A winter weekend while I was living in Paris, I decided to get some fresh sea air, leave the city for a few days and head out to the Normandy coast. I visited the Cathedral in Rouen first before deciding to check out Dieppe on the English Channel. The closest beach to Paris, Dieppe is a small fishing village with a rich history that is especially bustling with Parisian weekenders during the summer, but is lively year-round. This town of about 35,000 has long been an important port in France. It was the main port city linking Normandy with the English kingdom and was also the site of a failed landing operation by Canadian forces during WWII.
It was a particularly cold, windy and damp February day when I arrived in Dieppe and accidentally stumbled upon the annual Festival des Harengs (Herring Festival). Grills lined the streets of the quaint village, cooking up fresh, succulent herrings and spewing smoke into the cold winter air. Men in goggles and chef’s hats, dutifully flipped away at these giant grills, braving the cold to serve up the fresh little fishies to customers. A couple of euros would buy you more of the little herrings than you could eat in one sitting, and there was a lively bustling on the streets despite the frigid Normandy temperature. The harengs (herrings) were served up in paper cones and you ate them with your fingers, sucking the fresh, salty, smoked fish meat off their tiny frames. There were also vendors out selling other wares and textiles, and I strolled the booths, eating my cone of herring and browsing the textiles and other goods for sale.
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I went to a local cafe near the harbor to warm up with a cappuccino and watched the bustling streets outside. The herring festival had brought more visitor’s to the town than usual at that time of year and the fishing town was alive with activity–all in honor of a tiny little fish. The day was one to remember and I highly suggest anyone who finds themselves near Normandy this winter should head on over to Dieppe for a day in celebration of the herring.