“My velvet escape travel tip” is a guest series about what the name ‘Velvet Escape’ evokes and what that would be in the hometown of the guest writer. With this series, I hope to uncover travel tips from places around the world to help visitors have a truly local experience.
Polished pews at the back of the church … a velvety and voluptuous, sensuous and silky secret … a devilish delight with eyes closed and head tilted back in delectation … a wicked pleasure of self-indulgence … that is my velvet moment as a dark chocolate, orange and nougat confection melts gently on my tongue and trickles slowly down my throat. Naughty but oh, so nice!
Not all chocolates are created equal: those of the artisan chocolate makers of Normandy are among the world’s finest, and here in Alençon we are blessed with two of the best – Jacky Pedro and Chocolat Glatigny, haute couture creators of some of the finest, hand-made chocolates. So where better to enjoy one of Jacky Pedro’s special “Pierres de Notre Dame”, a chunk of chocolate heaven inspired by the Church of Our Lady, than in the peace and quiet of that very church, just across the market square from Jacky’s doors.
Chocolate making has been a speciality in Alençon, a market town in Lower Normandy, for over a hundred years – Jacky’s premises have been the site of a “chocolaterie” since 1895. The adjacent Chocolat Glatigny shop has a more recent history, established in 1975 in a medieval timber-framed building opposite the entrance to the church. Glatigny specialities include « Les Sieurs d’Alençon » or « Squires of Alençon » made from hazelnut paste flavoured with calvados, coated with dark chocolate and rolled in icing sugar, and « Le Point d’Alençon » a caramel ganache flavoured with green apple compote, coated in milk or dark chocolate and finely decorated with a lacework of white chocolate.
Not velvet but a type of lace, « Point d’Alençon » is a type of lace for which the town was once famous; nowadays the tradition is preserved in the workshops of Alençon’s Beaux Arts Museum, but not on a commercial scale. Alençon lace is recognised as the finest in the world – a piece just one inch square will have taken over 80 hours to make and will sell for about 500 euro. Those with deep pockets can buy a sample from the museum shop, while the rest of us can just admire the exhibition of lacework and the dexterity of the lace makers!
I think that the main portal and towering Gothic façade of the Notre Dame Church, decorated with statues and a fretwork of finely carved stonework, deserves comparison with this famous Alençon lace and I hope that one day you, too, can sample the velvet delights of this lovely town in Lower Normandy, a little off the usual tourist track but well worth a visit.
About this week’s guest writer
Phil Graham and his wife Judith are owners of La Basse Cour a picturesque farmhouse offering bed and breakfast with a reputation for quality and service on the borders of Lower Normandy and the Pays de la Loire. Phil chats about news from this part of France on Twitter and has a blog dedicated to tourism in western France.
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