Sunday, 20 June 2010

Trouville: The Benedictine Enigma and the Suze Discovery

'An admirably retroprogressive holiday destination,' said Gaw when I told him I was spending the week just past in the Norman seaside resort of Trouville. He's right of course - it's a splendidly, unashamedly old-fashioned bourgeois resort, the kind of place where you wouldn't be surprised to bump into Monsieur Hulot strolling along the front. We were staying at the Hotel Flaubert, a splendidly, unashamedly old-f'd b hotel, whose sign (by one Paul Savignac, who seems to have a monopoly on graphic art in Trouville) portrays the great man slumbering soundly in the wings of a giant seagull - one that, like most French portrayals of les mouettes, bears little resemblance to a seagull. Flaubert's connection with Trouville dates back to a seaside holiday when he was 15 (and developed a hopeless crush on a beautiful married woman) and a return visit some 17 years later. Nevertheless the inscription under his heroic white statue on the quai assures the reader that 'ses emotions sentimentales et esthetiques les plus vives furent trouvillaises'. Of course they were... The Hotel Flaubert also boasts a Bar Bovary, decorated in a cushiony boudoirish style that might well have pleased Emma - but with the curious addition of a large-screen TV, set permanently to On (and Inane). Here, as elsewhere in town, it proved impossible to buy Benedictine (and it wasn't even on the shelves of Monoprix). The great Norman liqueur may be available in the unlikeliest places around the world (I once found a handsome special-edition bottle in the scruffy minimart attached to a god-forsaken holiday apartment village somewhere in Menorca), but in its native land a request for a Benedictine is greeted either with a firm, affronted 'Non!' or a look of bewilderment, as if the name rang a faint bell, followed by an offer to inquire behind the scenes, followed by an equally conclusive 'Non'. Never mind - on this trip I finally sampled an aperitif I've been vaguely meaning to try for years: Suze. It's bitter stuff, tasting rather like the bits between the seeds in a pomegranate but in fact flavoured with the root of the yellow gentian. I love it! Happy days!

8 comments:

  1. Rather wonderful place, in its own way, as is its sister Deauville. You can still sense the glamour of the place fifty years ago.

    I discovered Suze a few years ago on the Riviera, where I was taught to drink it with a splash of cassis and an ice-cold bottle of Perrier. I also love it. Never managed to find it for sale outside France.

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  2. I've been reading Cobb recently and, as chance would have it, yesterday finished his essay 'Normandy'. Here are a couple of enjoyable extracts.

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  3. Ah, a fellow Benedictine fan. It's hard enough finding it in this country, but, if you want to be guaranteed of a glass, the Burnley Miner's Club is the place: it is the world's biggest single consumer of the stuff. Apparently the local 'Pals' regiment got a taste for the stuff, whilst on R&R during WWI.

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  4. Fantastic fact, Recusant. A bit of living history.

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  5. Could you help me out here, Nige, or someone, I have but a French GCSE.

    "His strongest sentimental emotions and aesthetics were.. Trouvillian? in Trouville? for the Trouvillians?

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  6. Trouvillian I think, Brit - unless it means the speciality biscuits (which are rather nice). Gaw, that is indeed an amazing fact - and yes, Cobb is so good (at least for a Francophile) on all those eloquent little details that make France so different, so... French. Another world, and yet at no great distance - thank heavens for La Manche.

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  7. Recusant that is, not Gaw. Most of me's still in France...

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