Guest writer Pippa Cleeve on the joys of shopping with a motorhome in Normandy
There are many reasons to buy a motorhome, but one is for the richness of shopping opportunities it affords. You only need to hop across the Channel and sample the many treats available to buy at a French market to be convinced that your campervan was a wise purchase.
Recently, the family Cleeve was in the little town of Condé-sur-Noireau in Normandy on market day. We feared that any large car park available to motorhomes would have been swallowed up by the market itself, but we discovered that – being France – they are eager to provide us with not only lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, but also a convenient space for the ’van. Having parked, we set off on a preliminary tour.
Succulent peaches in orange-red heaps sit cheek by jowl with abundant piles of nectarines, several varieties of purple and green plums, apricots, cherries and scarlet strawberries; beyond them are fennel, French beans, multicoloured onions, strings of garlic and salsify.
We wander past the dead-eyed catfish lying on their bed of ice, with oysters and mussels offering a monochromatic contrast to the coral-pink shrimps and salmon. We try the different varieties of olives and choose some marinated in herbs, garlic and ginger, which are delicious.
To the children’s disgust we also stop by a cheese stall, which has a rich smell and offers cheeses not just of different varieties but different ages. We leave carrying an aromatic bag that we threaten to store in the motorhome fridge – just opposite the bed in the kitchen – and there are cries of protest. They remember travelling around Europe before when looking in the fridge meant a smell escaped that was too awful to contemplate.
There are stalls selling clothes, secondhand books, sweets and soap, knives and padlocks, and everywhere you can hear the calls of the stallholders bidding for business. Some of them allow you to practise your French while others have their trade description well-rehearsed in English, and I am lured into buying donkey milk soap; well, if bathing in asses’ milk worked for Cleopatra, then surely I could benefit, too. We leave with a penknife, a belt, an Asterix book, sweet-smelling soap, powerfully smelling cheese and lots of luscious fruit and (perhaps less-luscious) vegetables.
But of course, it isn’t just the markets that are enjoyable. Even the supermarkets yield interesting and different varieties and types of food and we go straight from the market to the nearest E. Leclerc to do our customary end-of-holiday stock-up. Each time we shop in a French supermarket, our elder son invests his time in trying to find exactly the same variety of crisps that tasted so good the previous summer. The range of sirops far outstrip the varieties of fruit squash to be found in Tesco, the cuts of meat and shapes of sausages are appealingly unfamiliar, and the delicatessen offers delicacies we don’t recognise.
Undoubtedly much of this is available in speciality shops in England, but it is harder to find and certainly more expensive to buy; here it is just normal supermarket fare and we start to fill the trolley with increasing enthusiasm. Our younger daughter produces a pair of pale pink jeans and tries to convince us that she knows they will fit her as the folded waist will fit around her neck. Our eldest daughter and I can also fit the waist around our necks, without having the remotest hope of wearing the trousers any other way, and even our eldest son ‘tries’ them on, but it seems there are limits to the waistband which resolutely refuses to stretch that far.
Finally, when our trolley and our wallets will stretch no further, we load everything up into the ’van, ready to unpack some for our final French supper and the rest at home.
Oh yes, and motorhomes are also good for getting out and seeing the world. I forgot to mention that.
This article was written by Pippa Cleeve and originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of MMM (Motorcaravan Motorhome Monthly), the motorhomers’ magazine. To buy the current issue or to subscribe, visit pocketmags.com/mmm
For more on Normandy food and drink, visit the Normandy Tourism website
Text © MMM/Pippa Cleeve | Photos © Normandy Tourism