When we first began planning our trip to France, there were some majors sites we knew we couldn’t miss. Normandy being at the top of both of our lists, we decided we would save Paris for the end of our adventure and head out to the west coast as soon as we landed. Rather than a particular city. Normandy is actually a large region of France filled with quiet historical town and farmland, located about three to four hour outside of Paris. Having just spend the “night” a plane, we were itching to do some exploring on our way there. Luckily, there is a variety of things to do and see on your way to Normandy that you definitely don’t want to miss! But first, how do you get there?
While there are numerous bus tours and train trips that make their way out rest, it truly is best to absorb the French countryside in your own vehicle. With numerous storybook villages and giant sunflower fields along the way, it’s wonderful to have the ability to stop when you feel like it. We rented an manual compact car, which is the most popular car of choice for tourists and locals alike. Given the steep price of gas, small cars rule the road and make driving easy and comfortable. The French drive on the right side and most of the signs are similar to those in the states. And while roads and parking lots are narrow, they’re easy to maneuver due to the lack of huge SUVS and vans. We rented from Hertz while at the airport and almost got off without a hitch. Some bumpy roads had our tires leaking air and caused us to make a few stops along the way to get it fixed. Once we were confident our tires wouldn’t bail on us, we could finally get back to the instagram-worthy portion of our trip.
Our first stop was to Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny. Easily a day trip from the city, we made this our first stop as we headed out west. Our flight landed at 7am so we were able to get on the road an hour later and show up to Monet’s house around 9am. Despite our attempts at being first in line, we still had a 45 minute wait to get tickets. Apparently this was a popular decision on how to spend a gorgeous 75 degree summer day! The tickets allows you into his gardens, which you’ll immediately notice inspired a multitude of his paintings. The ponds nestled throughout the cattails and the dirt paths weaving amongst roses and daisies and flowers I’ve never even heard of were breathtakingly beautiful.
Because our trip was in August, a popular vacation month for the French, the crowds were something fierce. As much as we wanted to find solitude on the bridge over the lilies or enjoy a peaceful walk around the property, it was anything but. While we loved our visit and certainly recommend taking the time to stop here, we opted out of touring Monet’s house simply to us being done with lines for the day. Although we did google pictures of the home later, and while lovely, didn’t seem worth another hour wait to get in. Luckily, the streets of Giverny are wide and many don’t allow cars so it’s easy to wander the quaint town without drowning in crowds. We enjoyed lattes from a cafe closeby and meandered throughout the sculptures until we hit the road onto our next stop!
Although slightly out of the way to our AirBnB for the night, I knew this was something I didn’t want to miss. Especially given the glorious weather France welcomes us with, we knew the view would be stellar. Étretat is a small farming town located right on the coast. A rocky beach surrounds the village that is utilized by locals and tourists alike. From sailing, to paddleboarding to windsurfing, these aqua waters offer it all. Although the water itself is mesmerizing, the real view is of the chalky white cliffs the surround the pools of water. The natural arches and pointed formations are forever memorialized in many of Monet’s paintings. From the beach, you can walk up a steep staircase along the left side of the cliffs. It offers a stunning view of the town as well as the church located across the way. As with many of sites, Étretat was packed (for good reason). Luckily ,the people thinned out the further you steered away from the beach. We made it up to the top of the first overhang, but knew we couldn’t spend too much time here in fear of driving to our accommodations in the dark. Although off the beaten path, this was a must see in our book!
With a packed day to starve off our jet lag, we were truly starting to feel it at this point. Having lived off of trail mix and airplane snacks, we were most than eager to finally find our place for the night and some food! With a couple of GPS kinks that caused us to drive our car onto a ferry to be carried over the river (apparently that’s cheaper than taking a toll bridge?!) we arrived at our final destination for the day. After reading numerous reviews, there was an overwhelming consensus to spend the night in Bayeux. This adorable village is easy to spot due to the towering steeple oi the cathedral in the city center. We lucked out with an incredible AirBnB studio apartment directly across from the cathedral square. Our host was wonderfully welcoming and guided us on how to spend our time here (and where we could get some food, quick). There are numerous restaurants tucked along the streets, Le Pommier Restaurant and Au Ptit Bistro were two of our favorites!
While we had a full day planned exploring the D-Day sites of Normandy which you can read more about here! Bayeux had it’s own set of must-dos. Bayeux is most notably known for housing Bayeux Tapestry, nearly 70 meters of an intricately embroidered story from (assumedly) the 1070s. Paired with a headset in your language, you silently walk through the exhibit while listening to the story. This unique visit is typically what draws in many of the tourists. The tapestry was beautiful, but the real show was an evening performance located on a giant tree in the city center. This light consisted of ten stories celebrating France’s journey to freedom. Part in English, French and numerous other languages, children, adults and dogs alike nestled themselves around the tree to witness this spectacular display of art. Although we were initially a bit confused as to what was going on, it was a truly unique view into the heart of this small town.
After two days in Bayeux, it was time to head on to our next stop. Sad to pack up and go, we spend a long morning sipping lattes and enjoying croissants on one of the bustling alleyways, preparing for the day ahead.
Have you ever been to Normandy? What is the most unique thing you’ve seen when traveling?