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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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