This summer my friend and I went on a roadtrip in France. We wanted to take some time off and a week in Normandy was perfect for that. Beautiful, charming towns that take you back in town, a wonderful coast and delicious food.
Our journey started in Le Havre, a harbour city in Normandy. We arrived at midday and after finding our hotel and a small lunch, we explored the city. Le Havre is a nice city, but after a few hours, we had seen all the highlights. We visited St-Joseph church with its special architecture and we went to the gardens of l’Hôtel de Ville. We wandered around the city without a plan and spent some time at the beach.
Le Havre is nice, but definitely not a must-see. I wouldn’t really recommend it. For us, it was the perfect break after our drive from Belgium and it's close to Etretat.
Etretat is a small village at the coast of France and is mostly known for its pebble beach and beautiful rock formations. Le Havre was the perfect starting point for a visit to this magnificent landscape. After a half an hour drive we arrived at Etretat at 10 o’clock in the morning. The village is perfectly accessible by car because just before you enter it, there is a free parking. After that, it’s a half an hour walk to the beach, but you walk through the cosy town centre and you save some money. We climbed the first rock formation, La Falaise d’Etretat. It’s a short, firm climb and it’s very doable. You do not need walking boots, but flip flops or sandals won’t be ideal. I did the climb in some sneakers. Once on top the view is breathtaking.
Back down, we ate our lunch on the beach. We bought a french baguette and some cheese in a shop in the village. It was the perfect picnic. The rest of the day we spent on the beach, tanning, trying to build a castle with the rocks (building sand castles is a tradition of my boyfriend and I). It's a lovely beach and you are surrounded by the special rock formations. It's quite amazing. We really enjoyed ourselves and stayed at the beach to watch the sun go under.
Some advice: bring water shoes! It's quite unhandy (and even a bit painful) to get into the sea barefooted. Those rocks aren't very nice to walk on!
In the rock formation on the left, there is also a cave you can visit. We went there at sunset and it was really nice. A micro-adventure to end our day. It's a nice walk on the rocks and the cave isn't that big, but it was a nice extra to see. And, there is a tunnel that leads to a small beach, where you'll be all by yourself. Watch out though - you can only visit the cave when at low-tide. Make sure you watch the time so you don't get stuck! It's save in the cave, but it will take a while before you'll be able to get out.
We leave Le Havre in the morning and drive to our next stop: Rouen, where we’ll also spend two nights. But we decided to spend our third day at Honfleur. It’s a small city that is definitely a must-see when you’re in Normandy. It’s so charming and the old architecture is beautiful and dreamy. And there are so many lovely restaurants, we couldn’t decide where to eat!
We decided to start at the tourism office to get a map of the city. I can really recommend that, because the map had some nice walking routes. We spend the whole day walking around, more or less following the tour of the city map. You should definitely see Le Vieux Bassin, the beautiful harbour (picture) and the church, Saint-Catherine. It’s build completely out of wood and that’s very rare.
We had lunch at L'Homme d Bois, a small, cosy restaurant that is very popular in Honfleur - and with reason. You can eat the most delicious food for a reasonable price. My boyfriend and I chose to take the 3 course menu and only paid 28 euros per person. And it was so good.
When you drive from Le Havre to Honfleur, you have to go over Le Pont de Normandie, a beautiful piece of architecture. Very fun to drive over. You have to pay toll, but that’s France, so…
Rouen is relatively unknown even though it's the 'capital' of the Normandy province. The city is definitely worth a visit. It's a dive back in time, to the Middle Ages, with all the old houses and impressive churches. We walked through the city, passing all the highlights. After half a day we finished our tour (that is, seeing all the recommended monuments) and we decided to simply wander around some more and in that way we discovered many lovely places.
During our walk, we encountered many wonderful churches and what is amazing, is that you can visit all of them for free. The Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Rouen is simply breathtaking. The details are amazing! It's definitely a must-see. Another highlight is La Rue du Gros-Horloge. It's a shopping street, but it's mostly worth your time because of the houses that date back to the 16th century. This really is something unique. I haven't seen something like this before. We also went to the museum of the Gros-Horloge. The entrance was only 3 euros for students - and the normal price is 7 euros. I recommend a visit because in the end you can climb the tower and you have a beautiful view over the city.
Place du Vieux Marché is despite it's name a bit more modern. The square has a darker history, because it's here that Joanne d'Arc was burned alive. There is a big cross on the square on the place where it happened. There's also the Joanne d'Arc church, but that one is less impressive, even though the architecture is quite special.
Oh and if you like cake, I can recommend Dame Cake. It's a small - and beautiful - bakery that specializes in cake. It's very cosy inside and they have a lovely terrace.
We visited Rouen in september and that's when Rouen has it's yearly lightshow. They projected the show on the cathedral and it was so impressive. We stood there watching the spectacle for a whole hour. It was mesmerizing. It was a lovely ending to our visit to the city.
From Rouen, we drove to Giverny - a tiny town that was on our way to the outskirts of Paris. The only reason this rustic village - if you can even call it that - is known is because of the painter, Monet. You can visit his house and the well-known gardens that inspired his paintings. However, we didn't really like the visit because it was so crowded, even though the gardens where indeed very beautiful.
The capital of France, the city of lights, the city of love: Paris. My boyfriend and I have both been to Paris a couple of times before, so we had seen all the must-sees already. Therefore we decided to romantically get lost in the city and it was wonderful. We walked through beautiful, lively neighbourhoods and discovered some new places. We also paid a visit to île Saint-Louis that is famous for it's ice cream, which of course we had to taste. We ended our day in a delicious Ramen restaurant that we encountered on our walk and it was an amazing, relaxed day.
On our last day, we went to the gardens of Versailles. It's really close to Paris and it was already on our way home. Because it was a monday, we couldn't visit the castle, but the weather was lovely so we didn't mind at all. It was a lazy day and we walked in the garden, we had a picnic on a beautiful spot close to one of the many ponds and we ended the day with a rowing on the Grand Canal. For half an hour in the boat, you pay 12 euros (for two) - we really enjoyed this activity. It was the perfect ending for an amazing trip.