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Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit (Paris Day Trips)

I promised you this taster of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit. It’s a fabulous way to discover this royal town’s history which breathes around the Château and boasts a rooftop view over the River Seine to Paris.

As Paris visitors flock further west to the Palace of Versailles – also in les Yvelines – this visit will uncover the importance of Saint-Germain-en-Laye with the Kings of France before the court moved to Versailles in 1682. Birthplace of Louis XIV and also the composer, Claude Debussy, you will find that Saint-Germain has had a few surprising culinary births too.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Following on from this introduction to Saint-Germain-en-Laye as part of my series of easy-to-do day trips from Paris, guided visits on the castle roof run between May and end September, and are easily reserved in advance (see all practical details at the end of this post).  Although visits are only in French, English can be organised in advance if done in a group.

In the meantime, before your visit, let me whet your appetite as a Scottish-French local and guide you on your own DIY tour.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

There were two castles: the current pentagon-shaped Château Vieux and the Château Neuf . The latter newer castle was built under Henri II, finished by Henri IV and dismantled under Louis XVI and his brother, future Charles X. It’s one of the rare castles dismantled before the French Revolution, with the bricks and stone recycled by the Saint-Germanois.

Today, the Château Vieux now houses the National Archaeological Museum. A model in the museum gives us an idea of both castles’ grandeur, terraces and gardens which, at the time, cascaded all the way down to the Seine (now the town of Le Pecq).

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Rooftop visit

The layout of both castles in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (apologies for the unavoidable reflections on the glass case)

Today the castle’s inner courtyard is one of the Renaissance’s most beautiful.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

A visit on the castle’s rooftop is pretty special, showing off a panorama of the Seine Valley – including a skyline view of Paris to La Défense and Sacré Coeur. Look carefully, and you catch sight of the Eiffel Tower, poking out behind the Mont Valérien.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Just by visiting the Castle roof in the space of 30 minutes, we gathered nuggets of delicious history as we walked around the chimneys.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

The fortified castle originated in 1122, when Louis VI le Gros built on the plateau of Laye. Only the dungeon (the square tower on the left of the museum entrance) retains the original shape, with a Campanile tower stuck to it, much like that of the Louvre in Paris.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Louis IX (Saint Louis) completed the castle and by 1238 had a chapel built, the only part of the castle to survive the fire during the Hundred Years’ War from 1337 between Philippe VI Valois and the Black Prince. It was Charles V that re-built the castle by 1367, adjoining the Gothic Chapel.

Saint Louis Chapel

Louis IX’s Gothic Chapel was probably good practise for his Saint Chapelle in Paris built ten years later, constructed on much the same lines.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

It’s here that the story starts to get deliciously interesting at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, as it’s where François I married la Reine Claude in 1514. Since then, the rosace was filled in, as the banquet hall he added on was right behind it.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Each time I walk around the Chapel, I can’t help thinking of greengage plums. What? Plums? Did you know that the Greengage plum is known as Reine Claude in French, named after François I’s Queen as she adored them so much? Speaking of which, have you tried my Spicy Plum Jam? La Reine Claude would have surely approved with it spread on her royal baguette over breakfast with François I.

François I at Saint-Germain-en-Laye

This was François I’s favourite residence. He loved the castle so much, he turned Charles V’s fortress into a Renaissance palace.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

He is said to have spent 1000 days at Saint-Germain-en-Laye which, considering the sumptuous castles in the Loire Valley and Fontainbleau, is quite something!  François I’s symbols are not difficult to spot on the roof: his crowning initial with the Fleur de Lys carved in stone and flaunted on the imposing chimneys high above the town. Spot also his salamander, especially on the enormous banquet hall chimney inside.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye castle roof visit

François I’s son, Henri II continued with more of the building work, including the new castle which was completed under Henri IV. During the reigns of both Henri IV and Louis XIII, the Château Vieux was left to royal children and their household staff.

Louis XIV and Saint-Germain-en-Laye

The Sun King, Louis XIV was born in Saint-Germain’s Château Neuf, 5 September 1638. All that’s left of the “new” castle is the red-bricked Pavillon, now part of the Hotel Henri IV that looks over the Seine to Paris. This hotel boasts a couple of other births from the culinary world: soufflé potatoes and the legendary Béarnaise sauce.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

I was lucky to see the original birth and baptism papers from the local archives during an enlightening conference of Louis XIV in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, thanks to our local historian, François Boulet. The baptism took place in the St Louis Chapel when Louis (le Dauphin) was 4 years old in the presence of his parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.  It was such a long awaited royal birth that 30,000 bells peeled all around France to celebrate!

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Visit

Following Louis XIV marriage in 1660, he moved into the Château Vieux, breaking with tradition with the new castle.

From his reign in 1666, Louis XIV spent a staggering quarter of his reign at the castle before eventually moving to his newly embellished Versailles in 1682. In Saint-Germain, it wasn’t merely for hunting but for the Court, where the greater part of his powerful and personal decisions were made. We often just associate Versailles with Louis XIV but we can frequently forget just how important Saint-Germain was for the the Sun King and the court. It’s also where he learned to dance and where Lully performed many of his premières in the giant ballroom.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Improvements were made to the castle by Jules Hardouin Mansart and André Le Nôtre designed the French gardens and the vast terrace overlooking the Seine before his other wee gardening job at Versailles.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain Pharmacist Treats Royal Headaches with Chocolate

As the longest reigning monarch in France, Louis XIV probably ate extremely well at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. I suspect one of the ingredients to a long and prosperous life was chocolate, introduced to the French court by his mother, Anne of Austria, and his wife, Marie-Therèse who both brought over their chocolate luxuries – in the form of a chocolate drink – from Spain.

Later at  Versailles, it was under Louis XVI that chocolate finally flourished outside of the French court in Paris, thanks to the pharmacist in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Sulpice Debauve, appointed King’s Physician in 1778 to help cure the Queen Marie-Antoinette’s headaches through chocolate coins or pistoles. More on that later, as this addictive subject merits its own post – but again, Saint-Germain is one of the ingredients!

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

James VII of Scotland in Exile at Saint-Germain-en-Laye

When Louis XIV and his court permanently moved to Versailles on 20 April 1682, the Sun King ‘lent’ the Château Vieux to his cousin, James VII of Scotland (II of England) while the Stuarts were in exile from Britain during the Glorious Revolution. He stayed here with his family for 13 years until his death in 1701 and is buried in the church across the road from the castle.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof

Many of the Jacobites stayed in Saint-Germain-en-Laye until the French Revolution and finally left in 1793. For a brief summary of the Jacobites, read this great article here. Did you know that Saint-Germain is twinned with Ayr in Scotland?

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

French Revolution, Wars to Today

During the French Revolution the castle was used as a prison, then a hospital for the treatment of contagious diseases, a cavalry school under Napoleon Bonaparte, barracks then a military prison.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Visit

Thanks to a visit from Queen Victoria to Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1855, eager to learn more of its British past with the Stuarts, she urged Napoleon III to save the castle from abandon and so it was restored. In 1862 Napoleon III created the Museum of Celtic & Gallo Roman Antiquities as part of the castle and the following year it was listed as a historical monument. Restoration work was carried out by Eugène Millet, who studied under Viollet-le-Duc (of Notre Dame restoration fame).

The Peace Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was signed at the castle on 10 September 1919, officially ending WWI with Austria.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

The Castle was used as Headquarters by the German Army in France during the German Occupation (1940-1944), as was the Château d’Hennemont, which is now the Lycée International. Many German bunkers are reminders throughout Saint-Germain of around 18,000 soldiers occupying the military town. Thankfully, and astonishingly, Saint-Germain wasn’t bombarded by the allies. There are two bunkers right next to the castle in between the hôtel particuliers or mansion houses.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye castle Museum

Today, the castle houses the National Archaeology Museum. It includes the world’s largest collection of prehistoric art, illustrating the life and inventions of men from their origins to the merovingian period. Furniture is replaced by countless exhibition cabinets, showing a fascinating insight into life to the middle ages.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s Speciality Cakes

No visit can finish without a taste of the local culinary specialities.  Both puffed potatoes or some Sauce Béarnaise, born at the Henri IV hotel’s restaurant, are not the easiest to sample on the street (see the recipe for Sauce Béarnaise here), so I’d recommend popping in to at least two patisseries in particular for their speciality cakes.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

Teatime in Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Since 1920, the Pâtisserie Hardy has been making Le Gâteau Saint-Germain, of which I’m constantly told that the recipe’s secret has never left their boutique. It’s a sweet tart filled with almond paste with bits of almonds and glazed with a light icing – see my recipe for le Saint-Germain here.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Debussy

Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s chocolate speciality, Le Debussy, was created by the Patisserie Grandin to celebrate the birth of composer, Claude Debussy on the same street on rue au Pain, the oldest street in town (called bread street, as at the time of François I, this was where the bread was baked as there was no oven at the castle.)

Le Debussy is a hazelnut sponge with praline mousse with raisins soaked in rum and coated in dark chocolate. You’ll also find a Saint-Germain cake at Grandin. If you love rum, then it’s guaranteed to satisfy with its boozy glaze!

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

 

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

We loved the compact yet relaxed 30-minute roof tour: simply book on the morning itself directly at the Museum ticket office to ensure your place. Alternatively, book a longer visit by telephone or email in advance, and you’re good to go (precise details below). Note: I may add that I suffer from vertigo but I honestly had no trouble on this Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit.  As groups are small with a guide and another member of museum staff behind us with clear footpaths, it’s very secure. No children under 10 are admitted, however.
So, on a lovely day, jump on the RER A express train line from Paris to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, pop into the ticket office just across the road to book if it’s not done already, then enjoy a walk around. There’s so much to see and do.

What Else to do in Saint-Germain-en-Laye?

I often call Saint-Germain a mini royal Paris, as it’s so beautifully compact for boutiques and there’s plenty to do. I thoroughly recommend wearing good walking shoes as there’s plenty to do:
  • The farmers’ market (Tuesdays, Fridays & Sunday mornings – the latter is the biggest);
  • The quaint boutiques! Even the several cheese shops alone are worth a stop. Check out Foucher’s interior – it’s like stepping back to 1923 when it opened.
  • Walk in the extensive castle grounds (it’s free), including the long terrace built by Le Nôtre overlooking Paris, plus a walk through the beautiful forest (the walks are all well signposted);
  • Have a picnic in the park, or why not do it in style by ordering a gourmet version straight from Monsieur Fine Bouche, who offers €10 off your first order when you use the code, ‘MadAboutMacarons’;
  • Visit the church across from the castle, where James VII Scotland rests;
  • An afternoon visit to the Claude Debussy Museum, recently refurbished at N° 38 rue au Pain (closed Mon/Tues);
  • Maurice Denis Museum – this is currently closed for renovation until 2020;
  • The Fête des Loges in July-August is one of Europe’s biggest fairs. Shuttles run from the RER station.
  • An absolute must? My DIY chocolate & patisserie tour – Patrick Roger, Pascal le Gac (formerly from Maison du Chocolat), Gontran Cherrier, Eric Kayser, to name a few more, plus an ice cream stop at La Fabbrica de Luca, a few doors away from the oldest house in Saint-Germain on rue de la Salle. Have I missed anything?
Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

Practical Information

SAINT-GERMAIN-EN-LAYE CASTLE ROOF VISIT: Open 2 MAY – 30 SEPTEMBER
2 Types of Visits are possible, organised directly at the Chateau Museum in FRENCH ONLY. For a guided visit in English, advance reservation should be done for a group.
  • Historique du château et visite des toits” (1h weekly visits – 1h30 on weekends Full price each 5€/7€)
    ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ONLY by telephone (01-34 51 65 36) or by email  (Reservation.man@gmx.fr)
  • Promenade sur les toits (Duration: 30 min Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays at 2.45pm Full price each €4). Reservations to be made on the day itself, weather permitting, directly at the boutique/ticket office of the Museum.
Musée d’Archéologie nationale – Domaine national de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Place Charles de Gaulle
78105 Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Billetterie/Ticket Office: Tel 01-39.10.13.22
www.musee-archeologienationale.fr
Jardin des Arts
3 rue Henri IV
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Getting There from Paris:

Only 20 km west, this makes for an ideal day trip from Paris with a short 30 minute train-ride on the RER A line (red) west (ouest) to the terminus at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

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DIY Paris Day Trips Saint Germain

10 Reasons to Visit Honfleur, Normandy

It doesn’t take long to discover why Honfleur is in France’s top 5 of tourist destinations. With only 2 hours’ drive from Paris, I have enjoyed much testing – and tasting – my way around Normandy’s most charming French coastal town to present at least 10 reasons to visit Honfleur.  

Ten reasons to visit Honfleur

Our most recent stay in Honfleur was for 6 days to sample as many restaurants for you, visit the local museums, walk and discover interesting landmarks, the organic market and soak up the wonderful general ambience of France’s historical and pretty port nestled on the Seine’s Estuary before it opens up to the English Channel.

10 Reasons to Visit Honfleur

So, what is there to do in Honfleur? What is Honfleur famous for? Find out in my 10 reasons to visit Honfleur and what makes it such a special, popular getaway in Normandy.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

Honfleur’s Old Harbour (Vieux Bassin)

This is the first spectacle that hits you in Honfleur. The Vieux Bassin, or inner harbour, is the heart of the medieval town that has attracted writers, musicians, and painters over the centuries. Listen to the hypnotic bells vying with the tinkling yachts from the nearby churches and at the end of the harbour, is the 17th-century watch-tower, the Lieutenance.  It was here that Samuel de Champlain set sail from Honfleur in 1608 to colonise Canada and led to Quebec’s foundation.

Dotted with bright, colourful clinking boats and lined with bustling restaurants, seafood bars, cafés and art galleries, it’s an ever-changing mix of quietly humming weekly fishing haven to a weekend and holiday cacophany of happy tourists meandering along the port, watching the world go by while artists seated quietly behind easels squiggle their brushes to capture the varying scenes and ambience.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

Honfleur’s Fresh Fish and Seafood

A giant pot of steaming moules (mussels) sums up the fresh seafood and fish that’s caught daily in Honfleur. We often see bikers whizz up the autoroute from Paris just for their Sunday lunch plate of oysters or mussels sold on the harbour.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur, Normandy

Old Town

The old town is what makes Honfleur so particularly charmant and so French. Its quaint narrow streets and pretty cobbled squares are crammed with half-timbered houses, juxtaposed with wooden and slate houses, many on 7 floors. Don’t forget to look up, as you may see plaques indicating famous birthplaces (Eugène Boudin, Erik Satie, Alphonse Allais…).

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

10 reasons to visit Honfleur, Normandy

Honfleur’s Beautiful Churches

St Catherine’s Church dates back to the 15th century. Constructed by local ship-builders, it’s primarily made of wood and resembles an upturned ship’s hull. St Catherine’s tower is separate across the square and houses the bells.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

St. Leonard’s Church – With its 15th century portal, just a step inside reveals two spectacular fonts made out of natural seashells, with gigantic oyster shells crowning them (my photo wasn’t good enough here).

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

Notre Dame de Grace (Our Lady of Grace) – this chapel is in the heights of Honfleur and is accessible by a short, steep climb (really recommend the walk) or easily reached by car to Le Mont-Joli. I can’t recommend this highly enough – especially out of peak season to appreciate its special tranquility. Inside, boats and relics high on the ceiling and thanksgiving plaques by the Honfleurais and pilgrims can make this a rather personal experience. Every 15 minutes, the impressive external bells ring and on the hour, don’t miss the bells playing Bizet’s Carmen from l’Arlésienne.

It’s also here that the last king of the French, Louis-Philippe and his wife, Marie-Amélie, spent their last days in France before leaving for England.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

Pont de Normandie

From the Mont-Joli next to the Chapel of Notre Dame de Grace, is a fabulous view of the River Seine’s Estuary and the Pont de Normandie – 2.14 kilometres across the Seine from Honfleur to Le Havre. Opened in 1995, the Normandy Bridge is the largest  cable-stayed bridge in the world. It’s a motorway toll bridge but for walkers and cyclists it’s free, with a footpath. Check out the monument just at this panoramic viewpoint: it glorifies Notre Dame de Grace for sparing Honfleur during the 1944 Battle of Normandy.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

Honfleur’s Museums

With Honfleur being the birth-town of major artists such as Eugène Boudin (who inspired Claude Monet) and Erik Satie, it’s great to delve deeper and discover more about them and other artists and writers (Alphonse Allais) that worked here. Feel the history of the Honfleurais of its fishing, maritime world and way of life over the centuries. We purchased a reduced-priced collective ticket for the following 4 museums (except the separate salt lofts):

  • The Eugène-Boudin museum is above all devoted to art about Honfleur, daily Norman life in the 18-19th Centuries,  the estuary and showcases nearly a hundred works by Eugène Boudin – known as the painter of the sky and sea, who influenced Claude Monet – among others. I particularly loved discovering artists such as Adrien Voisard-Margerie with his painting of Toulouse-Lautrec and his model. Also featured are 20th Century artists (Dufy, Villon) who worked in the region and more recent works from Denis River, who was also born in Honfleur in 1945.
  • On entry to The Satie Houses – Erik Satie’s birthplace in 1866 – we’re told that it’s not a museum as such; instead a whimsical discovery through sound, light, images and objects to appreciate the musician and composer’s eccentric character. Via movement-sensitive audiophones (tour is also in English), listen to his life and anecdotes to the sound of the Gymnopédies, Gnossiènes or the Morceaux en forme de poire. The final theatrical show is, alas, only in French but you can appreciate the character of Satie, including one-page works that were written, for example, when he hadn’t had breakfast yet and was about to venture out from his home in Montmartre (rue Cortot).
  • Musée de la Marine is about the history of the port, housing a collection of model ships and marine artefacts on just one floor in St Stephen’s Church (the oldest church in Honfleur), on the old harbour. It is paired with the Ethnographical and Popular Arts Museum around the corner – presenting the inside of ten 16th-century Normandy dwellings.
  • Greniers de Sel (Salt Lofts) salt lofts, 17C buildings made of stone and covered with tiles. These lofts were built under the salt tax agreement to store 10,000 tons of salt needed by the cod fishing boats to preserve the fish.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur Normandy

Honfleur’s Markets

In St Catherine’s quarter, under the shadow of St Catherine’s Bell Tower, is the local farmers’ organic market on Wednesday mornings. Here you’ll regularly find an abundance of locally harvested watercress (to see how it’s grown, see my post from Veules-les-Roses, including a recipe for French watercress soup.)

The main market is on Saturday mornings, with fruits and vegetables, other Normandy local specialities such as Cider,  Calvados and cheeses (such as Pont l’Evèque, just down the road), plus plenty of fish and seafood. Head to Place Arthur Boudin for the flower market and for clothes, accessories and souvenirs, you’ll find them at the Cours des Fossés et Rue de la Ville.

Arriving in Honfleur on non-market days is not a problem, as shopping is also great for local produce to quaint antique shops. Try the Crottes de Mouettes (seagull droppings!), morsels of chocolate and caramel.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

Honfleur’s Restaurants

Whether it’s fine dining in any of the numerous Michelin-listed addresses, enjoying a plate of oysters or mussels by the harbour, or a good quality traditional Normandy crêpe, there’s something for all budgets and tastes in Honfleur. Here is my personal list of favourites. Note that during January and February, many restaurants close for their annual holidays (I loved the humour in one window – although closed it finished off saying “sending salty iodine kisses”).

  • La Fleur de Sel – Chef Vincent Guyon sets the bar high with gastronomic dishes at great value. Ensure to book, as this small gem has already been discovered. Perhaps my favourite.
  • SaQuaNa – Chef Alexandre Bourdas shows just why he received 2 Michelin Stars. Just watch opening times, as when we were there previously, they were shut for their annual holiday. Ensure to book.
  • Le Bréard – I mention this, as it serves great food but, from our experience, the service needs work: not in speed but in politesse.  It’s up to you if you don’t mind and just concentrate on the dishes, although it’s the first time I’ve been served bread and told not to eat it yet.
  • Entre Terre et Mer – although also a super restaurant, just across the road we love their oyster bar where a simple, fresh plate of oysters or mussels are great value.
  • La Chaumière – slightly out of town, this characteristic thatched hotel-restaurant has a homely feel.  Outside eating in summer with views over to Le Havre, and cosy nooks by the roaring fire, friendly service and super menus. Great for celebrating a birthday, too.
  • Le Manoir des Impressionnistes – Also slightly out of town, this is an ideal quiet haven away from it all with good, simple yet beautifully presented food. We just found the wine list a bit pricey but the list is excellent. If you’re looking to speak English, the British owner, Brigitte, usually comes around the tables to say hello.
  • La Crêperie des Arts –  We’ve tried many crêperies in Honfleur and this one gets our top vote each time as the buckwheat galettes (savoury crêpes) are beautifully lacy thin and all fillings use fresh ingredients (alas, more establishments serve the likes of tinned fruit with the local cheesy galettes or on sweet crêpes). Great friendly service.
10 reasons to visit Honfleur

10 reasons to visit Honfleur, Normandy

2 Hours Drive from Paris

With only 2 hours drive north of Paris, Honfleur is particularly accessible. It’s pretty much a straight drive up the Autoroute (A13), passing Giverny. So, if you have time en route, visit Monet’s house and garden. However, if you’re looking to spend time between Paris and Honfleur, it’s a “straight” sail on the buckling River Seine all the way up to the Estuary. If you don’t have time to spare but want a customized trip of Normandy in a day, then Context Paris have an 8-hour tour, including Honfleur – see the Context site here for details.

Good Base for Visiting Normandy

If you’re staying in Honfleur for a few days, it’s a great base for visiting the nearby towns of Étretat, Deauville, Cabourg, Veules-les-Roses (check out the summer sea festival), and Le Mont Saint-Michel. It’s also great for discovering the nearby Cidre and Calvados farms, as well as cheese in nearby Pont l’Evèque.

10 reasons to visit Honfleur

Top Tips for Visiting Honfleur

  • If you can, do try and speak as much French as you can.  The locals appreciate visitors but, as we are in France, it’s only polite to try and speak the language. No matter how little you speak, if you show willingness to try, it helps keep the lovely Honfleurais smiling.
  • If arriving by car, try to park on the outskirts of the town using the various car parks as much as possible.  Busy periods mean busy traffic and, as many streets are one-way and pedestrian only, this will make everyone’s lives easier. Please note that the harbour is closed to traffic after 1 May.
  • For boat trips, information on timings for museums and other visits including Calvados tastings, see Honfleur’s tourist information office
  • Personally speaking, our best time to visit Honfleur is out of tourist peak season (particularly avoiding the French summer holidays in July to August), as it is less crowded. If you do make it during a tourist wave, ensure to book your restaurants and do some advance planning using the links on this post.
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. This was a personal trip and as we live in the Paris region, this is to share the best things to do if you’re visiting Paris and want a weekend or short getaway not too far from the Normandy coast. The only link to Context Travel above, is an affliate link at no cost to you.

10 reasons to Visit Honfleur

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies

Do you need a quick and easy solution sometimes? Mine is often a batch of almost brownie-like, intense dark Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies – especially after making chocolate macarons.

Why? Surely seeing a batch of finished, sandwiched macarons together, there’s no problem, right?

chocolate chip hazelnut cookies

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies – BEFORE …

Sit down with a cup of tea and imagine the scene: there’s this large batch of dark chocolate and hazelnut macarons sitting sandwiched together with gooey ganache on a baking tray and their incredible aromas are snake-drifting around the house. Suddenly, a numbed expectant devouring silence hits the air, as my chocolate-loving teenagers and husband remember… they are NOT ready to eat just yet.

They’ve learned over time not to pinch one. Instead, it’s totally worth the wait for macarons to mature to their ultimate, crispy and fondant perfection. So, as the heavy macaron-laden box disappears in the fridge for a couple of days to perform their magic, my favourite nutty cookies come to the rescue.

Why haven’t I posted my favourite cookie recipe yet? Perhaps because, paradoxically, I make them so often. Or perhaps it has been my safely guarded secret, passed to me by our local chocolate factory.  Yes, one of our neighbours a couple of blocks away was the Chocolaterie du Pecq. Alas, I say ‘was’, as they are permanently shut down following a fire that took place a couple of years ago.

Every December, they would open their doors for a few hours to the public. Us locals would queue, unusually for the French – even if it was more sideways than a normal straight British-style queue – on our allotted early morning Saturday slot. As we were tasting their latest magic (another reason for going sideways and becoming high on cacao), we’d complete our order forms for bulk packs of the most exquisite dark chocolate chips, praline, unsweetened cocoa powder and ballotins of our favourite filled chocolates.

chocolate chip hazelnut cookies

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies – AFTER …

Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies – with Toasted Nuts & Salt!

Thankfully, the chocolate factory’s recipes go on – and this is one of them. Over the years, I’ve used their original recipe, cutting down on the sugar (if it’s too sweet, how can you appreciate all the flavours in there?) but if you have a few more minutes (that’s all), take the cookies to the NEXT LEVEL and toast some hazelnuts and add a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder. It’s all in the recipe below!

Have you put dark chocolate and good quality salt (fleur de sel from Brittany) together? The chocolate becomes even more intense in flavour. If you’ve never tried this before, then I urge you to give it a go.  Added to these cookies, it makes them even more addictive.  And speaking of salty cookies, have you tried these palets bretons, the deliciously salty butter biscuits from Brittany?

chocolate chip hazelnut cookies

Gooey and intense in dark chocolate with toasted hazelnuts and a hint of fleur de sel salt

Next time you make a batch of chocolate macarons, just remember this quick and easy cookie recipe – and, if you have extra whites left over, then make some crunchy Tuiles or delicious buttery Financiers from my book, Teatime in Paris!

I can sense that this will be seen as “just another cookie recipe post”. Am I right? Prove me wrong and try the recipe. If you do, please tell me and rate the recipe below!

5 from 1 vote
chocolate chip hazelnut cookies
Chocolate Chip Hazelnut Cookies
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
17 mins
Total Time
37 mins
 

Perfectly gooey, crumbly and intense in dark chocolate, these toasted hazelnut cookies are addictive with a touch of French fleur de sel salt to add that extra oh-la-la factor while waiting for your chocolate macarons to mature.

Course: Breakfast, Snack, teatime
Cuisine: American, French
Servings: 12 cookies
Calories: 158 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 80 g (3oz) unsalted Butter softened, nearly melted
  • 50 g (1.75oz) cane Sugar or Cassonade French sugar
  • 50 g (1.75oz) ground hazelnuts hazelnut flour
  • 80 g (3oz) plain flour all-purpose
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Van Houten) OPTIONAL
  • 1 egg (organic) at room temperature
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt fleur de sel
  • 100 g (3.5oz) dark chocolate chips (good quality)
  • 40 g (1.5oz) hazelnuts OPTIONAL
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas6.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the butter and sugar until it looks a moussy mixture

  2. Dry fry the hazelnuts for about 5 minutes over a high heat until toasted.

  3. Add all the other ingredients and mix together using a spatula or spoon. If adding the extra toasted hazelnuts, chop them roughly or break them up in a mortar & pestle or crush them in a ziplock bag using a rolling pin. 

  4. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or a silicone mat. Using a dessert spoon or ice cream scoop, form about 10-12 balls well spaced apart. You may need a second baking sheet, depending on the size of yours. 

  5. Turn down the oven to 160°C/140°C fan/320°F/Gas3 and bake them for 17 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Recipe Notes

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION per 40g serving (makes 12 cookies): 158 Calories; 3g protein; lipids 10g; glucides 14g.

Best eaten on the day but store in a cookie jar and eat within 24 hours so they're at their best.

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

 

chocolate chip hazelnut cookies

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Cheesy Red Onion Pepper Cornbread

If you love Cheese Scones, then you’ll love this Cheesy Red Onion Pepper Cornbread. Like Scones and Irish Soda Bread, Cornbread is a fast bread that’s quick and easy to make since it doesn’t rely on yeast to rise over time.  So it’s handy to have up your woolly sleeve when you’re snowed in, or just for a nourishing, homemade snack or supper at little notice.

red onion pepper cornbread

You may remember seeing photos of the snow hitting Paris recently. As Antoine luckily avoided it being abroad on business and the girls and I were magically snowed in with no school, us mice turned to more British-style lunches with hot, nourishing bowls of soup (such as pumpkin & leek, sweetcorn & pepperrocket soups) and something rather special to go with it.

Round cheese scones

I quickly discovered that a walk to our local boulangerie was pretty precarious; with the streets un-gritted and discovering my boots were needing new soles with proper grips, it was preferable to stay in slippers.

So, rather than slip about like some mad woman in the search of a good French baguette, I turned to my roots and made a few batches of my favourite recipe for cheese scones with spring onion & rosemary – even cheating (why does the snow make me lazy?)! I made just one big ball, flattened it slightly and gently criss-crossed it with a knife before putting it in the oven.  It didn’t look perfect but the result was fabulous!

cheesy red onion pepper cornbread

Cheesy Red Onion Pepper Cornbread

After trying a delicious Cheesy Jalapeno Soda Bread from Camilla at FabFood4All (I love how she uses beer instead of buttermilk), and with cornmeal about to reach its sell-by-date in the pantry, I was inspired to turn to a more savoury version of cornbread, adding cheese, onions and red peppers.

For traditional American cornbread lovers, please don’t be offended that I have omitted any sugar or honey from the recipe.  After experimenting and playing around with various versions, the girls have given the thumbs up to this final savoury version – it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s healthy, delicious – and colourful too. Moreover, as I don’t have a traditional skillet to cook it in, I just used a cake pan and it slipped out so easily.

cheesy red onion pepper cornbread

The additions of salt (or fleur de sel) and fresh rosemary or thyme (I saved from the garden!) when serving, just add that extra delicious touch. For the cheese, you could use a good, mature cheddar or French Comté – but here I grated in matured Mimoulette cheese, which has much less fat and just as sharp on the taste.

If you love things a little spicy, then sprinkle on some smoked paprika to the vegetables before baking.

5 from 3 votes
Cheesy red onion pepper cornbread
Cheesy Red Onion Pepper Cornbread
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
50 mins
 
If you love Cheese Scones, then you'll love this Cheesy Red Onion Pepper Cornbread. Like Scones and Irish Soda Bread, Cornbread is a fast bread that's quick and easy to make since it doesn't rely on yeast to rise over time.  So it's handy to have up your woolly sleeve when you're snowed in, or just generally feeling like a nourishing, homemade snack or supper at little notice.
Course: Breakfast, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: American, British
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 262 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 150 g (5.5oz) cornmeal
  • 100 g (3.5oz) plain flour all-purpose
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp salt fleur de sel
  • 1 tbsp rosemary or thyme finely chopped
  • 100 g (3.5oz) comté, mimoulette or cheddar cheese grated
  • 1 egg organic
  • 340 ml (12oz) buttermilk* (or milk with 2 tbsp lemon juice) SEE NOTES
Topping
  • 1 red onion finely sliced
  • 1 red pepper roughly chopped
  • 1 cob fresh corn kernels (or small tin sweetcorn)
  • 1 tsp salt (fleur de sel) for sprinkling before serving
  • 2 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika optional
Instructions
  1. Prepare the topping: fry the red onion and pepper in one tablespoon of the olive oil for about 10 minutes over a medium heat until translucent (not browned). Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas 6.

  2. Prepare the batter: in a large mixing bowl sift in the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, grated cheese and rosemary.  Using a large spoon, mix in the egg and buttermilk until smooth.

  3. Oil a 24cm cake tin with the other tablespoon of olive oil and pour in the batter.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

  4. Remove from the oven, top with the onion and pepper mix, sweetcorn and (if using) the smoked paprika and return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes.

  5. Leave to cool slightly in the tin then remove and enjoy while still warm.

Recipe Notes

* If you don't have buttermilk, use full fat normal milk, add 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice and leave to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes then use as buttermilk.

Nutritional Information: Per 170g serving (serves 6): 262 Calories, 11g protein, 8g lipids, 37g glucides.

Delicious served with sweetcorn and red pepper soup.

 

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

 

Cheesy red onion pepper cornbread

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Gingerbread Apple Caramel Trifles

A must try! Autumnal trifles with a hint of spice – delicious with salted caramel macarons from Teatime in Paris.

Fig & Almond Pudding

A simple, elegant figgy pudding with the added French touch of mini raspberry macarons