Rouen, is not exactly the first French town that springs to most tourists’ minds. It may not even be third or fourth or tenth. You could say it’s already off the beaten path. But writing about Le Gros Horloge last week got me feeling a little nostalgic, going through some old pictures, so I’m inclined to write about a few of my favorite spots that are “off-off” the beaten path in Rouen, France.
Notre Dame de Bonsecours
In la ville aux cent clochers (the city of one hundred steeples) one of the most impressive churches is actually outside the city limits in the suburban town of Bonsecours. A lone tower on the east hill above Rouen, Notre Dame de Bonsecours is like a mysterious beacon off in the distance. The church itself is certainly worth exploring. It’s a well-known spot for pilgrimages, and the statue of the Virgin Mary inside is known for being “miraculous.”
But the crown jewel of Bonsecours is actually a massive monument in front of the church, dedicated to Joan of Arc. Perched right on the edge of the hill, this huge statue is covered by a large stone cupola and a crowning bronze sculpture of Saint Michael slaying the dragon. Around the central monument is a granite plaza and a half-dozen stone lambs (the symbol of Rouen) looking out over a spectacular view of the entire city.
Le Trianon Transatlantique
Rouen is split in half by the river Seine, and basically everything a tourist would want to see and do is located rive droite (on the right side of the river). This is probably why, in general, the people who live on that side of the river have a really snobby attitude toward anything and anyone located rive gauche (on the left). Personally, I think it’s because they’re jealous that most of the city’s best music venues are on the left side. My favorite is the Trianon Transatlantique. From the outside, particularly in daylight, the Trianon is an eyesore – a concrete bunker with bars over the windows. But at night, the club’s logo lights up the block in a wash of pink and turquoise neon. Inside, it holds fewer than 500 people, but it actually attracts big name French artists once in a while. Last year Ben l’Oncle Soul and Zaz play two sold out shows.
Rue Eau de Robec
There are plenty of pedestrian only streets in central Rouen that are teeming with tourists, but just a little further north – running between the Abbey Saint Ouen and Saint Vivien church – you’ll find this charming hidden walkway where the locals hang out.
Just one-sixth of a mile long, rue Eau de Robec is packed with restaurants and shops. There’s a small stream that runs in a channel dug into the sidewalk. The more it rains, the more it flows – and it rains a lot in Rouen!
At the center of the street you’ll also find a large court for playing pétanque, the old French lawn game. But this ain’t your grandfather’s pétanque court. It belongs to a popular bar next door!
If you’re looking for Jim Morrison, you have to go to Père LaChaise in Paris, but if you just want to explore the gorgeous architecture and landscaping of a typical French cemetery, Rouen will do the trick. As its name suggests, Monumental Cemetery is filled with large, uniquely designed mausoleums and tombs. There are hundreds of statues and plenty of serene paths among the trees and gardens. Rouen’s famous sons are buried here, including Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary) and Marcel Duchamp (abstract artist).
The cemetery is still in use which means there are shiny, new tombs right next to old, crumbling ones. It’s a spooky place, especially on a typically overcast day in Rouen. Watch out for the black cats who wander aimlessly among the graves!