An impromptu trip to Normandy’s beautiful coast

An impromptu trip to Normandy’s beautiful coast

We were feeling a bit down in the wake of the Britain’s decision to leave the EU. So a couple of weekends ago we decided to go to France on a whim. Having previously explored Picardy, the Somme and the Pas de Calais region, it was time to head west to Normandy. This region of France is easily accessible from the south of England and London as well as Paris and Belgium. Within a few hours you are soaking up the gallic vibes and getting your French fix in the fresh sea air.

Trip to Normandy, France

Rouen

Our first stop after crossing the Channel was the medieval city of Rouen. A thriving city in the middle ages, it most famous for its gothic cathedral and association with French legend Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake in the city’s Place du Vieux Marché. The city suffered serious damage during both world wars however restoration has ensured that visitors can enjoy the charm of its half-timbered houses.

Like most regions in France, Normandy has some famous gastronomic specialties. We were keen to try the famous Normandy cider and cheese varieties and our lunch in Rouen delivered both in abundance. We also made time to stop at popular Fromagerie François Olivier to pick up some supplies.

cheese and cider rouen normandy gastronomy

Rouen is a city I would like to return to and spend a little more time to explore the Cathedral, visit the Historial Jeanne D’Arc museum and the Musée des Beaux-Arts.

Tip – if you are driving there is a handy underground car park near the Abbatial Saint-Ouen/Monastery of Saint-Ouen

Honfleur

We drove along the Seine through the Parc natural regional des Boucles de la Seine passing through pretty villages along the way. You can’t help but fall in love with the half-timbered and thatched roofed buildings of Normandy. The rural idyll was just the right change of scenery from busy London.

pretty harbour of honfleur normandy

Our base for the weekend was picturesque Honfleur, a harbour city overlooking the Channel. This was the ideal spot for our break. We took advantage of the weekly market, old harbour and nearby beaches and immersed ourselves in the French way of life for a few days.

ste catherine church honfleur trip to normandy

Pretty Honfleur was immortalised by artists such as Monet. The compact city hugs its little harbour and is surrounded by colourful buildings and cobbled streets. It is easy to see why the Impressionists were so inspired by this pocket of Normandy.

We stayed in the old town in a wonderful attic apartment with views of the Church of Sainte Catherine and its clock tower. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries by local boat builders, these unique structures provide an additional focal point for the city.

Our apartment was the perfect vantage point to see the market traders set up their wares on Saturday morning and hear the bells tolling and choir singing from the church below.

church bell tower and interior ste catherine honfleur

We spend the weekend in Honfleur wandering around the produce market, choosing pastries, (more) cheese and fruit before heading to the Vieux Bassin (Old Harbour) to admire the sailing boats. The harbour is lined with colourful cafes and restaurants and has a magnificent 1920s carousel at its mouth. A general household and souvenir market can be found here at the harbour on Saturdays. If that is not enough market for you Honfleur hosts a brocante market on the first Sunday of each month.

at the produce market honfleur normandy

Soaking up the atmosphere, taking a walk along the promenade and browsing the shops and galleries built up our appetites. Of course there is an abundance of seafood to be found at all the cafes and restaurants in Honfleur. But our favourite was La Ciderie specialising in cider and crepes. I tried the local galichot (pancake), described as a combination between a galette and a blini. I am not sure about that, but it was fluffy and delicious.

quaint streets honfleur normandy

Trouville

In the afternoon sun we drove the short journey to Trouville to enjoy some beach time. The beach at Trouville is wide, flat and sandy and stretches for over a kilometre. In other words, great for small children to run amok. Seaside attractions including a park on the beach and fairground rides. These were the highlight for our kids but I enjoyed laying on the sand gazing at the nineteenth century mansions looking down over the beach.

sandy beach at trouville normandy

Étretat

We drove back to Calais via the spectacular white chalk cliffs near the town of Étretat. Here you can walk along the beach boardwalk and admire the cliffs and rock formations. You can climb the cliffs for views of the surrounding coastline or there is a tourist car train. The town itself has the typical half-timbered buildings of Normandy and you will find many restaurants, cafes and tea rooms catering for hungry visitors.

etretat cliffs normandy beaches

Family travel notes for visiting Normandy

Normandy is a wonderful destination for families. Apart from the wide sandy beaches we found playgrounds with equipment for all ages in all the locations we visited. Pedestrianised streets ensure that supervising the little ones is relatively easy and they can explore unhindered. They will quickly discover the fairground ride attractions.  Who can resist treating children to a few rides when you see the smiles on their faces. It certainly makes for a happy holiday.

carousel in honfleur normandy

Our children also loved the sights and sounds of the bustling markets. They were keen to choose their own market produce including seasonal cherries, apricots and raspberries. And of course they gobbled up the delicious french pastries and crepes.

Resources for planning your trip to Normandy

I found a few useful sites while researching this trip:

✪ Those keen to discover the local cider can follow the 40km cider route mapped out by the Normandy Tourist Board

Normandy Then and Now is a fascinating resource full of suggestions, stories and an all round passion for Normandy

Trouville has an English language website full of interesting information on activities and attractions

brocante honfleur normandy

À bientôt Normandy

Our trip to Normandy was the perfect antidote to the sadness we feel about Britain’s EU referendum outcome. We are so lucky to have the opportunity to take these impromptu trips to another country with ease. This is something that is just not possible in our home country Australia. The trip reinforced our decision to move abroad with our young family and to explore the world. We are looking forward to several more last-minute trips to Normandy before we leave London.

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60 Comments

  1. 13th July 2016 / 1:21 PM

    I would love the chance to visit Normandy – Rouen has been on my bucketlist ever since I did a project on Joan of Arc way back in primary school. Funny how some of those bucketlist items start and stay with you! Thanks for sharing your photos – I’m sorry about the Brexit too!

    • 13th July 2016 / 4:53 PM

      I’ve had a bit of a fascination with Joan of Arc too. Stay tuned for my next post on France.. I think you will like it!

  2. 13th July 2016 / 1:55 PM

    We took the boys to Normandy when they were three and loved Etertat, I really wanted to go to Honfleur but never made it. Next time maybe!

  3. 13th July 2016 / 3:11 PM

    I only had a day and a half in Normandy on my previous trip. I mostly visited the coastal area where D-Day happened. I didn’t know there’s so much more to it than that! I’ll keep this in mind when I go back 🙂 Thanks for the article!

    • 13th July 2016 / 4:57 PM

      Thanks Adonis. We had been to the D Day beaches too but were definitely in the mood for a more lighthearted trip. I think I could make a case for at least 3 more visits to Normandy!

    • 13th July 2016 / 4:54 PM

      That’s why I love France – all the charcuterie and cheese in a beautiful setting – ahhh

  4. 13th July 2016 / 4:48 PM

    Great pictures love them! Didn’t do there yet, def on my list! Mais la France… pas pour l’instant 😉

    • 13th July 2016 / 4:59 PM

      I agree. There is something about France that keeps us going back.. maybe a few things ?

  5. 13th July 2016 / 5:56 PM

    Normandy looks beautiful!! I love your photos! And, the food– maybe I’ll visit just to eat. 🙂

    • 14th July 2016 / 10:35 AM

      There are worse trips to do than an eating tour of France, in fact I highly recommend it 🙂

  6. 13th July 2016 / 11:38 PM

    Everything looks so amazing. We are planning to visit France in early November, so I need to narrow down which locations we will visit. It sounds like Normandy is so worth it! 🙂

    • 14th July 2016 / 10:34 AM

      It’s so difficult to choose Natasha but I think at that time of year you might consider the South of France as it will be much warmer. Or just embrace the cold and head to the Alps! Have fun

  7. 14th July 2016 / 7:58 AM

    I always say impromptu trips are the best. After reading this post, I am sure u agree 🙂 Driving along the Siene sounds dreamy. I wish I had explored more of France..I was just about stuck at Disneyland and Paris for two weeks lol

  8. 15th July 2016 / 1:27 AM

    I don’t think I’ve seen anything like Church of Sainte Catherine. The architecture looks so unique and reminds me of a time long ago. Did they offer tours inside? I would love to hear more about its historic importance and how it survived the test of time.

    • 15th July 2016 / 8:59 AM

      Hi Danielle, You could simply walk in I’m not sure about the tours but it is not very big. The earliest parts of the church were built in the fifteenth century using ship building techniques. It is said the roof resembles the hull of a ship. I am sure those walls have a few tales to tell. Really appreciate your thoughtful comment

  9. 15th July 2016 / 3:40 AM

    Normandy comes across beautifully, the towns have an elegance and old world charm which is so endearing. It would be such a great experience to stroll around leisurely in the streets of these towns.

    • 15th July 2016 / 9:00 AM

      Thank you Vyjay, it is a beautiful part of the world in many ways.

  10. 15th July 2016 / 5:56 AM

    I visited Honfleur 11 years ago now, and it makes me very happy to see that it is still just as charming as it was then. What a beautiful region to be able to take an impromptu trip to! Etretat seems to be such a beautiful place, and when my husband and I make it to France together is a spot we’d love to visit!

    • 15th July 2016 / 9:01 AM

      I hope you do too Paige! I wouldn’t say time has completely stood still in Honfleur but it hasn’t moved too quickly either. It is such a beautiful place, it is no wonder Monet and the Impressionists were so inspired

  11. 15th July 2016 / 12:43 PM

    Impromptu trips across the EU was always my favorite thing about living in Germany. I wish I had the chance to explore Normandy, especially Rouen, I’ve always been fascinated with Joan of Arc! Also, the photos of Calais are gorgeous!

    • 15th July 2016 / 7:55 PM

      Yes! I am sure some English people think it is bonkers the type of traveling we do. My kids have been to more places in Europe than a lot of people I meet. Oh well, their loss. We are not stopping now.

  12. 18th July 2016 / 10:23 AM

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and have pinned lots of new destinations in Normandy to visit! Looks like it was a really amazing road trip! #MondayEscapes

    • 18th July 2016 / 2:22 PM

      Hope you manage a trip there soon. Next time we go I would like to visit Bayeux and Caen. It’s a beautiful part of France

    • 18th July 2016 / 2:14 PM

      Thanks so much Urska, it was a much needed break 🙂

  13. 18th July 2016 / 2:15 PM

    I’ve wanted to visit Honfleur and Trouville for years. You’ve made Honfleur sound even better than I had imagined. It’s easy to forget how simple it can be just to head off to France. I love the idea of an impromptu trip away for the weekend – almost all the more special for being a ‘just because’ kind of trip. You’re giving me ideas…

  14. 18th July 2016 / 4:53 PM

    It certainly sounds like this trip would be a perfect cure for any ailment. Beautiful photos, and now I want to try some of that cider!

    • 18th July 2016 / 9:58 PM

      Yes the cider is delicious Kacy. Dry and fruity. I don’t like very sweet drinks. Thanks for your lovely comment

  15. 20th July 2016 / 11:00 AM

    I can’t wait to the time that we leave for London! One of the things that I’m looking forward to is to be able to explore a new country nearby on a weekend which is impossible for me to do from where I currently live. Bookmarking this! 🙂

    • 20th July 2016 / 11:01 AM

      It’s great fun. The hard bit is choosing where to go!

  16. 21st July 2016 / 8:20 PM

    I feel the same way about Brexit. I just want to spend as much time possible in other European countries, to hang onto them before it’s too late! Where are you going after London? Great choice of Normandy for your trip – it’s one of my very favourite places in the world. #MondayEscapes

    • 24th July 2016 / 10:17 AM

      Impromptu trips are usually the best I think – fewer expectations and less planning can make for more adventures!

  17. 23rd July 2016 / 5:22 PM

    Honfleur looks so charming and makes for a perfect getaway. I love all the colorful houses and that beach. Pedestrianized streets are always a welcome blessing when we travel with the kids. I have a teen and a tween now and they still can’t pass up carousels especially if they look like this. Love the photos!

    • 24th July 2016 / 9:35 AM

      I adore the carousels too and am doing some research into the art deco ones as I find them so charming. Thanks for your lovely comment Mary

  18. 24th July 2016 / 9:59 AM

    Ahhh – you’ve been over to our lovely Normandy! I have to admit to never have been to Rouen but Honfleur is wonderful. Did you make it to Bayeux or Mont St Michel?

    • 24th July 2016 / 10:42 AM

      I so want to visit Bayeux and return to Mont St Michel Rosie. What is the weather like in your part of the world in October? Might need to do another “impromptu trip”

      • 25th July 2016 / 4:48 PM

        It is often lovely – last year we were able to have lunch outside right up to early November but other years it isn’t quite that warm. If you are interested in visiting Bayeux and Mont St Michel our gite isn’t that far away and we are also close to Falaise Castle, birthplace of William the Conqueror and the gorgeous region of Swiss Normandy. More details can be found on our website or ping me an email with any questions.

        • 25th July 2016 / 5:41 PM

          So enticing Rosie! I will be in touch shortly as your part of the world is definitely in our plans for later in the year

  19. 24th July 2016 / 2:53 PM

    Honfleur is one of our favorites. Absolutely fell in love with it, and the little church dedicated to fisherman lost at sea, Cote de Grace, on the hill overlooking the town is a truly evocative experience.

    • 24th July 2016 / 2:58 PM

      Just an added thought, have you been to Brittany yet? We worked our way from St Malo down the Atlantic coast to Auray and then inland to Nantes and Rennes last summer, and absolutely loved every minute of it.

      • 24th July 2016 / 10:08 PM

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment Arnie. I have only spent a weekend in Brittany some years ago. It was a memorable trip as I was there with my fabulous aunt. I would dearly love to go back as a weekend just was not long enough. May we all spend more time in France very soon

  20. 30th July 2016 / 9:59 PM

    Normandy looks like a great destination for families. Having only just explored France earlier this year, it looks like somewhere we would be happy to visit. Such wonderful photos and glad you could have the chance to visit Rouen before the terrible atrocities last week and that it’s now shrouded in sadness. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    • 31st July 2016 / 8:04 PM

      Thank you Ting. It was quite a shock to see that news. Normandy is a wonderful place to visit and I hope people continue to do so

  21. 2nd March 2017 / 9:21 AM

    Thank you for this lovely reminder of Normandy. We now live in SW France, but visited Normandy a number of times before moving down here. I love the sights and particularly the food. I developed a taste for Normandy cider and the cheese and seafood are to die for! I recommend a visit to Monet’s house and garden in Giverny (go out of season), a great antidote to the world’s ills. #AllAboutFrance

    • 7th March 2017 / 9:46 AM

      Giverny is on my France list! I agree about the food. If I was told I could only eat seafood and cheese forever I probably wuoldn’t mind!

  22. 2nd March 2017 / 10:17 AM

    I love Normandy too and have some great holiday memories from there over the years, especially a weekend in Honfleur in February 2001, our son’s first trip to France aged four months old. #AllAboutFrance

    • 7th March 2017 / 9:44 AM

      Thanks Jacqui. Does your son have an affinity with France now? We have been tripping around with our twins since they were 9 months old and I hope they get the travel bug!

  23. annette @afrenchcollection
    2nd March 2017 / 11:00 AM

    What a lovely post with beautiful photos. Your pins have been saved! #AllAboutFrance

  24. 3rd March 2017 / 4:08 AM

    This is a part of France I am anxious to visit. Your photos are beautiful! #allaboutfrance

  25. 3rd March 2017 / 9:53 AM

    I loved my battlefield trip to Normandy last summer. It was there that I was assured that tripe was a local delicacy and tried it for the first, and absolutely, last time;) #AllAboutFrance

    • 7th March 2017 / 9:37 AM

      ooh no! Tripe sounds awful but I have a lot of admiration for you that you tried it. I probably would too in France as usually most things come with a delicious sauce.

      • 7th March 2017 / 9:57 AM

        Nope. I made it through about 3 bites and gave up. Only the 2nd time in my life I have absolutely given up on something.

  26. 3rd March 2017 / 3:46 PM

    This is a part o France I know well as we own a barn not too far from Honfleur. We also used to escape here when we lived in Paris (and when we lived in Calais) but now that we live 1000 kms away we go rather less. It’s much closer to you in London than to us in the same country! My son, the Teen, has just spent 5 days in Etretat with his girlfriend in the freezing wind and sleet! Not quite the same as your June weather. Thanks for sharing this with #AllAboutFrance, how did it escape being linked up for so long?

  27. Ruth
    3rd March 2017 / 9:04 PM

    Right now, this is the area of France I am more interested in visiting. It has a lot of the things I like: history, charming towns, good food and natural beauty. I even saw the area on a list of the most underrated areas in Europe. #AllAboutFrance

  28. Diane Oui In France
    5th March 2017 / 8:01 AM

    Love Normandy and have luckily been able to visit a couple of times. Great pics, shared your post a while ago on my FB page. 😉
    #allaboutfrance

  29. 7th March 2017 / 7:39 PM

    I have been to Normandy twice and LOVED it! But I still haven’t been to Rouen and Hornfleur. I’m hoping to make it there someday. Thanks for sharing your info and photos!

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