Road trip in Normandy

Normandy is located in the North West of France with the most wonderful coastline steeped in a long history. From the White Cliffs at Etretat to the Ancient Abbey of Mont Saint Michel, Normandy offers beautiful views from every corner. 

For tips on having a Road Trip in France from car rental to road rules and to where to eat, please have a look at my blog about my experience.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme

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It may be a 30 minute drive from the Border of Normandy but we started off our Normandy Trip in St-Valery-sur-Somme. We started there as we had spend the last few days hopping along the Somme River; we wanted to see where the Somme meets the Ocean. It is a incredibly beautiful Village nested along the waters edge and on top of a hill. It is a sweet little fishing village where the homes are covered in Fishing Nets, Shells and Buoys as well as being covered in lush flowers. As you walk along the River bed and up into the old town of St Valery you are able to see how old this little village is with wonderful architecture that you will discover is dotted throughout Normandy. 

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You can see why this town was an important post throughout its history, it looks over the area and could see who was trying to invade France. William the Conqueror assembled his fleet here before he set off to England for the famous Battle of Hastings, as well as Joan of Arc being captive by the English in this Village. We couldn't get enough of this little village, I look forward to driving from England across the borders to spend a weekend here one day. It is the perfect quaint village life.

Parking is found at the top of the Village at Parking des Corderies or down by the river and the hub of the town at Parking de la Place des Pilotes.

Etretat

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Etretat is famous for its White Cliffs that flow into the ocean. It is a beautiful part of the world that shows off Mother Nature at it’s best angle. Etretat has 3 arches known as the needles with Falaise d’Aval and Falaise d’Amont being the famous views, so famous that even Monet painted them. You are able to enjoy them by taking a long walk along the beach (be careful it is steep and a rocky beach), or walking up along the cliff edge at either side of the beach to get stunning views from the top of the needles.

The village of Etretat is a gem too, it has parts that are like the Seaside that you see in a Old Fashioned Movie as well as finding some beautiful buildings with great places to eat and drink. It is great just to have a stroll and enjoy what Etretat has to offer.

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There are many places to park the car along the sea front including a little car park. If you have no luck parking there, try parking at Parking Place Maurice Guillard which is located more in the town centre.

Pont du Normandie

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The Pont du Normandie is quite a sight to see, it is the bridge that connects Normandy together from Le Havre and Honfleur; it is unlike any bridge you will ever see. It is worth crossing it just to experience it, as it is extremely steep along with the cable hills that make it the shape that it is.

It is the main way to cross the mouth of the Seine River costing 5.40€ for a car.

Honfleur

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Honfleur is a picturesque harbour village dating back to 1027, you are able to see why it was an important port on the way to and from Paris with its rich lands, strategic position and a place for adventures to begin. Today it is a place to enjoy a leisurely stroll around the Old Harbour, enjoying one of the many delicious cafes and seeing all the wonderfully old architecture.

Highlights to see are the Vieux Bassin (Old Harbour) with all the slate-fronted homes, the wooden church of St-Catherine built in the 15th Century or if you are a fan of the impressionism period there is the Musee Eugene Boudin that has many of his artworks at the museum including some artworks of the great painters he taught such as Monet.

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Parking in Honfleur can be confusing as there are many different places to park but the best place to park the car is at Parking Quai de la Tour which is located right next to the Old Harbour.

Caen

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Caen is a extremely important town in Normandy, not only is it the Captial and largest city in Normandy it is full of history dating all the way back to 1060 when William the Conqueror fortified the town.

When William the Conqueror married Mathilda they where close to excommunication until Pope Nicholas II only agreed to the marriage if they built an abbey each in Caen. William the Conqueror build the Abbaye aux Hommes (which is only seen with a tour from the Hotel de Ville next door) and Mathilda building the Abbaye aux Dames on the other side of Caen (only being seen via a tour).

Along with the Abbey’s, William built the Castle in the middle of Caen, nothing remains from his fortress but you are able to see the many different layers that have been included since the 11th Century. It is free to walk around the Castle and see the views over this town, but if you want to see more there are 2 Museums inside the Ramparts; Musee des Beaux-Arts and the Musee de Normandie.

Fast Forward to when the modern city began in 1850 with the building of a Canal to the sea which made Caen a inland marina which is why you can see it was so important in World War 2 to recapture to have control over this hub. The Battle of Caen lasted for 2 months, the Canadians were the first to arrive but the enemy still had a hold on the southern bank of the river. To really understand the impact during the War it is best to visit The Caen Memorial, it is one of the best Museums in Normandy about the D-Day Landings and the impact the war had in Normandy.

Parking in Caen is plentiful; they are dotted all over the city from Car Parks to Parking on the street, it is best to follow signs once in town as they will show how many car spots are left in that car parks but the Car Parks located in the heart of Caen are; Parking Indigo at the Castle, Parking Courtonne or Parking Indigo at the Hotel de Ville.

D-Day Coastline Landings

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The Coastline from Ouistreham to Quineville is important as it is the moment that changed the outcome of World War 2, it is known as the D-Day Landings as it is where the Allied Forces such as the British, Canadians and Americans landed to push the Nazi Army out of France.

The beaches include

  • Sword Beach: The British landed here, with many famous images of the British landing with bicycles. Nothing much is left there from what is it was during the War but it is worth going to Pegasus Bridge as this was an important place to seize to advance into France. There is now a new bridge in place but you can see the original at the Memorial along with a museum holding memories from D-Day.

  • Juno Beach: Juno Beach is a starting point where you can begin to see what is left of the D-Day Landings. Starting from Luc-sur-Mer all the way to Arromanches. There are many memorial dedicated to the Troops that came ashore (mostly Canadians), Centre Juno Beach commemorating the Canadians effort and a highlight for me was Le Croix de Lorraine which is the Resistance Cross where Winston Churchill, King George and Charles de Gaulle arrived to see the troops during the D-Day Landings. This little area from the Centre to the Cross has an pathway with a German Bunker that gives an idea what it would have been like for the troops on either side.

  • Gold Beach: Further along the coast is Arromanches which is the main sight for Gold Beach. A top the hill just before Arromanches village is the cinema Arromanches 360 which shows footage of landings, but to me what was most impressive about this sight was the views looking down onto Mulberry Harbour. Mulberry Harbour was the artificial harbour that was brought over from Britain via boats which allowed the war ships, vehicles and men to disembark .

  • Omaha Beach: Omaha Beach is where the American Troops arrived, they faced high cliffs making the climb against the enemy hard. You are able to see the difficulties along the coast with the large amount of German Bunkers that are left over. The 2 best to visit are located at Longues-sur-Mer which have several preserved German Gun Bunkers that are free to wander. The second is at Pointe du Hoc with a German Bunker as well as the land being intact since World War 2 where you are able to get a idea of what was faced.

  • Utah Beach: The D-Day Landings end at Utah Beach where the American Troops. Not much is left along the Coast apart from the Ships that were sunk to create breakwaters for the troops which are only seen at low tide.

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A highlight along this coastline is seeing the actually coast, not only is it beautiful but you get a huge understanding on why it was the chosen place for the landings due to it huge beaches, it was gobsmacking to see. If you are lucky you could see some of the locals racing their sailing race cars along the ocean front.

When visiting the D-Day Landings it is easy to follow through the Brown Street Signs (débarquement) that point the direction of each sight to see along the coastline. To get a move detailed experience see my blog.

Bayeux

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Bayeux is a beautiful town in Normandy with a long history, it is picture perfect with sweet little cafes and unique shops along the streets, the river that runs through the centre of the town, but what makes Bayeux famous (not only as the first French town to be liberated in 1944) is that Bayeux is famous for the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the journey of William the Conqueror heading off to England for the Battle of Hastings, from his relationship with his English Family, the insult which caused him to head to England and the Battle its self. But it is not a Tapestry it is actually an Embroidery piece that is in 58 Panels. It is absolutely stunning and a bucket list for any history fan to see in their lifetime. The vivid colours, the depiction of Costume and the hand work that has gone into the piece of work. Along with the visit you get a audio guide that explains each panel and the small details in that story.

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Make sure when in Bayeux you head over to the Cathedral, which is the orignial home of the Bayeux Tapestry where it was shown once a year to the locals. Now it is a stunning Gothic Cathedral that is one of the best in Normandy.

Parking Bayeux is plentiful either inside the town or just on the outskirts. Parking at Parking Bayeux next to the Bus Parking was perfect for us as we got to stroll around the town, but you can park closer at one of the car parks in town.

Granville

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Granville was an important stop for me on our trip to Normandy as it was the birth place of Christain Dior, but it also an important part of Normandy as it was the last citadel before Mont-St-Michel that funny enough was built by the English to attack Mont-St-Michel which never happened. You are able to stand at the top of the citadel and see they wonderful horizon along with the Marina below. The town itself is a lovely seaside town with rocky beaches and cafes to enjoy.

The Musee Dior was a lovely visit to have, you are able to walk around these rose gardens with wonderful views of the coast all the way to Guernsey and Jersey, but if you are a fan of Dior you can pay to visit his Pink Home that has new exhibits on 20th Century Fashion and Dior.

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A unique little gem we discovered in Granville which I have to say is a must is the Roc des Harmonies. It is the most unique, bizarre experience; it includes a Insect & Butterfly Room, an Aquarium, A Gemstone Palace and the highlight is the Shell Grotto, which are rooms covered in Shells that have been made into artworks by a local woman who use to collect shells along the shore. It is probably one of my highlights in Normandy. You can see more details of this experience via my blog.

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Granville is a large town, so you need a car to travel across. There is free Parking down the street outside the Musee Dior. Many car parks in the little town centre or along the road. Then multiple car parks at the top of the citadel and next to the Roc des Harmonies, so no matter where you go in Granville you will get a spot.

Mont Saint Michel

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Mont Saint Michel is an icon in the distance as you approach it. Mont Saint Michel is located on the island that is on the frontier of Brittany and Normandy. The Abbey was built over a 1000 years ago. It is something out of a movie, the island has always been connected to the mainland via a causeway, now the causeway is man made that allows the tidal waters to sweep below.

The Abbey was first built in the 8th Century when an Archangel appeared to the Archbishop of Avranches who told him to build the monastery on the island. You can see parts of the original Abbey at the very top of the Mountain Island as the layers of history where build as it when down the island, giving you a real sense of the time that has passed.

You begin at the beach where you can walk around the whole mount, or ride a horse across the tides, as you walk into the bottom streets that have never besieged through time. You can enjoy one of the many cafes that have delicious local food and views or shops that sell local food and goods. It is a must to walk all the way to the top to visit the Abbey and discover all the hidden rooms that these monks once lived and worked in. It is one of the greatest places I have visited in my life. I can not wait to go back.

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Nowadays you must park away from the Island in a car park that is 2kms away, but there is a free shuttle bus that will take you to the base of the Island. It is a great, easy system that blew my mothers mind as she kept comparing it to when she visited in the 1980s.

For more information about visiting Mont Saint Michel head over to the blog about our wonderful day there.

Rouen

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Rouen is an ancient and historic city that has had moments from the Romans, to the Vikings, right through to the medieval city that the English captured in 1419 to where the trial & execution of Joan of Arc took place then to its hardships that took place after the D-Day Landings.

The City is full of beautiful architecture as you wander the narrow lanes with crooked homes that you feel you are in another world. Highlights in Rouen are to see the wonderful Cathedrale Notre Dame with its stunning Gothic Architecture, even better during summer there is a light show on the exterior of the Cathedrale. In the height of summer the show is at 11pm then moving to 9.30pm towards the end of summer. See website for official times.

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Visit Gros Horloge to see the beautiful Medieval Clock Archway. Place du Vieux Marche that is surrounded with beautiful cafes and is the sight where Joan of Arc lost her life. Head over to Eglise St-Maclou that is a beautiful Gothic Church but has the best restaurants in town as it is more of a local spot.

Rouen is just a wonderful city to stroll around in and get lost in the lane ways.

Parking in Rouen is dotted all over the Old Town and the modern town. There are places like Parking Centre Ville Rouen or Parking at the Palais de Justice but we found parking at the Hotel de Ville to be the best.

Les Andelys

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Les Andelys is wonderful view of the Seine River and the landscape surrounding it, you can see why Richard the Lionheart build the Chateau Gaillard (in a year between 1196-1197). It was quite a scandal when it was built, a truce made forbade the construction of a Castle at that point but Richard did so anyway, which allowed him to control access to Rouen and traffic along the Seine; this way he had control over River and Road.

Today you are able to see the ruins of the Castle by parking at the top of the hill and walking down to the Castle to visit. If you are not in the mood to visit the castle the view is unbelievably beautiful.

Giverny

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Giverny has been made famous from the wonderful paintings done by Monet. Monet first spotted Giverny on a train trip along the Seine. The village is a lovely stroll to be had with cute little cafes and galleries but the highlight is to visit Monet’s Garden. Every part of the garden is stunning in any light and any season, from the Waterlily Gardens to the rows of Flowers right through to Monet’s Pink House with his wonderful studio. It is a place I could easily spend all day in.

It is best to prebook your ticket before your visit which will allow you to skip the line. Parking for Giverny can be found across the main road which is free. If that is full up there, there is also another car park just on the edge of the village. For more information on seeing Monet’s Garden have a look at my blog.

Normandy is an incredible place to discover in France, we tried to see as much as possible and experience the diversity of Mother Nature, along with the variety of history that Normandy has. I think this was the perfect 60th Birthday Present to my Mother.

I would give the trip around 1 week to discover as much as you can about beautiful Normandy.