It’s November on the Normandy coast, and the air is thick with the delicious smoky smell of fresh, grilled fish. It can only be the annual herring and scallop festival in Dieppe. Every year, visitors flock in their thousands to this bustling port town on the Alabaster Coast (as this scenic part of Normandy is known), to sample harengs (herrings) and coquilles Saint-Jacques (scallops), two of its flagship products.
As I walk around Dieppe harbour, admiring how the colourful houses lining the marina are reflected in the water, crowds of people gather enthusiastically around barbecues, waiting for their portions of fish straight off the grill. The harengs are refreshingly unfussy, cost only a few euros, and are served in paper cones so you just eat them with your fingers. I stroll past the many stalls set up along the quay, munching on my hareng and browsing anything from textiles to earthenware and delectably fresh seafood caught that morning. Locals call out to me, encouraging me to sample their wares. If you insist, I respond, as my feet carry me to one stall after another. After all, I don’t want to be rude!
My belly suitably full, I pass the great many restaurants on the Quai Henri IV and all of a sudden find myself transported back in time in a burrow of narrow streets known as Le Pollet, the old fishing quarter. This part of Dieppe really feels like a village within a town and as I stop off at a souvenir shop to buy a mandatory postcard and chat with the locals, the friendly shop owner tells me that residents of this quarter even call themselves les citoyens du Pollet (the citizens of Le Pollet). It’s an interesting reminder of a former age in which Dieppe was the main port connecting the Duchy of Normandy with England, and an important hub for trade. Even now, it is clear to see that fishing still plays a huge part in the economy of the town.
Turning up another windy street and I’m back out onto the marina, and met by the fresh salty air and excited hum of voices. It’s hard not to be caught up in the maritime atmosphere of this festival, and I just about stop myself from joining the children nearby in a jig as a band kicks off into a merry sea shanty. The town is buzzing and it’s not hard to see why this festival attracts people from all over Normandy and beyond. With its promise of tasty grub, festive atmosphere and picture postcard setting, Dieppe offers a fun, foodie, French alternative to a November weekend at home!
Dieppe’s herring and scallop festival takes place on the weekend of 13-14 November this year, so if you’re free and feeling adventurous, why not hop on a four-hour DFDS ferry from Newhaven for as little as £90 and head over to enjoy the festivities!
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © J. Decaux / Normandy Tourism | Text: F. Lambert