There’s something quite magical about the seaside town of Granville, with its bustling port, dramatic coastline and medieval Upper Town set high upon the hill. Stepping through the historic gate, into what was once a smuggler’s haunt and strategic Norman defence (against the pesky English), is like stepping back in time.
During the summer months, Granville is busy with holidaymakers enjoying the sandy beach, casino and beautiful gardens surrounding the Christian Dior Museum, which sits on top of the cliffs to the north of the town. By autumn, however, Granville is left to the locals, which only adds to its appeal.
With this in mind, I chose to visit Granville one October day for an afternoon wander. On my way from the Upper Town, I spotted Monsieur Chamberm standing on a street corner, selling small grey shrimps out of a basket that he’d propped up in front of him. Somewhat of a living legend, Monsieur Chamberm and his family have been selling shrimps on this same street corner for as long as Granville locals can remember.
I stopped to chat and Monsieur Chamberm told me that he is the third generation of his family to sell these shrimps to locals – he’s been carrying on the family tradition since 1968. He showed me an excellent black and white photo of him standing on that very spot as a young boy – clearly very proud of the heritage of his family business.
The season for low-tide fishing on foot is between the spring and autumn. During this time, Monsieur Chamberm gets up at 3am each day and makes his way down to the shore – it might take him 45 minutes to reach sea that comes up to his waist. He wades through the water, tapping the seafloor in front of him with a stick, dragging a net behind, and collects the shrimp along the way. On a good day, he can leave with several kilos of shrimp, on a bad day, with none. With his fresh catch he then makes his way to this street corner and sets up shop. The shrimp must be sold fresh and alive, and Monsieur Chamberm explains that you should cook them with a little salt water. His preferred way to eat them is with a salad or simply with bread and butter.
Leaving Monsieur Chamberm, I headed to Granville’s bustling shopping street that would delight any foodie, where Maître Chocolatier Yver shows off rows of mouth-watering cakes and the local specialty – chocolate covered pieces of caramelised puffed wheat and grilled almonds known as Rocs de Granville.
Next I popped into the fishmongers and saw piles of whelks (another local delicacy) and scallops caught just off the Bay of Granville, succulent oysters from nearby Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, juicy pink prawns from the Chausey Islands a few miles west of Granville, and many other varieties of fish and seafood, all with the label ‘fished in the north-east Atlantic.’ This tells you something of the importance of the local fishing industry in Granville, which incidentally is the number one shellfish port in France!
In fact, so interwoven into the past and present of Granville is its maritime heritage, that even the town’s largest annual event, the Granville Carnival, has its roots in the sea. This popular carnival, the biggest in western France, was established centuries ago to mark the departure of a fishing fleet to Newfoundland in search of cod. As this trade route became increasingly important, by the twentieth century Granville was one of the most important fishing ports in France. Today, the carnival takes place every February and attracts more than 100,000 visitors, who all flock to Granville for a weekend of parades, fancy dress and celebrations. That’s a great reason if any for me to come back here soon!
For information on Normandy food and drink, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Text and all photos © Normandy Tourism