An idyllic 10-night journey along 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.
Along the high street of Beuvron-en-Auge, Normandy
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.
A useful guide
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.
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.
Across the lily pont at Giverny
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.
As this is a road trip, you’ll undoubtedly be travelling on a toll road at some point. In France, you pay the tolls as you go, and I recommend using a credit card as it is a lot quicker and simpler passing through.
En-route to Rouen
The ‘best laid plans’ as they say can often go awry. Mmmm yes, we were delayed at Folkestone Eurotunnel for 3 hours. But, hey those things happen, we’ll just juggle today’s schedule slightly and arrive at Rouen a little later.
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.
The view over Fécamp
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).
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.
It’s now the short hop back to Rouen for the evening. Where we watched the stunning light display projected across Rouen Cathedral. The theme used for the animated show was William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc.
Our total mileage for the day was around 127 miles (204km).
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A day discovering Rouen
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame, 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.
Rue Eau de Robec, Rouen, Normandy, France
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.
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.
Just the prettiest place - Beuvron-en-Auge
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.
Our total mileage for the day was around 123 miles (198km).
A day visiting Caen
Caen Town Hall
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
Statue of Louis XIV in Place Saint-Sauveur
Caen has some charming squares to sit and relax in, we loved the 18th-century Place Saint-Sauveur, there are some lovely restaurants here.
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.
Flags of the Allied powers, Normandy Road Trip, France
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.
Our total mileage for the day was around 137 miles (221km).
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.
Close up to Mont-Saint-Michel
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.
Our total mileage for the day was around 160 miles (258km).
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Drive from Caen to Alençon via La Suisse Normande route
Flowers on the route Suisse-Normande
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.
A view over the route Suisse-Normande
After a few hours touring around La Suisse Normande, we head onto Alençon for the remainder of the day and look forward to discovering more tomorrow.
Our total mileage for the day was around 81 miles (131km).
A day discovering Alençon
L'Hôtel de Ville and the flag of Normandy, 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.
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.
Cidre de Normandy in Honfleur, Normandy
Honfleur does receive a lot of visitors all year round, and it has become quite popular over the years. and the prices reflect this. However, that aside, it is a picturesque place to visit. There’s nothing quite like sitting on the harbourside, enjoying a freshly a cooked galette and a glass of crisp local cider, you are in Normandy after all.
Our total mileage for the day was around 155 miles (250km).
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.
The Cliffs at Étretat, Normandy
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.
Our total mileage for the day was around 218 miles (351km).
All in one place
Our Normandy road trip itinerary in summary
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