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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.

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Notre Dame church, Alençon

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.

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Chocolat Glatigny

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.

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Alençon

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
phil80 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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