Normandy. Lying like a wedge on the northern coast of France is one of the most beautiful places to visit from Paris. Home to descendents of Viking invaders of the 8th century, this part of France is a melange of cultural influences both Gallic and Nordic. This was made more complex by the English occupation for more than 200 years (go look up the hundred years’ war).
Our start, as in all the drives was from Amsterdam. Usually we’d make that initial dash across Holland down to Belgium to hit the closest French city/town for the evening before the actual road trip. For Normandy we usually overnighted in Tourcoing, a small town outside the city of Lille.
And in the morning we commenced our actual exploration of Normandy, the journeys were made via smaller country roads and not the Peage (ie toll roads) which is 1) costly, 2) not terribly scenic. So it best be planned ahead as these small roads wind their way through the rural country. At least on the smaller roads you will have the opportunity to stop and take pictures of the bales of hay being collected for winter use as cattle fodder.
We were making our way first to Rouen and from there onward to the coastal town of Etretat. All over the northern coast of France are ‘white washed’ cliffs like those in the south of England. You’ve probably heard of the white cliffs of Dover. Welcome to their cousins here on the continent.
These days there are many photos in the web of odd looking coastal shapes – for example one that looks like an elephant. At Falaise d’Aval, we found an elephant that is sticking its trunk out into the channel, as if sucking up water to feeds its mouth, as elephants do in real life. We took a walk along its pebble beach and imagined what it could have looked like when swarmed by sunbathing French men and women.
It’s a small town and we circled around so much before getting a place to park, so it’s not always advantageous to drive..
Scenic Country roads
We had our first taste of Chateaux fever here in Normandy.
If one thought that the Loire was where a lot of Chateau can be found, well we’ve got news for you. They can be found all over Normandy too! As we drove through the country roads, we came across no less than three of them in a space of 2 days. And this was without serious searching nor intent to find one!
One such Chateau was Gaillard. Built by Richard the Lionheart, this was the quintessential fortress that a Chateau originally meant. Unfortunately it is much in ruin and does not fit the ideal of a Chateau that one would come to expect if only looking at it through the lenses of journeys to the Loire.
The town of Les Andelays beneath it is really beautiful with its tree-lined roads (which reminded us of Singapore). And the town of Combourg has the same, its fortress also set on a hilltop overlooking town.
Chateau Carel on the other hand is more like the souped up manor house that was built much later (17th century if we recalled correctly). That one we found on the way to Mont St Michel.
In addition, it would be great to stop over in at least one of the towns in Normandy on your way. We pulled over at Livarot, the birthplace of cheese with the same name. It was a week day when we were at the Fromagerie and being the only visitors we had the privilege of a private sampling of all the products they made. Suan made a mistake of trying the one made from raw milk and turned blue (no pun intended) after we resumed our drive. We had to make a u-turn back to the fromagerie for her to empty the bowels of the cheese she shouldn’t have ate in the first place. Somehow Mel (who loves cheese) had no problems at all…hmmm dirty fella…
Stop at the Chateau d’Isle, a beautiful manor house (just outside Livarot), which we believe had been turned into a hotel.
Since we were on the road, we decided to drive to the tip of the Contentin peninsula that juts into the channel. Cap de la Hague at the terminal point is reached via small roads with hedgerows on both sides. It is really pictureque and some say that the rocks here are really old – old as in precambrian for the budding geologists.
Seaside villages & towns
In our second trip, we had also stopped by the town of Dinard, from which one can see across to St Malo. As a walled city overlooking the sea, it would have been nice to walk in it, but we preferred to see its entirety.
The return drive to Holland was made along the coast – all of it until we had to get back onto the toll road for the mad dash home. If there was one city stop we had to make on the way, it was in the city of Caen. With its fortress dating from the time of William the conqueror, it claims its place as one of the largest medieval fortification in western Europe and worthy of spending some time there.
We loved the beauty of tiny Honfleur with its traditional houses and the old harbor which today is home to numerous yachts instead of fishing boats or trading vessels of yesteryear.
Mont St Michel
We dedicated a separate story for this wonder of France and will not steal too much thunder.
For this journey we had parked along the sand banks that are entreprenurally turned into parking lots during the low tide. Apparently in certain times of the year when the earth tilt in a specific tangient from the sun, the gravitational pull is weaker and thus lower tides (and later too). Today, this is no more. A paved road now connects the abbey to the mainland. How times have changed.
If you’d really like to know more, read on here.
Normandy is a treat at any time of the year. We were enthralled by the diversity of its beauty, produce and hospital people. With its unique architecture and history appealing to Mel we made a second visit as part of our round France road trip. Hope this inspires you to make your own journey to Normandy!
Journeys were made in August 2004 and June 2005