From seaside villages to history-filled shores, Normandy offers something for every type of traveler. Follow Always Pack Tissues through her itinerary for things to do, places to stop in, and inspiring photos that will make you want to hop a plane to Paris immediately!
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Two hours from Paris Beauvais airport at the northern outskirts of the city lies a seaside village called Honfleur.
Its harbor is packed full of bars and restaurants all spilling onto the street, whose patrons all happily linger for hours dining on drinks and moules-frites (mussels with french fries). Shops line the side and back streets of the waterfront harbor and a few streets back you can find quiet settlements of Bed and Breakfasts, charming homes, and narrow ivy-covered streets. If you are lucky, you may encounter an arts market behind the harbor alongside the Eglise Sainte Catherine Catholic Church, which in itself is worth a visit for being the largest all timbered church in France. A storybook start, Honfleur is surely a great first stop on a road trip to the North of France.
Where we stayed: Les chambres d'amis de Fred et Mand
With unmatched hospitality, this charming 2 or 3 room B&B was a lovely one night stay. We were greeted with French Rose wine and local cheeses. The owner sat and chatted with us about our journey and did so again the next morning at breakfast.
Where we ate: Brasserie de L'église, just by the church square. With charm oozing from every parapet, this was an excellent first night meal. We also had drinks and snacks earlier in the evening along the harbor walk.
The next morning we meandered Normandy's coast, stopping quite unexpectedly in the vaudevillian town of Trouville. It had the feeling a time gone by - of flappers and boardwalk fries.
Along the way we stumbled into a ciderie, which the French are quite proud of in this region, and felt the draw of Trouville so we stopped for a bite of moules-frites once more. They had a wonderful weekend market happening, so we strolled the wares and enjoyed feeling like a local for a few hours.
Where we ate: Les Vapeurs
Normandy At War
After lunch we went for a sobering visit to some of the World War II sites, including Point du Hoc and the Normandy American Cemetery. We visited the town of Arromanches les Bains and spent significant time wandering the nearby Longues-sur-Mer battery.
Arromanches les Bains had some nice cafes and easy parking by the main square, perfect to warm up with some tea or coffee before looking out over the beach at the remains of Mulberry Harbour, floating harbors built for the Allies in the D-Day landings. The beauty of the wildflowers covering every hill and green space was a symbolic and comforting sight when visiting the rain-drenched battery at Longues-sur-Mer.
If you want to do something completely wild and different, see the best sites on Normandy coast by way of a retro-side car. No joke! Saddle up in a vintage vehicle and let the tour guides show you around. Or if you've got the cash, pay a little extra to ride on the landing beach in a WWII Jeep. Sounds pretty cool to me!
Where We Stayed: Ferme de la Rançonnière et Manoir de Mathan
To complete a cold and hard day, we enjoyed fireside Kir cocktails (a Normand drink of cassis and calvados - apple brandy, and cider) in the lounge of our 13th-century farmhouse stay. The rooms were set in an 18th-century manor house while pre-fixed meals could be taken in the farmhouse.
The following morning we drove a short 20 minutes into Bayeux, a charming albeit fairly modern town worth a stroll. I was determined to find crepes for breakfast, which we did, but with a bit of trouble. Crepes I guess are not a popular dish in that area, so perhaps we should have gone elsewhere.
After bobbing into some shops and enjoying the cute architecture, we carried on to more Normand sites from the war.
If you are more into the traditional way of getting around (i.e., not retro side cars), you can also take a half day tour of Normandy's beaches with an air-conditioned round trip tour from your hotel in Bayeux. Nice and convenient.
No trip to the North of France would be complete without visiting Mont Saint-Michel at least once. Looking like Hogwarts, this medieval looking castle structure is on every traveler's bucket list.
My husband had never been, but I'd been at least a couple of times already, so we did what I call "the abridged tour". Back in the '90s and early 2000's you used to be able to park all the way up to the base of the 'Mont' - literally this area is like a mountain, you'll read why. So you could park there and start marching up the hill, with the end goal of course being the beautiful chapel at the peak.
Along the way there are numerous tourist shops and eateries, and it's all quite lovely provided that you have good walking shoes, stamina, and there aren't a bajillion tour groups there. Well, like I said you used to be able to park at the base, which is now reserved for tour buses only, but the problem is that every morning and every evening the parking lot would be flooded by the tides, so cars had to be up and out by a certain time. Imagine how many vehicles ended up in the sea!
So now you can park a ways away and walk across a long foot bridge or take a horse and carriage to the base. We chose to take the carriage in and walk the return. Every clippity clop of the horse towards the mountain base the rain started pouring in harder and harder. We took some obligatory pictures, walked about fifty feet up into the rainy, slippery, tourist filled madness, and said "ok, let's go!" and walked back down towards our car. BUT, on a nice day it's worth the hike to the top where you will be rewarded with enjoyable outdoor cafes and restaurants to quench the thirst you will surely develop on your march uphill. Skip the line to get in by buying your ticket in advance here.
Entering the most "Beauty and the Beast" looking French village of the road trip, we drove past timbered facades and cobbled streets.
Dinan, although smaller than some of the other towns we had visited, was worth a nice stroll down the hill towards their riverfront area, which in season offers something called 'Jaman' boat rides. For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed another uphill climb past loads of cuteness as we killed time for dinner.
Where we stayed: La Maison Pavie
Wow. What a gorgeous property. Our attic room was unique with a shower on display right in the center of the bedroom (don't bunk with your grandma, ok?) and the mealtime and lounge areas were stellar.
Where we ate: Chez La Mere Pourcel, pictured above, is currently closed for reconstruction due to a fire.
As we circled back to the Paris area, we knew we couldn't leave the country air for city air on our last night. So, we headed to Giverny, the home of Monet.
As you may or may not know, Monet's famed lily pad painting (and many others) were painted here at his garden. Monet's Garden was a photographer and artist's paradise, but the long lines were horrible. Opt into a skip-the-line ticket tour from Paris, or come back just before day's end for less crowds. To fill the time we strolled the small town, popped in some shops and visited a tiny church.
Where we stayed: Le Petit Giverny, which according to Google is now Permanently Closed. Too bad! *
Staying right there by the gardens we enjoyed jovial French hospitality and a wonderful breakfast before departing in the morning.
*If you want, you can easily see the town and stay somewhere in Paris before your morning flight out the next day.
Where we ate: Auberge du Petit Val
Because the town near the gardens is quite small, we took the car a few minutes across the Seine river to a restaurant I had found online. It was adorably decorated and small, with just a few tables. The menu was handwritten on chalkboards - in French - proving quite challenging, but the food matched the outstanding atmosphere once we navigated the menu.