Home to the Norman dukes’ castle from whence Wilhelm the Conqueror launched his invasion of Britain, Fécamp is now mostly famous for Bénédictine – a sweet concoction of 27 herbs, sugar and alcohol created in late 19th century on the wave of a developing consumerist culture and interest towards all things “traditional and historical”, its name evoking images of medieval monks brewing healing potions. However, just like the pseudo-Renaissance folly of the Palais Benedictine where it is produced, it is a purely commercial creation, a nifty marriage of nostalgia for good old times and mass production technology.
To thank the monks of Fécamp who sided with him during his conquest of England, Wilhelm and his wife Matilda commissioned the construction of a colossal cathedral, making the previously insignificant town a bishopric and rank-of-the-file monks senior clerics. An imposing and lofty example of Norman Gothic, its princely nave majestically towering over the town still impresses eight centuries after its construction. The cathedral stands right behind Fécamp’s town hall, asserting a modern civil authority with an ages-old symbol of power.
Next to Fécamp’s marina is a line of fine seafood restaurants, highly popular with both locals and visitors. That’s probably all that is left from the town’s long and illustrious past as a major fishing port. If you are budget-conscious but still want to savour classic local fish dishes without compromising the quality of your experience, go for set menus - les formulas – to enjoy maquereaux à la fécampoise – mackerel baked in cider with a mussel sauce and moules à la fecampoise – mussels boiled in fresh cream with dried parsley and scallions.
Huge seafood platters – assiettes des fruits de mer – may set you back a little but make for an unforgettable hours-long enjoyment of lobster, crab, prawn, oysters, various shrimp and shellfish picturesquely arranged on bed of crushed ice and edible seaweed. Dry, flinty Muscadet from Nantes is considered the best to complement the delicate flavours of fresh sea produce, oysters in particular.
A local route – D940 – follows the original Roman road and takes you to the next jewel of Haute-Normandie.