Thinking of an alternative summer vacation, let’s say in … Normandy? Why not!
Last year this idea came to our minds, we found it absolutely great, took our car, departed from Tuscany and reached the sandy beaches of Northern France to spend there one of the most unforgettable summer vacations ever.
Now you know how I see it: the best way to discover Normandy is on the road. And here are some reasons for being so sure of it and some suggestions I hope you’ll find useful to arrange a 3- or 4-days stay by the ocean:
1. Define your priorities. Decide what you definitely cannot and don’t want to miss. And then choose a strategic position for your “headquarters” hotel, so that you do not have to move, check-in/check-out and carry your bags around every day and can concentrate only and entirely on “conquering” Normandy.
We decided to explore the D-Day most emblematic locations, visit Mont Saint Michel, Étretat and Honfleur. Thus, it was logical to choose to stay in the whereabouts of the notorious landing beaches, for example, in Mandeville-en-Bessin which is right in the middle of the Normandy coastal line.
Distance: Mandeville-en-Bessin is about 10 km (app. 15 minutes by car) away from the D-Day Monument of the Omaha Beach.
2. If you can afford it, choose to stay by the ocean to admire its spectacular tides and sunsets. We, on the contrary, chose a more affordable countryside location that revealed itself a wonderful success: our cosy room at Ferme de Dauval became a real home for us. We used to wake up early in the morning to wait for our landlady to arrive from the nearby boulangerie at around 08:15 a.m. with some hot croissants that we devoured accompanied by the local salty butter and home-made melon jam. Yammy!!!! After breakfast and a friendly chat with the landlady and her husband and before staring one more exploration day we got used to taking a short walk around the inner yard of the farm to enjoy some chilly morning air and the company of the melancholic donkeys, its permanent residents. There’s nothing like the calm of that place, the silence of its nights and the hospitality of its owners!
Parking: Your car will be safely parked right under the farm’s mansion. We could even see ours from the windows of our awesome and very comfortable room. Take into account that we sometimes got back quite late, but entering the farm was never a problem.
3. Dedicate the fist day of your trip to the symbols of the area and the Allied Invasion of Normandy – the Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery and Memorial.
Find some time to explore the Batterie Allemande in Longues-sur-Mer (it can also be visited free of charge on your own) and the artificial Port Winston of Mulberry Harbour in Arromanches-les-Bains.
Travelling along the country roads connecting these splendid locations and admiring the surrounding picturesque views will be the real pleasure bringing inner peace and relaxation.
Parking: There is a free parking by the Memorial reserved for its visitors. From there it is also possible to reach the ocean for a walk.
Distance: Mandeville-en-Bessin is about 17 km (app. 20 minutes by car) away from the Batterie Allemande in Longues-sur-Mer and about 23 km (app. 30 minutes by car) away from Arromanches-les-Bains.
4. In Normandy it is quite easy to follow the directions that are frequent and precise. Nevertheless, it could be useful to download onto your smartphone some local maps you could also use in the off-line mode to save internet traffic and be independent from any eventual lack of coverage.
5. One more MUST of the first day is visiting one of the numerous museums dedicated to the D-Day. We opted for the Overlord Museum in Colleville-sur-Mer and denjoyed it a lot. The cost of an entrance ticket for an adult was €7,50.
Parking: There is a free parking right bedside the museum reserved for its visitors.
6. If you have time, and try to find it!, visit Bayeux – one of the very few cities of the area that survived the tough war times architecturally untouched. This spectacular town has much to offer: its characteristic watermills, stunning cathedral and the real jewel of the place – the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The cost of an entrance ticket for an adult was €9,00 and the whole visit took some 30 minutes, but was really exciting and memorable.
Distance: Mandeville-en-Bessin is about 15 km (app. 20 minutes by car) away from Bayeux.
Parking: We used to leave our car at the pay parking Place Saint-Patrice. From there it is only several minutes walk till the centre of the city.
7. We had the best meals during our entire stay in France at the restaurant of the hotel De La Marine in 2 quai du Canada in Arromanches-les-Bains. I’ll be honest: we kept on coming back there every night when in Normandy. Apart from the courtesy and the speed of the service, amazing dishes and the diversity of choice, we were attracted by the charming streets of Arromanches itself and its breathtaking sunsets to admire directly through the enormous windows of the restaurant overlooking the harbour. We literally fell in love with that place.
Parking: We used to park our car free of charge in Avenue de Verdun in front of the Municipal Parking. It is only a short but a pleasant walk from the parking till the restaurant across this tiny and calm city.
8. Dedicate an entire day of your trip to Mont St. Michel. I also suggest you to leave early in the morning. There are spacious pay and display parkings reserved for the visitors of the site. They are easy to find but be ready to encounter some traffic at the entrance. Once you leave your car there, it will be possible to reach the Abbey on foot (around 30 minutes on foot), by bus (free of charge and starting from the parking, note though, that there might be a queue to get on both at the parking and at return from Mont St. Michel), or by horse carriage at the fixed price of €5,00 per person, if I remember correctly. Be ready that the streets of the city leading to the Abbey will be overcrowded as well as its restaurants, both overcrowded and overpriced. So I would suggest you to use a rest room of one of the parking bars before you set off and purchase some water and sandwiches for lunch at the same bar. It’ll save you much stress and money.
Preparing your visit to Mont St. Michel it is important to check the timetable of the tides and decide whether it is essential for you to see the Abbey cut off the land by the high tide. In any case, it is very useful to study the information provided at the official web-site of Mont St. Michel before you even start planning your visit to Normandy.
Distance: Mandeville-en-Bessin is about 125 km (app. 1 hour 40 minutes by car) away from Mont St. Michel.
9. At return, if you have some time and strength, you could decide to have a look at Caen and its amazing Castle of William the Conqueror.
Distance: Mandeville-en-Bessin is about 45 km (app. 35 minutes by car) away from Caen.
Parking: There’s a parking right underneath the castle walls – the pay and display Parking Château.
10. On the third day of your amazing vacation, go further, till the department of Seine-Maritime to see the fishermen village of Honfleur and the spectacular beach of Étretat that served as inspiration for some of the greatest Impressionists. Note that there are several highway toll barriers on the way from Mandeville-en-Bessin to Étretat, so it is always a good idea to have some cash on you.
Parking: In Honfleur you could park your car in the parking lot of the Ferris Wheel in 9 Place de la Gare right in front of the city’s spectacular centre, while in Étretat it is possible to park your car at the very first parking to the left of the entrance of the town (almost in front of the Municipal Camping). From there it is a straightforward 20-minutes walk to the ocean.
Distance: Mandeville-en-Bessin is about 160 km (app. 1 hour 50 minutes by car) away from Étretat, while Honfleur will be on your way back to the headquarters – 45 km away from Étretat (45 minutes) and 108 km (1 hour and 15 minutes) away from Mandeville-en-Bessin.
11. Weather. We were very lucky to enjoy all those shiny and windy days at the beginning of August. Watch out, though: as far as a summer vacation is concerned you might probably expect some decent suntan and some bathing. I didn’t dare either of it. Too cold for my taste. But you won’t mistake to take a rain coat and a pair of waterproof shoes with you. Just in case. And don’t forger your cool shades, either!
Obviously, if you have more time to spend in Normandy, you can explore it in more detail. But even during a short stay moving around by car will give you not only the freedom to choose and arrange your day as you prefer, change your plans if needed or desired and make the best out of the time at your disposal.
We loved Normandy! And apart from being a wonderful vacation destination it was even more such for us because we chose to explore it with our on-the-road mode on. Which also allowed us to bring back home a trunk full of local wines, sparkling cider, soft butter Madeleine and crunchy Sablé bisquits and some very strong Calvados!
Photo credit: Machs Gut ©.