Normandy is a dynamic region in Northwest France filled with history, rolling green hills and 300 miles of dramatic coastline. It’s a perfect getaway for the history buff, those wanting a lush beach getaway, or foodies ready to indulge in a cheese and cider coma. The unique combination of culture and beauty create a vast region to discover.
With the mindset of quality over quantity, taking it slow is the recommended way to road trip through Normandy. The four days we spent here barely scratched the surface of sites to be seen and experiences to be had. Below, I’ll share some gems to give you a head start on curating your own journey.
Giverny and Monet’s Garden
Located 90 minutes from Paris and 3 hours from Belgium, this sleepy town was once hidden away in the French countryside, only to become a tourist hotspot after being discovered by Monet. Today, Giverny offers Monet admirers the chance to visit his former home and gardens to see what inspired him. Click here to see more floral inspiration from Monet’s Garden.
You can walk alongside the world-famous water lilies and feel as if you’ve entered a scene of his dreamy paintings. The visit will cost you 9.50 euro, and can be done every day from 9:30am to 6:00pm. But don’t forget, Giverny is more than just Monet’s former home. Be sure to save time to walk along the picturesque streets and stop in the little boutiques. If you’re looking to escape the tourist scene, drive down the street to a little village tucked on the banks of the Seine, known as Vernon.
Only a short drive from Giverny, yet this town feels miles away. With the absence of overcrowded streets, and a certain authenticity that only comes from a lived in place, Vernon is a great contrast to Giverny. While you’re there, visit the old mill on the banks of the Seine, admire the half-timber houses dispersed along Vernon’s old streets, and stop by the Chateau de Bizy, nicknamed “Little Versailles.”
World War II sites
Normandy has significant World War II history and no trip is complete without a visit to one of the many D-Day sites. Not having time to do it all, we selected a few places to visit which included: the American cemetery, Omaha beach and Pointe Du Hoc.
American Cemetery – Overlooking Omaha beach is a beautiful memorial for the American soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the D-Day invasion. Rows of white crosses give tribute to the lives lost and if you look closely, you can read the names of the fallen soldiers to individually pay respect. It is a powerfully site and essential for your Normandy experience.
Pointe du Hoc –These cliffs overlooking The Atlantic were scaled by US Army Rangers as German gunfire rained down. The mission was to destroy enemy artillery hidden on the bluffs and is known as one of the most heroic moments of the D-Day invasion.
Here, you can visit the cliffs and bunkers as well as walk through massive craters left in the ground from the American bombardment. This battle-scarred land remains pretty much the same as when the Rangers left it in 1944 and is a powerful site to visualize destruction while appreciating sacrifice.
Arromanches-les-Bains– A seaside resort town that is remembered as the landing point for the Normandy Invasion and harbor for unloading supplies and troops. Today, pieces of the harbor still exist and can be seen along the beach. You can visit the Musée du Débarquement, an indoor/outdoor museum, or the Arromanches 360, a cinema that screens D-Day footage. For amazing views of the harbor, take a walk along the cliffs and reflect. Oh, and do include time to indulge in seaside relaxation, as you are on vacation after all.
Grandcamp-Maisy– Only a short drive from Omaha, this coastal town is a great spot for seafood after all your D-Day touristing. There are a handful of restaurants lining the seaside that offer fresh fish and a view without a crowded vibe.
Cider stops can be made to break up your D-Day sightseeing. Located near Omaha beach, La Ferme du Lavoir is a small no fuss family farm offerings tastings and affordably priced bottles you can purchase to enjoy at their picnic tables.
Ferme de la Sapiniere is a larger cider farm in the area offering tours with their tasting as well as products you can purchase.
Mont-St-Michel has been on my bucket list since moving to Belgium and first learning of this unforgettable site. An island when it wants to be, it’s either surrounded by water or sand depending on the tide. During low tide, you are able to walk the encircling beach. It’s recommended not to venture too far without a guide due to dangerous quick sand. During high tide, you can see magical reflections on the water; either way, the experience will surely mesmerize you.
Mont-St-Michel has a fascinating history that began in the 8th century after a Bishop, receiving a vision from God, constructed a small church on the rocky island. Over time, that small church developed into a large monastery and village that served as a pilgrimage site for many Christians. Mont-St-Michel also withstood military siege during the 100 year war and became a prison during the French Revolution. It has since been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the most visited places in France. (The cliff notes version)
There is no entrance fee to visit Mont-St-Michel. You can wander the village streets, stop in the little shops, or eat at one of the many restaurants or creperies. The abbey, located at the very top, costs 10 euro/person to enter. A trek up many stairs is required to reach the abbey but the walk is filled with rewarding vistas. As it is a top tourist attraction, it can get very crowded; we found the streets on the outer border of the island to be much less congested and quite dreamy. Be prepared to spend half a day here or more, as it’s a majestical site in a stunning location.
There is a recommended paid parking lot near the visitor center where you must park. They offer free shuttle buses that will take you directly to Mont-St-Michel. You also have the option to take a horse and carriage ride, at a cost. Outside of Mont-St-Michel, there is a strip of restaurants that are most likely cheaper than dining on the island.
Additional Stops near Mont-St-Michel:
After your visit to Mont-St-Michel, you can cool off at the beach on Saint-Jean-le-Thomas. A 30 minute drive away, it offers views of Mont-St-Michel in the distance, has picnic areas on a grassy knoll as well as a beachside restaurant.
You can also continue further down to the fortified city of Granville. Known as a popular seaside resort, there are many delicious seafood spots, stunning views, and beaches to discover. Granville would make a great base for exploring this side of Normandy or a good dinner spot post Mont-St-Michel.
This picturesque town is a typical Norman village located in the heart of the cider route (more to come on this later). With beautifully restored half-timber homes, antique shops, and artisanal stores selling local produce, it’s regarded as one of France’s most beautiful villages. And makes for a charming addition to your Normandy adventure.
Honfleur is a port city that captured the heart of many impressionists during the 19th century with its colorful harbor, picturesque storefronts and tiny alleyways. It still offers the same idyllic scenery today and has many cafes, restaurants and art galleries to discover. Stroll the Le Vieux Bassin (harbor) or get lost in the labyrinth of streets and admire the half-timber medieval architecture. Notre-Dame de Grace chapel and Sainte-Catherine church are two popular stops that should be included on your tour.
If you have time, continue along the coast to visit the magnificent cliff formations and charming village of Etretat.
This family farm offers a gorgeous brunch spread and cider tasting in their stylish restaurant. The unlimited brunch buffet is offered Saturday & Sunday and is a diverse selection of local dishes. Not only is the food absolutely delicious & fresh but the grounds are stunning as well. Weather permitting, they have spacious seating on the front terrace or in the backyard garden. You also have the freedom to roam the farm with your cider in hand. Be sure to say “Hi” to the doe-eyed donkeys as you walk toward the apple orchard and small chapel in the back. Even if you don’t come for brunch, you can still visit for a cider tasting and self-guided tour of the grounds. This visit is perfect for families, as there is a small playground and plenty of space for children to run while parents enjoy a cold glass of cider. Be sure to make a reservation, as they tend to get fully booked.
Cheese and Cider Tasting
With apple orchards in place of vineyards, Normandy is the region of France known for cider and calvados (an apple brandy) instead of wine. There is even an official cider route that can be discovered by car or bike. The route takes you through tiny villages, such as Beuvron en Auge, Bonnebosq, Beaufour and Druval, and through scenic spots to reach certified cider distilleries. We didn’t have time to complete the entire trail, but what we did see was idyllic. Click this link for more information on how to plan your route.
Have you heard of a cheese called Camembert? Well, Normandy happens to be the birthplace of this delicious creamy substance. You can visit the village and Museum of Camembert to learn all you’ve ever wanted to know about the cheese. There are other towns along the route as well, such as Livarot and Pont-Leveque where you can visit more farms to taste and learn.
Where to Stay
With such an expansive area to cover, it’s best to stay in multiple locations if in Normandy for over 3 nights. Otherwise, pick a base closest to the sites you plan to explore. We loved our bed and breakfast, La Thiaumerie, located in a restored 18th century farm house. It was perfectly situated in the French countryside between the D-Day beaches and Mont-Saint-Michel. With a lovely British host, a thoughtfully prepared breakfast spread and beautiful views, we were able to slow down and enjoy this magnificent area. In Normandy, a BNB or farmhouse is the way to go and you’ll have numerous options here in the land of cows, cider and cheese.
Hope you enjoy your stay and experience life the Norman way!
Until next time,