Europe, Travel

Normandy Pt. 1 – Traveling the Northern Coast of France

I feel very blessed to say that I have traveled pretty abundantly in my 32 years. Up until this year, I had been to 38 states, Mexico, Canada, and a few Caribbean island nations.

But in January (2019) my husband and I finally made the journey across the pond to Europe for the first time.

Then in April, we went a second time! Our January trip was a late honeymoon, and our April trip was with my parents and my brother. (Hallelujah for frequent flyer miles!)

If you’d like to read about my Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) experience, click here!

We traveled to several countries and cities during both trips and I’m going to break them all down in different posts for you!

This post however, is dedicated to the first part of our road trip in Normandy.

  • Part 1 is how to get there, what to see along the coast, and where we stayed.
  • Part 2 will be all about D-day. I’ll tell you everything we saw on our full day tour out of Bayeux!
  • Part 3 is all about Mont Saint Michel! It was so amazing that it needs it’s own post.

How Do You Get There?

Good question, and not exactly the easiest to answer!

Normandy is a trip for those who want to stray a little from the beaten path. Traveling there is not as simple as flying direct. It all depends on where you are coming from and what turns out to be the most affordable/efficient way for you to get there personally.

So, even though I’m laying a lot of this trip out for you – you’re still going to have to do a little bit of research yourself.

From London

The cheapest option for us coming from Tennessee at the time, was to fly London Heathrow. That might sound a little bit out of the way, but actually London is just right across the English Channel from Calais, France and you can take the Eurostar high speed train from London St. Pancras International to Calais, and BOOM – you’re in France! It only takes about an hour.

Tip: If you choose this route, you MUST book your tickets online in advance! The longer you wait, the more expensive the tickets become and eventually the trains sell out. This is not something you can decide to do on a whim.

View of the English Channel from Cap Blanc Nez just outside of Calais.

Calais is in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, which is northeast of Haute Normandie (Upper Normandy). From here, you’ll need to rent a car if you want to see all of the sights along the northern coast of France, and I cannot stress enough… THIS IS THE WAY TO GO!

You can try to take regional trains, but I’d only recommend that if you are somewhat well educated in French and you don’t mind trying to navigate the train schedules. Regional stations typically only have a handful of trains per day coming in and out of each town.

The village Escalles with rain in the distance coming off the coast, which is directly to my right.

Driving along the Northern coast of France is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. It’s the most beautiful coast and countryside I’ve ever seen and it was like straight out of a fairy tale.

You know what the little French village in Beauty and the Beast looks like? Yep, that’s actually real. As much as I love train travel, this is the one time I’ll advise you – just don’t.

Wedding

From Paris

You could fly to Paris and rent a car or take a train to Bayeux. Although, you would be missing out on the coastal beauty! Unless of course, you went to Bayeux from Paris first and then drove along the coast up to Calais, and then flew home from London. That’s basically our trip in reverse.

It’s about 2 hours and 45 minutes from Paris to Bayeux by car.

There are several travel agencies based in Paris that offer day trips and overnight trips to Normandy and Mont Saint Michel. This would be a really easy option, but also seems like a pretty expensive one upfront.

The coastal French village √Čtaples.

Although, if you broke it all down it might actually add up to around the same as taking a train and renting a car.

It really just depends on how much freedom you want to explore on your own.

By Ferry

There’s many other ways you can choose to travel to Normandy. Like I said earlier, it really just depends on where you are coming from and what your budget is.

We saved a lot of money just by booking most of our plans and reservations in advance. Here’s a more comprehensive list of your other travel options if London or Paris doesn’t work out for you.

Cap Blanc Nez outside of Calais, just across from the English Channel.

There are many ferries going across the English Channel that will get you directly to Normandy, but from what I found in my research – it can be a pretty rough and lengthy journey.

Along the Way

We stayed two nights in a village just north of Bayeux, directly on the coast. Bayeux is the largest town in the area and the center for the Lower Normandy D-Day tours that will take you to the all of the popular sites. More on that in Part Two!

Without stopping, it’s about a 3 and a half hour drive from Calais to Bayeux.

Trust me when I say, you’re going to want and need more than those 3 and a half hours. We got off our train in Calais around 11am, picked up our rental car (which we booked a month in advance), and then we hit the road.

Cap Blanc Nez

There’s definitely stuff you can do and see in Calais, but we opted out because we knew there was going to be so much else to see along the way.

Note: The road we took for most of our drive from Calais to Bayeux is called D940.

The first sight we came to out of town was our immediate confirmation that this was without a doubt going to be the trip of a lifetime.

We only stopped for a few minutes because a coastal rain came in, but this sight was incredible!

The shortest distance between England and France is Dover to Calais and from these magnificent rolling hills and towering cliffs you can see the English coast across the Channel in the distance.

Audresselles

The most adorable villages I’ve ever seen are scattered along this coastal road, and we found the perfect one to stop in for a late lunch.

La Marie Galante – Authentic French Cuisine

I’ll honest, finding this place was a happy accident! It could have just as easily been an awful experience because we’re an American family traveling in rural France with only two of us knowing a handful of basic French words.

We had a major communication breakdown with our first waitress and she had to go get someone for us who could speak a little bit of English. I mean, we really tried with her. She knew ZERO English, not even “hello.” Nothing against her! It’s just that our very minimal French vocabulary wasn’t working out for us in this situation and she was really freaked out about being our server.

Doesn’t get any fresher than this!

Our second waiter though, was amazing and he knew enough English to have a conversation with us and explain the menu a little bit. He even taught us a few more French words!

This ended up being such an authentic French experience and it was the best seafood I’ve ever had. My dad and I had seared scallops with roasted vegetables in a creamy alfredo sauce while my mom, brother, and my husband shared an absolutely enormous seafood platter. Only my husband and my brother were brave enough to try the sea snails!

Selling fresh garlic on the street in Audresselles.

Ambleteuse

Ambleteuse is along the D940 route and it has a WWII museum and other historic sites. We drove straight through and didn’t stop here, but if you have extra time it’s worth looking into adding to your trip!

We stumbled upon Batterie Todt somewhere between Calais and Le Havre on D940.

Dieppe, Le Havre, & Caen

At some point, we realized that we were running out of time in the day to get to our vacation rental near Bayeux. We detoured onto A16, which is more of a highway than a coastal road that runs parallel to D940 for a while.

We really should have given ourselves several days to make this journey, but we had other things booked that we had to stick to. You could spend an entire week or more making this drive if you wanted to!

Dieppe and Le Havre and Caen are some other towns I suggest adding to your itinerary if you have time.

Honfleur – Le Vieux Bassin

I had seen some photos of Honfleur while I was helping to plan this trip and I knew it had to be one of our stops, even if it was a quick one! We only spent about an hour here because we still had a long way to go to get to Bayeux, but oh my goodness – this little harbor village was stunning.

Honfleur is on the southern bank of the River Seine as it opens up into the English Channel. It’s right across the river from Le Havre on the northern bank, and just a few miles inland from the Pont de Normandie.

View looking to the left standing on the side of the harbour that is pictured above.
Standing in the same area as above, looking to the right.

At this point in the journey, we’ve already traveled all the way through Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandie) and we are now in Basse-Normandie (Lower Normandy).

Golden hour in the harbour. I could for sure live here…

Bayeux

Bayeux is a sleepy little French town that is very rich in culture and history. It is central to all of the D-Day beaches and the largest town in the region. There is a considerable amount of English speakers because it has pretty high tourism traffic for such a small town.

Canal in the center of Bayeux with Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux in the distance.
Same canal as above facing the opposite direction.

Our D-Day tour left really early out of Bayeux, but when our tour concluded, we spent our evening exploring until it was dinner time and we found a fabulous pizza joint called Fred’Au (featured in my TripAdvisor itinerary).

Pizzeria Fred’Au.

Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux

Visiting this cathedral was the best thing we did in Bayeux, aside from the D-Day tour. This church dates back to 1077 in the days of William the Conqueror and was the original site of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux

We didn’t have time to go see the tapestry, which is now on display in a museum, but visiting the cathedral and viewing the tapestry are ranked as the number one and number two attractions in Bayeux (via TripAdvisor).

Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux

It is also said that Notre Dame in Paris was modeled after this cathedral and the inside has striking similarities. There are a few likenesses on the outside, but I thought the inside looked more similar.

This was taken from Montmartre on the morning after the Notre Dame fire. The smoke was a thick cloud over the city.

We were lucky enough to have seen the inside of Notre Dame de Paris just months before the fire, and on this same trip to Normandy we actually arrived in Paris coming from Mont Saint Michel on the day of the fire and saw the smoke from the outskirts of the city (more on this in my Paris post!). We pulled into Paris about 20 minutes after the fire started and it burned all night long.

Where We Stayed

We found an incredible vacation rental just a few miles from Bayeux in a village on the coast called Arromanches-les-Bains. I tried and failed every time to pronounce it correctly! It was barely a block from the beach, and I think we all regretted that we weren’t staying more than two nights.

The listing is on HomeAway!

Arromanches-les-Bains

Front living room area.
Front porch and courtyard.
Just across the cobblestone road from rental, beach is directly to the left.
Calvados in the kitchen.

Calvados is a type of apple brandy only made in this specific area of France, the Calvados district. Our vacation rental hosts left us a bottle as a gift! It tasted like a sparkling apple wine with a slight hint of bitterness. I think it’s probably an acquired taste!

We also came across this distillery sign in the fields next to one of our D-Day destinations which I thought was very picturesque, of course.

What To Wear

I don’t usually talk much about clothing or style in my blog posts, but I felt like this was necessary because it was SO COLD! Pack your coats and scarves! Dress in layers in case you are there on a warmer day.

You do not need to bring your bathing suit unless you want to swim in a pool! It’s not that kind of beach. I’d compare it to the Pacific Northwest or New England in the United States.

We were there mid to late April, and it was in the 40’s (F) and crazy windy! The wind chill made it feel 20 degrees colder. Our tour guide told us that it was a little late in the season to be that cold still, but it wasn’t that uncommon.

This isn’t the best quality photo because it was getting dark outside, but it’s the only photo that I have of us having a glass of wine on the coast of France! This was just steps away from our vacation rental the night after our long and amazing D-Day tour.

Directly behind us are the remains of Mulberry Harbour, the artificial harbour that was built by Allied engineers to unload thousands of ships full of supplies in just a couple of days.

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