Les Andelys (pronounced An-de-lee) is a place that had never made itself known on my travel radar. But after spending some time here, I’m very happy to have made its acquaintance. The French commune of two parts – Grand-Andely and Petit-Andely – sits along a sweeping curve in the Seine River in a scenic part of Normandy. Popular as a weekend getaway, the area is best-known for its medieval castle on the hill, Château Gaillard.
The ms Sapphire docked at the edge of Petit-Andely, where we met our guide for a short walking tour of the town. Petit-Andely lives up to its name – it is quite small – but there’s a great sense of pride here. As we walked, our guide spoke about the town’s reputation as a vacation spot and shared stories about two of its best-known residents: Post-Impressionistic painter Henri Lebasque, who founded the annual Paris art exhibition called Salon d’Automne in 1903; and inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who in 1785 was the first person to cross the English Channel in a hot air balloon.
After our walk, we continued by bus to the ruins of Château Gaillard. The scenery changed dramatically as we drove along pretty tree-lined streets in Grand-Andely, weaving our way up a winding hillside, past farms and through a small forest. Even though Château Gaillard is in ruins, it’s a stunning sight. With views overlooking the bend in the river, it’s easy to understand why Richard the Lionheart chose this location for his fortress.
Château Gaillard was constructed between 1196 and 1198 – record time for a castle in those days. Richard the Lionheart was both King of England and Duke of Normandy and wanted a strong fortress to protect the Normans. He died a year after Château Gaillard was completed, and in 1204, Château Gaillard was captured by the King of France.
Cider & Calvados Tasting at a Normandy Farm
Back on the bus, we headed to our highly anticipated tasting stop at a nearby farm called La Ferme des Ruelles – The Farm of the Lanes. Run by Michel and Chantal Gamel, the farm produces apple cider, apple brandy known as Calvados and a variety of other products. Normandy is France’s apple-producing region and grows more than 300 varieties of cider apples.
La Ferme des Ruelles was built in the 17th century. It’s a beautiful property with an old-world feel. There are orchards, a forest garden and fields cultivated on 60 hectares – 148 acres – in sustainable agriculture. The Gamels have been here since 1992 and also are caretakers of two guest rooms and a shop that sells their products along with food items from other local farms.
We were greeted by Michel and Chantal and their French-to-English translator. After Michel’s presentation about his passion and methods for environmentally sustainable farming, we headed to the “Cave” for a cider tasting. Michel served three types of ciders – a plain cider and two Calvados brandies, which were blends of apple cider and apple brandy. One blend was considered a before-dinner “aperitif” and the other stronger version was an after-dinner “digestion” drink.
By mid-afternoon, we were back on the ms Sapphire heading to the town of Vernon, the docking spot for our nearby Giverny tour the next morning. I had hoped to check out a couple of sites here, and Herb and I walked into the old town center as soon as we arrived.
I knew about the 16th century old mill that straddles two piers on an ancient bridge along the Scene and also about the House of Past Times from the 15th century, the oldest house in town that was spared in World War II. But as so often happens, it was what I didn’t expect to find that was the highlight of our walk. As we passed the Collegiate Church Notre-Dame, we could hear music spilling out beyond the doors. Inside, an organist was practicing high above the entrance, totally engrossed in his playing, his music resounding through the medieval walls.
The town of Vernon is often overlooked by visitors passing through on their way to Giverny. But I truly believe it always pays to give a place a chance. You never know what you might happen to find on your way to somewhere else.