over the Côte d’Albâtre.
Getting to Fécamp from where I was living (i.e. isolated town in the middle of the region) was challenging, but not impossible: there were buses which left from the town center, passing through a multitude of small villages before arriving in Fécamp about 90 minutes later. During my first visit, I took the bus as means of meeting up with the other two assistantes with whom I would tour Normandy, but I ended up missing the direct bus over, since hours and timing got messed up due to my unfamiliarity with how bus systems worked in the small region. All the same, I ended up catching the bus to Le Havre, where I met up with one of the assistantes and together, we took the connecting line to Fécamp; it took over an hour more than expected, but all the same, we arrived in town in the late morning, where we met the other assistante and we spent a couple of hours wandering the town.
A port town, Fécamp is home to perhaps 20,000 people, known as “les Fécampois.” Much of the place is fairly compact, with a few dozen streets snaking uphill on one side towards the Palais Bénédictine and the cliffs of the Côte d’Albâtre bordering the other. There’s also the beach, albeit small, but gorgeous, and people spend their time strolling the boardwalk with a crêpe or drink in hand.
During my first visit, the assistantes and I stuck near the port: it was sunny that day, thereby offering blue skies and beautiful views of the ocean. We took a stroll along the quay before wandering aimlessly through the narrow streets of the town, not sure where we were going, but all the same could care less: it was our first time in Fécamp (the Normandy region, even) and we were just so excited to see what even a small town had in store for us.
One thing that we didn’t get to do was visit the Palais Bénédictine, which is a 19th-century edifice that is home to the famous Bénédictine liqueur, invented around the same time as the building itself and contains as many as 27 different spices inside. I actually ended up trying the liqueur a year later while still in Normandy: a roommate had visited Fécamp and bought it to share. It turned out to be a very strong, but flavorful drink which I would recommend– it’s just a matter of being careful not to get horribly drunk off of it!
After the port and the wander around town, the three of us concluded our visit of Fécamp. While it would’ve be ideal to have stayed longer in town, we also wanted to visit Étretat, and the bus hours were limited for that– hence, we left Fécamp early. In retrospect, it was a brief, but pleasant look around in town.
During my second visit, I went with my colleague, who’d invited me to stay in her house over a weekend in early October. While she didn’t live in Fécamp, she had a car and was open to driving me wherever I wanted. With that said, we went to Fécamp where I first explored the Abbaye de la Trinité. Generally-speaking, the interior was like any other church or abbey, but what I found fascinating were the engravings of ships on the columns inside the nave: Fécamp is a historically-nautical town, having had plenty of sailors work and serve during the war. That said, people have made their mark in the abbey, as means of commemorating the lives lost during battle. What was incredible about them was that the engravings were so slight, so transparent, that it would’ve been too easy to miss– it was history within history, and that was what left me awestruck.
With the car, my colleague then took me up to the cliffs that bordered town, where we did a small hike along them. It was a windy, overcast day, which gave it that very-Normandy feel that I’ve since acknowledged. Along the grassy path, there were scatters of what are known as “blockhaus,” or bunkers left over from war: one could enter them and see how it was like back then for soldiers when engaging with their enemies. Again, what struck me was the history in the midst of nature, still preserved and continued to be honored to this day.
There was plenty of nature to be seen otherwise during our hike, as we passed through fields of cows (everywhere in Normandy), even black sheep! I saw rows of windmills off in the distance, but otherwise, it remained quite a savage area, full of green against the blue sea and calming moments away from society. The view of Fécamp from above was stunning as well. Eventually, we made our way back to the car and left Fécamp later that afternoon. After a small apéritif and dinner upon returning, I effectively turned in for the night.
My two visits to Fécamp two years ago left a slight, but pleasant impression on me. Despite the limited amount of activities it offers for visitors, it nevertheless has a serene atmosphere which is great for passing an afternoon with. While it might not be the first place that people think of when visiting Normandy, Fécamp has the charm for a short stopover to admire the coasts and its history.