Normandy Figaro Rally 2013

On the 9th June 25 2013 Figs departed from various parts of Europe (UK, Luxemburg, Austria, Jersey and France) for 5 days of fun and adventure in Normandy.  Our destination was Honfleur . Most of the UK Figs traveled took the Ferry from Dover to Calais and then the Scenic Route. After an initial wrong turn we all ended up meeting up just south of Calais on a stunning 940 coastal road which set the scene for what was to come. Travelling in convoy we made our way through pretty villages (many of which seemed deserted?) stopping at Boulogne-sur-Mer where we met with Peter and Andrea who had left from Luxemburg and saw all our cars parked in the car park! A quick chat and we were on our way again eventually picking up the A16 Motorway to ensure we got to the hotel on time. With fuel getting low we did have a heart stopping moment as we got within 10 miles of our destination. Can we make it or do we try and find fuel? We decided to exit at the next road but unfortunately around 8 Figs followed us! GPS set to find fuel after a 10 minute of diversion we we back on the A16 and arrived at 19.00!

Welcome drinks and a talk from me on my hopes for the week was followed by T-shirts, flags, stickers and routes and a Music CD and badge from Philippe Nugues. We then sat down for a yummy 4 course meal. The hotel was a few miles from Honfleur which is  a maritime city, which has somehow escaped the ravages of time, has managed to preserve the traces of a rich historical past, which make it one of the most visited towns in France, with its picturesque backstreets and old houses. Its international renown is partly due to the authenticity of its narrow paved streets and timber-framed house-fronts, its little shops, charming hotels and typical restaurants, but also to the variety of its monuments and the wealth of its cultural and artistic heritage. Simultaneously fishing harbour, marina and commercial port, Honfleur has succeeded in making the most of its rich historical and artistic heritage.

Tuesday Morning we woke to drizzle but this soon cleared up. The hotel car park was busy as owners checked their cars and made a few last minute modifications which consisted of attaching our flags to parts of the car and strapping on the rally plates.   At 09.30 we set off with Philippe leading the way our destination was La Suisse Normande, “Norman Switzerland”, may not be truly alpine with its 600-foot summits, but it owes its name more to its wooded countryside, shaped by the rivers which run through the valleys and gorges of this scenic area. Picturesque villages are to be found deep in the valleys or on the hillsides. For 800 million years the winding River Orne has played with the rocks of the Armorican massif to create a landscape as impressive as it is surprising in this part of France. After some wonderful driving mostly keeping the convoy in place we ended up at Arrive Golf de Clécy Cantelou for lunch. Watered and feed we headed out to make our way through farms roads with cattle and some very small country roads as we made our way back to the hotel.

Wednesday was a planned drive to through Rouen & the Seine Valley… The capital of Upper-Normandy, Rouen like Paris, sits on the Seine, an hour from the capital. The city of the Impressionists, Rouen has inspired countless artists over the centuries. Prepare for a sensory overload, in the city where Joan of Arc is ever-present. The Joan of Arc Tower is the only remaining part of the castle built in 1204 by Philippe Auguste, and it was here that the “maid of Orléans” was imprisoned and tried. The historic centre of the “city of a hundred bell towers” is a maze of half-timbered houses and churches. In the evening, admire the flamboyant Gothic Church of Saint-Maclou lit up in the midst of the second largest antiques village in France. Not far from here, venture into the darkly mysterious Aître Saint-Maclou courtyard, which has often been used in films. Our route took us down the A13 and into the Rouen and with 10 Figaros in our convoy it was clear by the cars parked everywhere that this could be challenging and it was! Within a few miles we were down to 8 then 6 and eventually 4! With the tall ships the place was just too busy so we decided to continue on to Les Andelys – From Rouen we proceeded further upstream to the magnificent ruins of the Chateau Gaillard. Perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking historic Les Andelys, it is one of the loveliest settings along the Seine valley. The castle was built by Richard the Lionheart in 1196 to defend the approaches to Rouen. The fortress was considered to be impregnable yet it fell to Richard’s arch enemy King Phillipe Auguste de France in 1204 after an eight month siege. Les Andelys is, in fact, two separate settlements. We found a lovely place for a picnic and where soon found by the some of the other lost Figs from Rouen! We proceeded onto Giverny – Nearby is the village of Giverny where the famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet lived from 1883 until his death in 1926. Monet’s house has been carefully preserved by the Monet Foundation and tourists come from all over the world to see the gardens, which inspired so many of his paintings. To the rear of the house, the walled garden, the Clos Normand, is bursting with colour. It was designed by Monet himself and planted with shrubs and climbers to inspire the artist through all the seasons. A tunnel leads to the beautiful water garden where the famous Japanese bridge festooned in wisteria casts shadows on the magnificent water lilies. After this wonderful afternoon we made our way back to the Hotel exhausted!

Thursday was the The Normandy Coast Driving Challenge! This was a fun way for us to explore some of the Normandy countryside. You have to visit each of the locations in our given list (in any order you like) and then work out which picture depicts a landmark at that location. With the winner receiving a 12″ solid silver cup competition was fierce to say the least. It was funny seeing other Figs in various locations from beach car parks to city centre roundabouts.  The award evening was tense as participants handed in their mileage cards up to the last minute. Calculation and bribes taken it was very close but the winners were our Luxemburg members Peter & Andrea Polomsky .

Friday morning we had a real treat in store! Our intention was to take our cars down to the front harbor and Philippe had arranged in advance for us to have special permission to enter a cobbled courtyard. We departed in convoy and made the 5 minute drive down to the front with roofs down and horns blasting! One-by-one we parked in a row in the front of the Hotel De Ville until all 25 cars were in position. It was a fantastic spectacle and it wasn’t long before the place was brimming with tourist and locals all fighting for a view of these amazing little cars. Thanks to Continental Car Tours and of course everyone who attended and especially Philippe who went way beyond the call of duty!