Every month, My Next Memory gives you our real feedback from a French destination and tells you how it’s really like to travel there. So buckle up, and come with us. This month, we take you to Normandy!
Maybe because it is so close to Paris, Normandy is a little underrated by foreign visitors in France. But actually, it is a really nice and convenient destination, offering a large mix of activities and interests to please all travellers’ tastes!
How much time to spend in Normandy? And doing what?
To discover all the sights described in this post, you would probably need about 5 days. That being said, few people usually stay that long in Normandy because it requires having a car and driving around, and also because let’s face the truth, weather is often rainy and grey. The best way to visit is probably to pick a few sights within our description and focus on those for a weekend or a two-day getaway, as Normandy is within 2 hours from Paris.
As for the period of the year, everything indoor or within a City such as Rouen can actually be visited year-round, while you should favour the June to September sunny window for outdoor destinations such as the coast, and Giverny garden.
Rouen, the medieval City
For My Next Memory, Rouen is probably the most underrated cities by tourists in France! Within a one-hour train ride from Paris, this city is actually stunning with culture, heritage and authentic French lifestyle!
Rouen is, first and foremost, an incredible place to witness medieval architecture at its best, especially the period of the “Gothique Flamboyant” style. Nicknamed the City with 100 “Clochers”, Rouen’s city centre is packed with medieval Churches such as the Cathedral which has Europe’s highest spire and became world-famous after Monet decided to paint it from its apartment window at different times of the day.
Other places in town like the Abbatiale Saint Ouen, the Justice Court, or the Big Clock will impress you with intricate and sophisticated stone carving details! On the weird side, you can also try finding the Aître Saint Maclou, an odd building built in the Middle Age to host and pay tribute to the thousands of deads during the Great Plague.
Last, but not least, Rouen was the last destination in Joan of Arc’ short life: after she was captured by the British, Joan of Arc was kept prisoner, judged and sentenced to death by live burning as a witch, in Rouen. Today you can still see her dungeon and the exact location of her execution, where a contemporary church is now designed in the shape of burning flames.
So yes Rouen is definitely worth a visit and you can easily access all the sights within walking distance from the train station.
Normandy is a major highlight for another important time of French history: the revolution of painting and the development of Impressionism in the 19th century. Due to its diversity of lights and closeness to Paris, Normandy landscapes became an ever-favourite for impressionist painters such as Monet, Renoir and Pissarro.
You may choose to witness some of their best artworks at the Rouen Museum for Arts or to walk on their footsteps in the Giverny garden, where Monet spend most of his late years, in Honfleur or the beautiful village overlooking the cliffs of Varengeville-sur-Mer.
Take the time to admire the colours and their changing effects across the day: look at the leaves, the trees, the wheat fields or the cows; it will for sure remind you of their paintings.
A wild and romantic coastline
Exploring the coastline is a highlight of any Normandy visit and a few towns are really worth going! Starting with Etretat and its iconic white cliffs which are must-go for any visitor! Many other coastal villages and towns also offer this relaxing vibe, where you can enjoy a walk by the sea or a good seafood meal or a spa, such as in Dieppe, Trouville sur Mer, Veules-les-Roses, Honfleur or the stunning D-Day beaches around Caen! Play it more glamorous in Deauville with its bourgeois houses and casinos, or really local in Le Havre where the strange 20th-century concrete architecture has recently been classified as UNESCO Heritage!
Normandy’s coastline ends West at the Mont Saint Michel where the French will never be able to decide whether it belongs to Normandy or to Brittany. Don’t mind the territorial dispute and just make sure you visit this famous landmark which requires at least half a day for a proper visit. Reaching the Mont Saint Michel takes time and though the rock is tiny, there are actually plenty of things to do there: exploring the fortress walls overlooking the Bay, walking into the old village and trying some local food, and climbing all the way to the summit to visit the gigantic and mysterious Abbey.
How about accommodation? And food?
When looking well, you will find some little gem hotels nested in old medieval houses, from 3 to 5 stars level in Normandy! The coast is also home to a good range of homestays and comfortable hotels by the sea.
The highlight is probably on the food side where you should definitely make sure you try the local products. Three of them really make the local cuisine savoury and unforgettable! First local star is of course cheese! Normandy is heaven for cows and naturally produces the best dairy products in France, including butter, cream, milk and delicious cheeses from the light flavoured Brie to Camembert and the stronger Neufchatel!
Apples are the second ingredient and are ubiquitous. Found in many local dishes such as crêpes, cakes or desserts, they are also used to make drinks, in particular, cider and calvados (apple liquor). But beware; Normandy uses different varieties for drinks and for cooking! Don’t try biting a cider apple; it would just be way too acidic! Finally, seafood is another major component of local delights: fresh fish and shells, in particular mussels, are available in every good restaurant and coastal town!
In a nutshell
You should not be hesitating any longer and head to Normandy! Take a train and stick to the city centre of Rouen to travel in time for a day or try to rent a car and explore the coastline and landscapes in all freedom! Enjoy the small villages, the food and endless scenery of nature, Normandy is really pleasant and beautiful to visit France from a local perspective!