Situated just northwest of Paris, the region of Normandy is a coastal part of France with a history steeped in Norman rule tracing back to William the Conqueror in 1066. It’s also known for its D-Day beaches and picturesque harbors, with a notable agricultural and maritime industry along the English Channel. Normandy might be small, but it’s homey and rustic, with plenty of local Camembert and hard cider to welcome you in.

I spent the first two years after university living in Normandy. I’d been accepted to teach English there, and I passed much of my time outside of work exploring as much as possible. One notable aspect was that I’d arrived the year before Normandy was reunited– it’d originally been divided into Haute-Normandie and Basse-Normandie, and it was in the following year that the two came together for political convenience. I’d lived in the former department, but I came to accept both as part of my home away from home.

Normandy gets really cold in the winter (although it barely snows). Coming from warm, sunny Los Angeles, I found it difficult to get through my first winter, but I gradually got used to it. Half of the year is pretty dark and miserable, but the spring and summer months are gorgeous. There are lots of rural pockets, but with the region being small, it’s doesn’t take too long to get to places either by train or bus– even Paris is only two hours away from the very end of the region located in Le Havre. The people in Normandy are kind: they might be a bit cold and standoffish at first, but they become quite warm over time– and their accent is charming (even if it’s a bit challenging to follow)!

Two years was a good amount of time to see a lot of Normandy. I’ve explored both the major cities and the small villages– I might not have gone to every single place, but I’ve been around enough to get a sense of its beauty. I’ve found Normandy to be a subtle blend of its neighboring regions: the slight, bourgeois air of Paris/île-de-France combined with the tough ruggedness of Brittany. It’s a soft combination of both, and it ultimately became a soft spot in my heart.

I’d like to share some of the best gems of Normandy. These places are right on the tourist’s mark, but there’s a good reason why they’re visited. Each offers a richness associated with the region’s history, nature, and architecture, and they merit a chance while in this northwest part of France. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did when I lived there!

PS Feel free to read my older post on Normandy here

5 Beautiful Places in Normandy, France

1. Giverny

Monet’s gardens (October 2016).

Giverny is a tiny, unassuming commune of barely 500 residents. What has put this small place on the national (and international) map is the fondation Claude Monet, an estate-museum that was home to one of the most-prominent Impressionist painters of the late 19th century. Visitors commonly flock to Monet’s house and gardens as a day trip from Paris (as it’s only a 45-minute train ride away), especially during the spring and summer months when weather’s the best.

I’ve visited Giverny twice, both times for the fondation Claude Monet. In fact, I lived in the town right over (Vernon) during my second year of teaching; it was a mere five kilometres away, which made for an extremely-convenient walk over to visit Monet’s house and gardens anytime. There isn’t much else to do in Giverny besides visiting the Impressionist’s home, but it’s still worthwhile to see the blossoming beauty of its carefully-manicured flowerbeds and Japanese-inspired ponds.

2. Rouen

Gros Horlage (October 2016).

The capital of Normandy, Rouen is what I consider a solid symbol of Norman culture. It’s the “city of a hundred spires” from its numerous Gothic cathedrals, as well as half-timbered houses in its Old Town. This is where prisoners from the Hundred Years’ War were hung, along with Joan of Arc being burned at stake. Rouen is deeply-entrenched in its medieval history, still resilient despite modernization in the 21st century.

I’ve gone to Rouen countless of times when I lived in the region. Besides day trips, I also went for teacher’s training and for connecting to Paris and other parts of France. The Old Town is where everything’s at– it’s not very big, and you can see the main sites within an hour, but you’ll still be awestruck by its massive, eponymous cathedral (which has inspired Monet hundreds of times through his paintings of it), colorful half-timbered homes, and the embellished clock tower, le Gros Horlage (pro-tip: look up underneath– the carvings of saints are gorgeous!).

3. Étretat

Coast of Étretat (September 2015).

This coastal village is the stuff of natural wonders– its white, chalk cliffs draped by greenery look almost surreal, and the cold, cerulean waters crash along it every single day. Monet has painted the cliffs countless of times and famed 19th-century writer Guy de Maupassant has written stories about his beloved hometown. Étretat is a natural delight, perfect for hiking its cliffs or lounging at the beach on warmer days.

Getting to Étretat without a car is a bit challenging, but I managed to go three times via regional bus from Le Havre. It’s a 90-minute ride over, but once you arrive, you can spend a long afternoon there. You can opt to hike along its grassy trails above the cliffs (which can go as far as le Tréport, over 100 kilometres away), dip your toes in the ocean, or simply enjoy the views over a beer and galette along the boardwalk. It’s the rugged naturalness of the Normandy coast that draws people to Étretat, and it’s well-worth it.

4. Honfleur

Old Port (October 2016).

Just across the bay from Le Havre is the port town of Honfleur. It’s an easy 30-minute bus ride over, where you can spend a slow, full day enjoying its colorful harbor. You can also expect a lot of holiday-goers, both French and foreigners (particularly the British), roaming the docks or otherwise enjoying a seafood lunch right along it.

I did a day trip to Honfleur with a colleague during my second year. We caught the bus from Le Havre and we spent the morning at the harbor, as well as peeking inside église Sainte-Catherine, made entirely of wood. There also happened to be the weekly outdoor market that day, so we browsed the fresh batches of fruits, vegetables, cheese, hard cider, and seafood. There’s also the maison Satie (birthplace of Erik Satie, an influential composer in the 20th century), but otherwise, it’s enough just to take in the colorful port and relax at the sight of it all.

5. Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel (November 2016).

Le Mont-Saint-Michel needs no introduction– its tidal island has been the site of pilgrimage for centuries before becoming one of the most surreal-looking and highly-visited sites in all of France. People from all over come in droves to the small landmass, overpopulating its vertical Old Town that takes you up to its iconic abbey. Because of its unique location and mysterious air, le Mont-Saint-Michel is a well-sought after destination to go.

Heading there can be a pain, especially if you don’t take a tour nor own a car. Even the nearest train station is 10 kilometres away. I visited le Mont-Saint-Michel twice, the first time by BlaBlaCar from Caen and the second time via carpool with colleagues. It’s incredibly isolated, but well-worth the journey over for an afternoon on its island. The abbey is mostly bare, but with a few lovely structures in its rooms and stunning views of the tides, whether you choose to go at high or low. Definitely go, and enjoy it!

 

Have you been to any of these places in Normandy? Where else would you recommend? Let me know!

 

— Rebecca

46 thoughts on “5 Beautiful Places In Normandy, France

  1. Hey, Rebecca. I’ve enjoyed enormously this post on Normandy. You chose a very colorful and diverse selection of places. Cliffs are absolutely stunning and the abby is stuff of legends. Camembert and cider sound good, too. You were so fortunate to explore this area. I have only visited Paris, for a short weekend break. But Normandy is probably the place I’d love to start my explorations of France. Along with Provence. Cheers!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Honfleur reminds me a lot of Nyhavn in Copenhagen. Mind you it’s probably European style and not necessarily French or Danish. There might be a lot more cities and towns with sights like that in Europe?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can see the resemblance! There are definitely other colorful, harbor cities in Europe: Gdańsk (Poland) and the Cinque Terre (Italy) come to mind. All of them are beautiful, nonetheless!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A beautiful introduction to the region. For a long time Normandy was for Parisians the synonym of weekend getaways. Whether it is for its green countryside or for its long sandy beaches. Unsurprisingly, the western motorway leading to it was historically the first French motorway. Since travel has become easier, destinations have diversified but Normandy is still a dream destination. It can be dreary and wet, but the sunny days are wonderful. Outside the big cities I would not advise to do without a car, the small roads, the character farms and the rich mansions are as many places to visit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Normandy remains a weekend getaway for Parisians, I believe. I’ve mainly lived there during the colder months, but it is true that spring is a gorgeous time to be in the region. Although I didn’t own a car while in Normandy, I was able to rely on buses and carpools to get from place-to-place, so it’s doable for a visit!

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  4. How lovely! It’s nice to get your take on the French region and it’s (hidden) gems. Did you speak French before your move? I imagine that it might be tricky outside of Paris without speaking the local language.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I knew French before I moved to France, but it was by no means fluent…I improved tremendously once I moved abroad, and it’s really true that living in the country helps with enhancing one’s understanding of the language!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t wait to go back to Normandy again. I’ve been to Mont Saint-Michel and Giverny, but I want to see Étretat and Rouen. Do you have a favorite Norman specialty after living there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You mean food and drink? I especially love Camembert and Calvados (the latter a controversial one, I know!). As for places, I have a soft spot for Le Havre; it’s large enough of a city for things to do, but still relatively small and peaceful…along with the beach nearby!

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  6. Good choices 🙂 ! I know 3 on the 5 places that you propose in your article. For me Etretat is the most beautiful place in Normandy. Impossible to miss it ! I never had the opportunity to visit the Mont Saint-Michel even if I am french aha I am afraid of being disappointed because of the crowd of tourists. Why not for a week end next year ? 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m not French, but I think everyone should visit le Mont-Saint-Michel at least once in their lifetime. Even if there are crowds, there’s a certain magic to the seemingly floating island that makes the visit worthwhile. J’espère que tu y iras un jour!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post! I went to Normandy when I was a kid and don’t remember much from that trip, apart from the Mont Saint-Michel (I also visited its British counterpart, the St Michael’s Mount!). It has been a dream of mine to go to Giverny though! Thanks for sharing these beautiful places 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I love the pictures of Rouen and Le Mont-Saint-Michel so much! Something about old pristine buildings and European architecture gets me all the time. I hope I get to visit someday. Passed on an opportunity to go to Normandy in favour of a different country a few years ago. Would be sure not to let that happen again 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I would love to visit Normandy one day, particularly to explore Rouen. A few years ago, we went to Brittany but due to time restraints opted to leave Normandy for some other time! Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva

    Liked by 1 person

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