Normandy, France: A 3 day Road trip itinerary
Updated: Jan 18
Our 3 Day travel guide to Normandy, France:
Sometimes the best trips are the ones entered into unplanned and with little expectations. Before visiting, our knowledge of Normandy was limited to the association with its D-Day beaches and dreamy pictures of Mont Saint Michel. This Northern seaside region of France wouldn't have generally been high on our list of places to visit, but thanks some close friends, we ended up here. Living a world away, in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, we've been lucky enough to meet wonderful people from all over the globe. Sitting in a Chinese language class several years ago a friendship bloomed between us and a lovely French couple from Normandy. This year we were invited to attend the baptism of their children in their hometown, where Andrew would become their daughters' Godfather. It was an invite we wouldn't have missed. Thanks to them we got to experience this historical region of charming seaside towns and rolling green fields.
Getting to and around Normandy:
We flew into Caen Carpiquet airport via a daily direct flight on Flybe from London Southend Airport. We rented a car from Europcar for 4 days during the trip which we were easily able to collect and return to the airport. As most towns are spread out across the region, having the flexibility of a car to get around made life easy for us, despite having to learn to drive on the other side of the road through narrow laneways. Here is some of the beautiful countryside lanes we passed by during our travels:
Where we stayed: Hotel La Glycine Benouville
We drove through narrow winding roads of quintessentially French-looking country brick houses and pulled up in the small neighbourhood of Benouville, just north of Caen (20mins drive from the airport). We had booked to stay at the Hotel La Glycine, a small boutique hotel with brick exterior covered in green vines and bright purple flowers. This building had been standing since at least world war two. Unbeknown to us, we had selected to stay in the very first neighbourhood liberated in France during World War Two. We were surrounded by history, greeted on entry to historical pictures of the celebrations outside of the building post-liberation.
Our lasting impression of this hotel was the smell as we walked passed its restaurant. It was a smell of warm, meaty and fresh ingredients cooking. On our second night, we would enjoy a four-course meal here, including foie gras, tender veal steak, a seemingly limitless supply of cheese selections. It was one of our favourite meals of the trip and we highly recommended to book if staying there.
Our Normandy, France Itinerary - The Summary:
Day One: We journeyed back to the 6th June 1944, D-Day during World War Two. Our itinerary started with a brief visit to the small Overlord museum, providing context on the invasion and its planning. We visited some of the key American D-Day sites including Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and the remnants of the artificial harbour at Arromanches-Les-Bains. As we made our way back to Caen in the evening, we travelled via Benouville to visit the Pegasus Bridge and the very first house to be liberated in France.
Day Two: Stepping back even further in time we started our day with a drive to Bayeux, to see the UNESCO world heritage listed 70m long tapestry depicting the 1066 story of William the Conquerer's conquest of England. We then spent the afternoon visiting the fairytale-like Mont Saint Michel, before returning to Caen for dinner in the old town.
Day Three: We enjoyed a countryside road trip visiting the seaside towns of Deauville and Honfleur.
The detailed story - Our Normandy Highlights
Day One - A journey back to 6th June 1944, the D-Day landing beaches
After zig-zagging through narrow country lanes we pulled up atop a hill overlooking the town of Arromanches-Le-Bains. We parked at the visitor's carpark of the 360-degree museum, which we were moments too late to enter (arrive before 6 pm). It didn’t matter as the view was more than worthwhile.
We looked out onto a seaside town of old fashioned little houses, bustling restaurants, and happy beach-goers. Across the sand stood several large partially eroded looking steel containers, serving as reminders of this beaches sombre history. This was a striking contrast from the happy place it appears to be today. The structures are the remnants of an artificial port survived from D-Day. Having no access to a full port during the initial days of the allied landing in France during World War two, the challenge was set for engineers to design a makeshift port in this very spot. It was a unique challenge, requiring a creative solution to be designed. This story was of particular interest to us, having Andrew spend his career on ships and ports being a marine engineer. We enjoyed our visit so much here, we went back on our final day to spend more time walking along the sand and enjoy an evening snack by the seaside.
The American cemetery and Omaha Beach:
A lump in our throats formed as we walked through the museum of the American Cemetery. Silently we passed by other tourists, no one else made noise either. We all read in awe of the difficult challenge these men faced on D-Day and beyond. In the background, a speakerphone called out the names of each man who lost their lives. Pictures of the men, dressed in their finest were displayed. After walking through museum we stepped outside to the first glimpses of Omaha beach. A surreal and moving moment to see this sight in person.
We carried on walking to the cemetery where we witnessed row by row of immaculately clean white crosses. Each was placed symmetrically for the 3000+ Americans who lost their lives. They spanned the length of football fields, a clear visual representation of the immense sacrifice that occurred. We arrived in the late afternoon to also see the lowering of the American flag. Everyone gathered for a moment of silence before the flag was passed to a veteran and his family. Today it must be a rare occurrence to see veterans visiting so we felt privileged to witness this. He was treated with a hero’s welcome as he walked through the graves, being cheered by onlookers.
The overlord museum:
As part of our history tour we wanted to visit a least one Museum, the Overlord was a quick stop right by the American Cemetery. It was a nice start to add context to all the sights we would later see. It was filled with old military vehicles and planes and only takes about 30 minutes to visit.
As we stayed in Bénouville we were lucky enough to have this bridge walking distance from our hotel. The night before the D-Day landing, several airborne troops landed here to secure this bridge with a mission t keep it intact to support an allied advancement. Next to the bridge is the first houses liberated in France. The story is well worth stopping by for a read.
Day Two - The Bayeux Tapestry, Mont Saint Michel and Caen
Initially, we weren't overly appealed by the thought of spending half a day to go and see what we had pictured as a giant old cloth. However, everyone we had told about our upcoming visit to Normandy had advised us that Bayeux and its UNESCO world heritage listed Tapestry was a 'must-see'. We trusted in these recommendations and visited. We would now say the same to anyone else planning a trip, it is a 'must-see'. The museum holds the 70m long Tapestry depicting the story of William the conquerers defeat of England. An audio guide told us the story behind each section of this artwork. The depth and intricacy of details stitched into the cloth allowed us to fully visualise this story in a way that felt like we could have been watching it as a movie. The story was coming to life for us, and we were completely engaged in it. It took around 30 minutes to walk past the entire piece and we didn't notice the time passing at all. After the museum, we took time to wander the medieval city centre of cobbled streets and centuries-old buildings, including a visit to the cathedral in the centre.
Mont Saint Michel:
A further two-hour drive from Bayeux we continued toward Mont Saint Michel. This was the place we were most excited to visit. We'd seen the fairytale-like pictures of this dreamy castle surrounded by the sea. Even Disney was so captivated by this place that it became the inspiration for the castle in the movie 'Tangled'. Along our drive, through fields of grass and sheep, we captured the first glimpse of this massive structure erected in the distance. It is a visual masterpiece. It's not possible to drive to the Mont itself so we parked at the visitor's centre and took a free shuttle bus in. The buses ran every few minutes. Upon arrival, the entrance was crowded by tourists, as were the narrow and steep laneways. Staircases lined with overpriced restaurants and souvenir stores. While it was photographically stunning, the crowds did feel a bit overwhelming at times.
In the evening we visited the old town district in Caen, we enjoyed a sunset walk taking in the historic buildings including the abbeys and city hall. We were lucky enough to have our friends playing host for us to show us around the town and take us to dinner.
Day Three - Deauville and Honfleur
On our final road trip day, we headed toward the seaside, starting with a visit to Deauville. This town is full of glamour, high-end hotels and luxury stores. Our highlights included sitting in a cafe along the street watching the fashionable French tourists and luxury cars pass by, scoping out the cheese selections at a local weekend farmers market and walking past the rows of grand and iconic looking mansions.
Honfleur was the most charming and picturesque towns we visited during our trip through Normandy. This one is not to be missed. This port town centres around a harbour of old sailing boats which are surrounded by colourful and narrow buildings, buzzing restaurants with sun umbrellas and tourists enjoying an outdoor seafood feast. Tucked behind this vibrancy are little cobblestone streets full of cafes, cider stores, small art galleries and historical buildings. The town is full of character and worth spending a few hours exploring. Our original trip plan had been to continue our drive further on to Etrat, but as we were having such an amazing time here we instead chose to stay a few extra hours and fully enjoy it.
We hope you enjoyed our road trip travel itinerary to Normandy, France. For more blog posts on weekend getaways and travel itineraries check out the destinations section of our blog.
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