Ah, vive la France! The summer romance that started last year in Brittany and at the Loire continued this year with Normandy, Burgundy and the Alsace. No, my love for France grew even stronger! And who would have thought that France would offer such a rich experience to me and my boyfriend. You know, the one who wasn’t very fond of France and its inhabitants when I met him? He was even the one who suggested another trip through France this year, our own little ‘Tour de France’. Well, with less sport and more food and alcohol. My kind of Tour de France!
Because we already saw Brittany and the Loire valley last year, we wanted to visit other regions. We weren’t disappointed, let me tell you! Just imagine a wild mixture of cliff coasts, gently running vineyards and cities bursting with energy. So you basically have everything in your French package! But let me warn you: A requirement for the full France experience is definitely an open mind for food! And if you have an open mind to try new things, your experience will be even deeper.
So what’s there left to say? Let’s start with the first stage, Normandy:
How I fell in love with cliff coasts, or: The Normandy
What is the first thing you think of when you hear ‘Normandy’? Some may think of a barren landscape, some of historical events (you know, D-Day). Although I’ve never been one to be oooooverly interested in history (not my favourite school subject for that matter) and I openly despise war, I think everybody should know about D-Day and the World Wars. But, let’s start with the pleasant matters.
First of all, we thought it would be cool to choose some bases for our ‘Tour de France’. From these we could make day trips. For the Normandy we chose the sweet little harbour town Honfleur, which was just the perfect spot in the middle of so many brilliant things to see. We booked an apartment from a sweet sweet little French guy, and I was so overwhelmed how absolutely cute his apartment was furnished. Let’s be honest here, guys, it was definitely not my furnishing style and waaaaaay too much.
However, he put so much effort into anything and the details matched so perfectly that I just simply loved it. Aaand because we stayed for 5 days, he was so incredibly sweet and filled the fridge with milk, yogurt, butter and cheese and got us brioche and muffins and everything we could dream of.
So what is there to say about Honfleur? First of all, it’s a beautiful picturesque harbour town with its old town mostly situated around the old dock. Here you can find narrow alleys lined by half-timber houses, small shops and adorable little restaurants. Although the dock itself is lined by touristy bars and restaurants, a drink with a view of the dock and the possibility to observe people (I’m no saint, so of course I judge them hehe) is a must! Of course you can also stroll along the esplanade and enjoy the beautiful park by the seaside. And you can even get a tan at the beach.
For us Honfleur was a beautiful town to start our day trips, and because of our apartment arrangement we could decide on our own whether to get some cheese, charcuterie and baguette and stay in (and go for a drink later), or to eat out. Now, here’s the thing about eating out in Honfleur (which is kind of a negative aspect for me): To eat good, you have to spend some money. I read that restaurants like L’Homme de Bois and Le Gambetta are exceptionally good, but until I earn some real money (soooooon…!) they’re sadly out of my league. However, we found four places that were good:
- L’Envie: The menu was down-to-earth and not too expensive, the service was quick and sitting on the small patio was quite nice.
- La Taberna: Okay okay, this isn’t French cuisine but Spanish, but the Tapas plate was really really delicious, we sat nicely and the beer was good. What more do you need?
- Le Bacaretto: My favourite, favourite spot in Honfleur is this tiny wine bar in a small alley. They don’t have a wine menu, but the owner will explain every wine he offers in that week and you can choose. Furthermore, we had a super delicious charcuterie platter and a yummy galette. I wish I had discovered this place sooner!
- Chez D.D.: Another wine bar, but more spacious, and not as crammed as Le Bacaretto. What is more is that they do have a wine menu. So you either have to know your wine or you have to ask for a recommendation. Or you surprise yourself! Here you can get the usual cheese or charcuterie platter, or something more exquisite like oysters and seafood.
First Day – Rouen
We thought a small city trip as our first trip would be a nice way to start things off in Normandy. Especially if you don’t want to be all that exhausted on your first evening. So what is there to say about Rouen? They say it’s the capital of Normandy, so it’s definitely a large town. We parked a bit outside (at a shopping centre) and went by foot, because you know, parking in the town centre is bollocks. Although we started in a sort of industrial area, the houses grew nicer and nicer and we soon could see the extraordinary Church of St. Joan of Arc.
So we went through the alleys and gazed at Le Gros-Horlorge (an arch with a beautiful clock, situated in a Renaissance building) and the cathedral of Rouen. After some window shopping and a bagel at Bagelstein (whaaat, no baguette? Well, I need some variety) we took a stroll along the rather industrial Promenade de la France libre and enjoyed the sun. And that’s about it for Rouen. Of course you can visit the Museum of Fine Arts or the Historial Jeanne d’Arc (who was burned at the stake in Rouen, not so nice…). Or you enjoy a shopping spree. But, this wasn’t a day for museums or shopping for us. Gotta invest that money in food and alcohol!
Second Day – Étretat & Fécamp
The second day promised to be a day of nature. We went up north to Étretat, which might seem unremarkable from afar, but wait until you get to the beach! First, we parked a bit outside (again…), because we found the last free parking space in this small town. I highly recommend this, because the place is absolutely packed with tourists! And speaking of tourists, do make sure to come early, because, well, tourists. After a 15 minutes walk you will arrive in a small and cute town, again with half-timber houses and little shops.
However, when you get to the beach, the real spectacle of Normandy awaits you. Just look at the picture and marvel how fucking gorgeous these cliffs are! And the best thing is, you can climb them and enjoy the extraordinary view! Although Chris is quite afraid of heights, he climbed up right after me, but I was the one looking down the edge!
To be honest, Étretat would be hard to top, let me tell you…So, our second stop was Fécamp, another seaside town not very far away. Although the town itself was rather uninteresting, the beach esplanade was nice and we enjoyed some good baguettes in the sun. The highlight of this town was again far up the cliffs! There you not only find a church and an incredible view, but also remnants of WWII, in form of bunkers and a radar station. What a view!
Monet Gardens & Chateau Gaillard
Although driving to the Gardens of Claude Monet took us quite a while of driving (well, 1,5 hours), I definitely wanted to see this piece of cultivated nature. You can find the gardens and the house of impressionist Claude Monet, as well as the Museum of Impressionism Giverny in one place. And if you’re just a tiny bit interested in art, or if you’re just fond of beautiful gardens, this one’s for you. The arrangement of flowers was absolutely gorgeous, and don’t let me get started on that famous water lily pond! However, one downside again was the masses of tourists…yes I know, that’s coming from a tourist…Sometimes I just wish to know the right people to get a VIP tour.
Anyway, after our garden tour we drove up to the rough beauty of Chateau Gaillard. It’s situated overlooking the Seine on a steep hill. It’s rather the ruins of a castle than a real chateau (you know, like the ones last year). But, I really liked the history of the place and the roughness. I don’t know about you, but I find castles magical!
Caen & Trouville
Our last day in Normandy was a historical one. Not literally of course, but because we spend it in Caen Memorial Museumit was rather like a trip to the (not so friendly) past. Now, let me tell you this: Although the museum is not the cheapest, we spend over 3 hours learning about the World Wars and everything that had an impact on the people in that time. That was money well spend! It was a great mixture of textual information, videos, audio and exhibition pieces. My head was definitely full after this morning. So, after this we went to the town centre of Caen for lunch and a stroll through the streets to clear our heads.
And in the afternoon? A trip to Trouville brought us back to the sea again, to a nice former fisherman’s village. Well, this fisherman’s village grew to host a casino, beautiful little alleys and an interesting sea front. Plus, I’ve read somewhere that Gerard Depardieu has a mansion somewhere nearby…Now, what a beautiful conclusion to our first stage of our ‘Tour de France’!