An idyllic 10-night journeyalong the D-Day beaches, thru the Route-du-Cidre, visiting ancient towns and beyond
Normandy in north-west France had been on our road trip wish list for so long. We couldn’t wait to head off on our 10-night Normandy adventure, there was so much we wanted to discover.
The rich history, the landscape and cuisine in this charming region of France are incredible. Lush countryside, rugged shorelines and all in the footsteps of William the Conqueror and the poignant Normandy landings.
Gary and I had chosen four locations to base ourselves, Rouen, Caen, Alençon and Honfleur. We’d scheduled a full day in each, as well as our planned self-drive days out to quaint villages and historical sites all laid across beautiful scenery.
France is a perfect country for a road trip and especially Normandy. The roads are easy to navigate, there are plenty of places to stop en-route, the food is incredible, and all the family will love it.
Our Route & how you can get to Normandy
There are a couple of choices for getting to Normandy, and as we live only 40 minutes from Folkestone in Kent, Le Shuttle is our chosen route.
Alternatively, a perfect option would be crossing the English Channel with Brittany Ferries. Here you have the choice of arriving in Caen, Le Havre or Cherbourg.
The inspiration for our Normandy road trip
Our inspiration was clear, we wanted to delve deeper into France’s history and how it intermingled with the British. The rolling countryside, and of course the charming French culture.
The Landscape - Normandy D-Day Landing Beaches and touring the La Route-du-Cidre
History & Culture – The ancient cities of Rouen and Caen, and Monet’s home at Giverny
The architecture – The magnificent UNESCO site of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, Jumièges Abbey and the quaint timber-framed Normandy villages.
Food and Drink – The delicious galettes, cider and Calvados and regional delicacies.
Useful website for planning
Our Gateway to Europe from the UK
Most of our European road trips start the same, and our Normandy road trip was no different. Booked on a 7:50 am shuttle, means leaving home at 6:30 am. All being well we’re hitting the A16 from Calais at 9:30 am after being mugged for an hour as we switch to Central European Time.
Therefore, in my mind, we hit the road at 9:30 – all points start from Calais.
We’ve already completed our road trip checklist, so fully fuelled & Werther’s on-board.
En-route to Rouen
Our first leg stretch was at the coastal town of Hautot-sur-Mer famous for Monet paintings. On the beaches near where the Canadian forces landed during WWII.
Jump back in the car, continuing along the shoreline towards Fécamp via Saint-Valery-en-Caux. Saint-Valery-en-Caux looks like a delightful harbour town, one I will definitely make a note of for next time.
Arriving at Fécamp drive up to Cap view to the Chapel Notre-Dame-du-Salut and the lighthouse. The views all along the English Channel here are beautiful.
Then it’s onto our first stopover for the trip, and that’s Rouen.
After checking in to the Mercure Rouen Centre Champ de Mars, we stroll the 10 to 15-minute walk into town. We enjoy the rest of the evening getting our bearings around the attractive city of Rouen.
Rouen is an incredibly historic city to explore, we were looking forward to spending a full day discovering Rouen further.
Our total mileage for the day was around 201 miles (323km).
Places to visit en route to Rouen
- Tour the coastline along the English Channel, visiting towns like Fécamp, Saint-Valery-en-Caux and Étretat.
- Appreciate the views at Hautot-sur-Mer that inspired Monet.
- Visit the poignant war cemeteries and roadside memorials located throughout the region.
Where to stay in Rouen
Our accommodation for the three nights in Rouen was at the Mercure Rouen Centre Champ de Mars.
The hotel’s location is about a 10 to 15-minute walk to the heart of the old town, an ideal place for discovering Rouen as its surrounding towns & villages.
If you are driving, this hotel has a chargeable underground carpark with direct access to the hotel. We had no problem parking here for the 3 nights and ideal if you have a larger vehicle.
A day trip to Giverny (Monet’s home) via Lyons-la-Forêt and Jumièges Abbey
While based in Rouen, we wanted to make the most of the surrounding picturesque countryside and picture-postcard towns and villages.
Our first stop was for breakfast in the lovely village of Lyons-la-Forêt. We found a table in the market square. We savoured the relaxed French atmosphere by indulging in a patisserie and coffee. Watching the local residents buying their fruit and vegetables from the local traders beneath the ancient timbered covered market.
We’re then off to Giverny to visit the enchanting family home and inspiring gardens of Claude Monet.
If you know and love the work of the French artist Claude Monet, you will instantly recognise the captivating, lily pond illustrated in several of his paintings.
Ensure you stroll along Rue Claude Monet the pedestrian lane that runs the length of the tiny village. There are so many other delightful homes and courtyard gardens to see.
One last stop before heading back to Rouen for the evening is to the 7th-century open-air Jumièges Abbey. This also allowed us to jump on the Heurteauville car ferry across the River Seine.
Jumièges Abbey is incredible, during the 7th & 8th centuries this was a thriving monastery; however, the Vikings put pay to that.
As you enter through the striking façade, you are free to wander all amongst the ruins and crumbling gargoyles. Experience the tranquillity of the birds fluttering high above, weaving their way through the decaying windows and towers.
A day discovering Rouen
Rouen’s striking centrepiece is the imposing Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, consecrated in 1063 in the presence of William the Conqueror. The cathedral is incredible inside, especially the intricate winding L’Escaliere de Librairie (The Booksellers Staircase), which once led to the cathedral’s library.
However, one of the most important tombs within Rouen Cathedral is that of Richard the Lionheart, which within rests his heart.
Rouen also witnessed the awful death of the Maid of Orléans. It was in Rouen in the early 15th century that Joan of Arc was captured and tried. She was burned at the stake at the age of 19 in 1431 by the British.
On a cheerier note, take a wander down the floral lane of Rue Eau de Robec. As a stream meanders through enjoy one of the many delightful restaurants.
We have created a little YouTube video of Rouen.
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Places to visit in Rouen
- Visit the ancient Rouen Cathedral.
- Visit Joan of Arc Tower and the site where the astonishing martyr was executed.
- Admire the Gothic Palais de Justice and the Hotel de Ville next to the Abbey of Saint Oeun.
- The striking Church of Saint-Maclou
Things to do in Rouen
- Stroll the cobbled streets amongst the timber-framed homes.
- Watch the 14th-century Gros-Horloge or Great Clock.
- Enjoy an evening along the charming Rue de Robec.
- In the summer months watch the enchanting Rouen Cathedral light display.
Rouen to Caen via Le Bec-Hellouin, Lisieux Basilica, Route-du-Cidre and Pegasus Bridge
Today is a full day en-route to Caen, so we head out early cross-country to the beautiful village of Le Bec-Hellouin and its stunning 12th-century Benedictine abbey.
From Bec Abbey, we drove to Lisieux to have a spot of breakfast and visit the magnificent Lisieux Basilica. The Basilica of Sainte-Thérèse of Lisieux was opened in 1954 and can hold a congregation of 4,000, it is awe-inspiring.
It’s time to pick up the Route-du-Cidre and enjoy touring through the orchard lined lanes and lush countryside. The circular route is only 25 miles (40km) and takes in the beautiful scenery and some truly quaint timber-framed villages.
We stopped at Beuvron-en-Auge for a stroll around, which I can highly recommend, delightful restaurants, a charming market square and of course cider.
Prior to heading onto Caen for the evening, we journeyed to the coastline at Cabourg and then onto the Pegasus Bridge Museum.
The Memorial Pegasus is a wonderful museum to visit, extremely educational and so many fascinating, touching stories.
Then it’s onto our second stopover for the trip, and that’s Caen.
After checking in to the Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré, we stroll a short distance to town. We enjoy the rest of the evening getting our bearings around the attractive city of Caen.
Caen is a lovely historic city to explore, we have a full list of places to discover during our full day in the town.
Places to visit near Caen
- Le Bec-Hellouin and Bec Abbey
- Lisieux Basilica
- Pegasus Bridge Memorial
Where to stay in Caen
Our accommodation for the four nights in Caen was at the Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré.
The Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré in Caen is reasonably central and just a short stroll across to the charming Place Saint-Sauveur.
If you are driving, this hotel has free onsite parking, although the spaces are limited.
A day visiting Caen
This is all prior to heading to the two abbeys, one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. The striking Abbaye aux Hommes (Men’s Abbey) was built in 1063 and houses William the Conqueror's tomb.
The Abbaye aux Dames (the Women’s Abbey) was built for William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda of Flanders. William the Conqueror had both of the abbeys constructed to appease the pope, as William had married his own cousin, Mathilda of Flanders
Places to visit in Caen
- Cross the moat and visit Château de Caen
- Église Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux.
- Visit the Abbaye aux Hommes (Men’s Abbey) the see the tomb of William the Conqueror.
- Also, Abbaye aux Dames (Ladies Abbey)
Things to do in Caen
- Stroll along Caen’s Marina and quayside.
- Enjoy a glass of vin rouge in Place Saint-Sauveur
- Head to Caen historical sites of an evening and see them beautifully illuminated.
We love visiting France and each region so different from one another. I find the DK Eyewitness Guides really helpful in planning a trip and so often find interesting little snippets of info.
Take a peek at this revised Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide and see what you can discover.
A day touring the five Normandy Landing Beaches
An early rise and we’re off to visit the Normandy D-Day Beaches of Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. Also, visit the British cemetery at Bayeux and the American cemetery.
We started our self-drive tour from East to West and grabbing breakfast en-route at a beachside café. Firstly, we visit Sword Beach, where the British landed. A touching memorial can be seen along the edge of the now peaceful beach.
Slightly to the west, we head to Juno Beach, which is where the Canadian forces landed. Also, the bunker stormed by Lt Cosy.
Our next visit was to Gold Beach, where there was another large British military presence. The view from the cliffs over Arromanches-les-Bains is staggering. You can still clearly see the Mulberry Harbour in the bay below.
We detoured to Bayeux to visit the British cemetery and then headed to Omaha Beach and spent a touching time at the American Cemetery.
Our final stop was at Utah Beach and another landing area where the USA sustained a substantial loss.
This whole region of the D-Day Beaches is very moving and worthy of a much longer visit, we just touched the surface.
It’s now time to head back to Caen for the evening.
A day trip to Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Another reasonably early start as Le Mont-Saint-Michel is a fair distance from Caen. It’s around 78 miles (130km) and depending on traffic may take about 1-hour 30/40 minutes, and it gets very busy when you arrive.
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is justifiably a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you first witness its magnificence, you’ll be stopped in your tracks. It’s inconceivable that construction of this Benedictine Abbey began on this ancient outcrop in the 11th-century.
When you arrive, you’ll be directed to the ‘Park and Ride’ or ‘Park and Horse and Cart’, the choice is yours, the horse option you have to pay for. Mont-Saint-Michel does get busy, so try and arrive as early as possible.
However, it is a spectacular place to visit. We headed up to the ramparts and strolled around. It is quieter, and the views across the bay are stunning.
Arriving back at Caen late afternoon, we spent the rest of the day relaxing around the city.
Do you enjoy visiting UNESCO sites?
Drive from Caen to Alençon via La Suisse Normande route
Day eight and we’re off to Alençon in the far south of Normandy.
However, we are not driving directly to Alençon, we’re going to pick up segments of the Suisse Normande route as we journey south.
The drive was delightful taking in some very rural locations, lush countryside and towering forests. We criss-cross the landscape passing through picturesque towns and villages along the way.
You can start wherever you wish on the route, we headed off from Thury-Harcourt zigzagging as we went. Stopping whenever we wanted, the panorama over the valley at Clecy was beautiful.
En-route to Alençon
- Tour the La Suisse Normande route through the heart of Normandy.
- Visit the Normandie-Maine Regional Nature Park
Where to stay in Alençon
Our accommodation for the two nights in Alençon was at the ibis Alençon.
The location of the hotel is only about a 5-minute walk to the old town and is relatively central overall and comfortable.
There is on-street chargeable parking in front of the hotel. The charge is fairly reasonable & you only pay from 9am to 12 & 2pm until 5pm.
A day discovering Alençon
Alençon is full of fascinating history and some incredible architecture. The ancient Le Château des Ducs was invaded by William the Conqueror and used by the Gestapo during WWII for horrific crimes.
There’s an impressive Gothic Cathedral in the old town, surrounded by charming timbered dwellings. A neoclassical Palais de Justice and 18th-century L’Hôtel de Ville, with a beautiful, curved façade.
Places to visit in Alençon
- Visit Alençon Cathedral
- Admire Le Château des Ducs
- Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was born in Alençon and a little chapel in was built next to her family home.
- Palais de Justice and 18th-century L’Hôtel de Ville
- La Halle au Blé, a circular market that was originally used for wheat trading.
Things to do in Alençon
- Discover the wood-panelled library within the 17th-century L'Eglise des Jésuites.
- Stroll the charming streets amongst the timber-framed homes.
- Search out the delightful local bistros.
Drive from Alençon to Honfleur via Le Mans (a little spin around the accessible circuit)
And yes, I know, Le Mans is not in Normandy; it is the Pays de la Loire region of France. However, we weren’t too far away, and it was nostalgia for Gary. Le Mans 24-hour race is located on public roads as well as the main circuit, so we able to drive part of the course and Gary giving a running commentary.
Time waits for no man, so we were heading back to the north of Normandy, Honfleur to be exact, for our last night in France.
Honfleur is a stunning harbour town, full of charm beautiful buildings and a lovely nautical feel. With locals and visitors alike coming and going in their yachts.
Things to do in Honfleur
- Head to the Vieux Bassin lined with tall attractive slate-clad buildings.
- Visit Saint-Catherine’s Church built entirely of wood by shipwright.
- Head to the Wash House which is still fed by hillside springs.
- Museum to the French impressionist Eugène Boudin.
- The Lieutenance, the only remaining section of the ramparts.
Where to stay in Honfleur
Our accommodation for the one night in Honfleur was at the Hotel La Diligence.
We chose Hotel La Diligence for its close proximity to the town and harbour, and onsite parking.
The parking at the hotel is on a first-come, first-served basis, which you may have to be lucky with your timing; however, the spaces are a reasonable size.
Drive from Honfleur to Calais (Le Shuttle) via Trouville-sur-Mer, Étretat and Fécamp
Our last day in France, we were up early as there were a few stops we wanted to make, especially as we had lost 3 hours on our journey from Calais.
First stop was the seaside town of Trouville-sur-Mer with its charming beachside boardwalk, and elegant villas and glitzy casino.
Also famed by artists Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin, who painted stylish scenes of 19th-century wealthy folk promenading in their finery.
Journeyed on to the bustling coastal town of Étretat and strolled down to the seafront to see the spectacular sight of Falaise d'Aval. The magnificent white arch creeping into the sea from the cliff-face.
One last stop before Calais and that was to Fécamp. We sat by the marina, grabbed a filled baguette from a local boulangerie and soaked up the last of the glorious Normandy sunshine, before heading home.
All in all, it was a stunning trip with so many incredible memories. I can’t wait to start planning a road trip for Brittany.
All in one place
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