Get out of Town to Dieppe!

Time for a break from Paris? Try Dieppe! This city of 32,000 people is on the Normandy coast just north of Etretat and has similar white chalk cliffs, pebble beaches and emerald waters. The name Dieppe means deep valley referring to the break in the cliffs carved by the Arques river as it flows into the sea. There is lots of history in Dieppe. It was the site of an experimental landing to test German defenses that preceded D-Day. Unfortunately many Canadians were killed in the failed Operation Jubilee, but the Allies learned that they were not going to be able to re-take an active port, thus developed plans for the Herculean artificial ports of Arromanches-les-Bains in Normandy (another very interesting weekend trip). The city of Dieppe is still closely linked with Canada today. In 2010 a ton of galets from the Dieppe beach were taken to Windsor, Ontario as part of a monument in memory of the soldiers of the Essex Scottish Regiment who took part in the August 1942 Raid and you can see many monuments to the soldiers in Dieppe.

Dieppe has happier history too. Amongst her great navigators were the Verrazano brothers who returned to Dieppe in 1524 after discovering the Bay of New York and the coast of Canada which they baptized Nouvelle France.

Dieppe is also known as the birthplace of seaside bathing in France in the 19th century. As soon as the railroad link from Paris was in place in 1848 Dieppe was the place to be seen and the impressionist painters quickly followed the bathers to capture the seaside and cliff landscapes. Some of the famous visitors were Caroline de Bourbon, duchesse de Berry, King Léopold II de Belgique, the duke of Westminster, Camille Saint-Saëns, Claude Debussy, Claude Monet, Madeleine Lemaire, Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissaro, la comtesse de Greffulhe, Robert de Montesquiou, Jacques-Émile Blanche, Walter Sickert, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde. Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie had their honeymoon in Dieppe.

There are plenty of outdoor activities to do around Dieppe as well. In particular there is a cycling route that links Paris to London which passes through Dieppe (then takes the ferry across the Channel to Newhaven) as well as many additional cycling route and paths throughout the Seine-Maritime department. By car or train the trip Paris-Dieppe takes just two hours. On a bike it would be several days, but think of the lovely Normandy countryside you can pass through on the way. There are hikes on the chalk cliffs or on the beach. A kite festival is held every second year including this next weekend…

dieppe-1Once in Dieppe don’t miss the four different ports (ferry, pleasure, fishing and commercial) and the lovely local museum in the 14th century castle. The Château Musée up on the cliff shows an eclectic assortment of items from impressionist paintings, ocean cartography, historical navigational instruments and works by George Braque. The most particular collection however is hundreds of carved ivory items. Ivory was brought back to Dieppe from Africa by the sailors, then transformed by local artisans into practical items like combs and fans, jewelry and decoration in the 16th to 19th centuries. There are also ship models made entirely of ivory – including the ropes! Very delicate work that is worth the visit. For children Dieppe has the Estran-Cité de la Mer, with an aquarium and exhibits explaining how tides work, pebbles are formed and fishing has developed.

dieppe3Fish and shellfish dishes abound on the menus of Normandy restaurants, and especially on those of coastal towns such as Dieppe. The local fishes are flat fish such as turbot and sole. Fresh local scallops are a delicacy from October to mid-May as Dieppe is the number one scallop port in France. The Restaurant du Port run by Madame Mouny and her family is right on quai of the pleasure port (99, quai Henri IV), but remains authentic and familial. Madame Mouny is an energetic grandmother who welcomes diners as if they were part of the family. She loves what she does and it shows. The fish is fresh from the day’s catch. The veranda façade opens to the port in the warm weather and is nicely heated in the chilly season. Try the scallops with endives and apples in cream or the marmite dieppoise a creamy  shellfish bouillabaisse!

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Fish names are one of the hardest parts of French to master, partly because fish is local to the place. There are different species of fish in the Mediterranean than there are off the Normandy coast in the Channel or Atlantic. Saumonette is not a little salmon. Un bouquet is not flowers. And un maquereau is a fish, but also a pimp! Here’s a list of fish names translated.

Amandes    Dog cockles
Anchois    Anchovy
Anguille     Eel
Araignée de mer     Spider crab
Bar     Sea Bass
Barbue     Brill
Baudroie     Monkfish
Bigorneaux     Winkles
Brème     Bream
Bouquet     Prawn
Bulots     Whelks
Cabillaud     Cod
Calamar     Squid
Carrelet     Plaice
Colin     Hake
Congre     Conger eel
Coques     Cockles
Coquille St Jacques     Scallops
Crabe     Crab
Crevettes grises     Shrimps
Crevettes roses     Prawns
Daurade     Sea-bream
Ecrevisse     Freshwater crayfish
Eglefin     Haddock
Flétan     Halibut
Gambas     King prawns
Grondin     Gurnet
Haddock    Smoked Haddock
Hareng     Herring
Homard     Lobster
Huîtres     Oysters
Julienne     Ling
Langoustes     Crayfish
Langoustines     Norway lobsters
Lieu jaune     Pollock
Lieu noir     Coalfish
Limande     Lemon sole
Lingue     Ling
Lompe     Lumpfish
Lotte de mer     Monkfish
Loup de mer     Sea bass
Maquereau     Mackerel
Merlan     Whiting
Morue     Cod
Moules     Mussels
Oursin     Sea urchin
Palourdes     Clams
Praires     Small clams
Raie     Skate
Rouget     Red mullet
Roussette     Huss, rock salmon
Saint Pierre     John Dory
Sandre     Pikeperch
Saumon     Salmon
Saumonette     Huss, rock salmon
Sole     Sole
Turbot     Turbot
Vignots     Winkles