Today began with mist on the river, and ended with reflections and fireworks. It was a beautiful day which made the places we saw on our Taste of Normandy excursion from the Tapestry 2 look just glorious - though even in yesterday's rain, Bayeux and especially Beuvron-en-Auge could never look less than utterly gorgeous. Most of the passengers went on landing beach tours today, but having been there several times, I chose this option, which began slightly dismayingly with a motorway services area as the first stop, but then improved immeasurably.
Bayeux isn't new territory for me either, but the Tapestry is so well presented, and such a marvel in itself that it's hardly a burden to see it again. The audio guide is very good, and points out details easy to miss - I especially liked the lurking spies and the laughing horses. The town is small and super-pretty, with a river running through it and water mills along the banks, the whole place so neat and well-tended, and bright with flowers. You can also buy bits of shrapnel there, if you're so minded, or polished bullet cases from whichever army you fancy.
The taste part began properly at Beuvron, which is quite outrageously pretty. It's tucked away in the countryside, surrounded by green fields of cows, orchards, stud farms and rolling hills, and the village is a collection of half-timbered houses in so many variations of colours, materials, diagonals and cross-hatching that it should be over the top, visually - but it's not. Even though it's clearly cultivated for the tourist trade - you've never seen so many hanging baskets and flower boxes - it is just gorgeous.
Here we were the guests of Madame, a plump lady who knows her stuff in the kitchen, and served us in her summerhouse home-made pâté that was the best I've perhaps ever had, saussison and excellent bread (not the given you'd expect, in France). Then the main course was vegetable quiche, the edges crisp and yummy, and we drank cider with it. Next came Camembert, Pont l'Éveque and Livarot cheeses, each one at the point of perfection; and finally a 6-hour rice pudding, teurgoule, sweet, brown and glutinous. I think it's the best meal I've had so far.
Further into the countryside we visited Calvados Pierre Huet and had a tour of the distillery, learning about the production of cider, pommeau and Calvados. Of course there was a tasting, sitting in a room warmed underfloor by the waste hot water from the process, with the stills gurgling behind us: the cider was too sweet for me, the Calvados too strong, but the pommeau was just right. So was the apple tart that came with it, though we hardly needed it.
Back at the boat, over the soaring Brotonne Bridge, Caudebec had come to life, and its fine cathedral was open to enjoy the stained glass and the playing of the organ. Olivier served us his best meal yet, with white asparagus, and tender lamb that, of course, came from New Zealand; and then we enjoyed the music of Bruno and Fabrice. The French cabaret songs were more clichés, but perfect for the moment, a lot of fun, and were thoroughly enjoyed by the elderly dancers who circled the floor as
Rouen's spotlit silos and metal-recycling plants passed outside the windows.