Walk, ride, and drive around Normandy and Brittany in seven days
There’s so much of France to discover that I think it’s best done in small bites. One of my travel goals is to visit each of France’s regions — hopefully, sooner rather than later! I was able to check off two new regions on a trip in October and I also got to revisit Paris — a city that I think should be part of every France itinerary — no matter how many times you’ve been there. Here’s a quick look at the particular itinerary we chose for the Normandy and Brittany part of the trip.
Our itinerary — at a glance
Day 1 – Paris to Rouen
We arrived at CDG in the early morning. Although there are other public transportation options (such as the regional RER train) also available, we chose to take a taxi (50 euros) to the Gare St. Lazare to catch our train to Rouen (about 1.5 hours). Train booking tip: We used the OUI.sncf app to research and book rail tickets while in France.
Day 2 — Rouen
As we often do when first arriving in a new place, we checked in to the hotel and then walked around the area getting a sense of the place. Arriving in the mid-afternoon, we had a quick lunch and then walked around town for a few hours before heading back to the hotel to refresh and get ready for dinner.
Place du Vieux Marché is the famous square where Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake. A church, Eglise Jeanne d’Arc, stands on the spot where her terrible death occurred.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Rouen is the city’s iconic Gothic cathedral built between the 12th and 16th centuries. Art enthusiasts may also know that it was the inspiration for a series of Monet’s paintings.
Historical Jeanne d’Arc is an immersive experience that takes you through the investigation and trial of Jeanne d’Arc in a series of rooms in the Archbishop’s Palace on Rue Saint-Romain where her trials took place.
Gros Horloge (the Great Clock) is the 14th-century astronomical clock in an arch above Rue du Gros-Horloge. Take the stairs to the Gothic belfry to get a look at the workings and history of the clock plus great panoramic views of the city.
Where we ate
Favorite meal: La Petite Auberge serves authentic French (particularly regional) dishes in a cozy half-timbered building. We had lunch here and would love to go back for dinner sometime.
Honorable mention: Cancan is a contemporary bistro and bar on the Place du Vieux Marché.
Place to start the day: Dune, a cafe on Place de La Pucelle, is a great place to start the day with delicious coffee and croissants. We also appreciated the friendly service.
Famous restaurant tip: Although we didn’t dine here, La Couronne is high on the radar for many tourists as the oldest restaurant in France and because of Julia Child who said about her meal there in 1948:
In all the years since the succulent meal, I have yet to lose the feelings of wonder and excitement that it inspired in me. — Julia Child, My Life in France
Where we stayed
Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, 15 Place de la Pucelle — Part of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection, Hotel de Bourgtheroulde is a contemporary hotel in a 15th-century historic stone mansion. The location is great for exploring the city on foot to visit all of the places mentioned above.
Day 3 – Rouen to Bayeux
As we did not plan on visiting attractions around Rouen where a car would be needed, we decided to travel once again by train to our next stop in Normandy — Bayeux. It is about a 2.5 hour journey including one transfer in Caen. Bayeux is an excellent place to make your base for visiting the Normandy D-Day sites.
Bayeux Tapestry — This beautiful 11th-century 70-yard long tapestry is a must-see attraction while in Bayeux. It depicts William the Conqueror’s story as duke and king, through battles, victories and other dramas of the Middle Ages.
Bayeux Cathedral — This Romanesque and Gothic cathedral is a commanding sight in Bayeux with beautiful decor, particularly seen in its stained glass windows. Some of the pieces above the altar are from the13th century.
Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum — The museum is an excellent place to start a visit to Normandy’s historic sites relating to World War II and the Battle of Normandy. There are many exhibits of wartime gear including uniforms, weapons, communications equipment, and vehicles.
Day 4 – Bayeux and D-Day Beaches
This is where the driving portion of our trip begins. We took a taxi (about 7 euros) from the hotel to the Hertz rental location at the Total Petrol station in town. From there, we traveled about 20 minutes to Arromanches, the first of our D-Day sites. Refer to our previous post about the Normandy D-Day sites for more information and photos. The map below gives you a general idea of the locations visited. It’s not an exact representation of the routes taken.
D-Day sites highlights
Arromanches — The village of Arromanches was a key location for D-Day operations. From the clifftop above the village, there are vistas of the English Channel and remnants of the concrete caissons that formed the Mulberries (artificial harbors) that were vital in getting Allied vehicles and equipment to shore. On the clifftop, there is also the Arromanches 360 cinema, where you can watch an excellent film, “Normandy’s 100 Days”. Also take time to visit the D-Day Landing Museum in the village.
Longues-sur-Mer — Near the village of Longues-sur-Mer is the Batterie Allemande de Longues-sur-Mer, a German gun battery and lookout bunker that was strategically positioned for views of the English Channel and approaching Allied forces.
Omaha Beach – In Vierville-sur-Mer, walk along the same wide expanse of sand at Omaha Beach that U.S. troops crossed on D-Day. Of the five D-Day beaches, Omaha Beach saw the greatest casualties with about 2,400 troops killed, wounded, or missing in action.
American Cemetery – The cemetery is located in Colleville-sur-Mer on the site of the original burial grounds established by the U.S. Army on June 8, 1944 to bury their dead. This is a must see and provided the most moving experiences during an emotional day. We recommend checking the time for the flag lowering which was the highlight of this experience.
Where we stayed
Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, 15 Place de la Pucelle — Part of the Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Hotel de Bourgtheroulde is a contemporary hotel in a 15th-century historic stone mansion. The location is great for exploring the city o foot to visit all of the places mentioned above.
Where we ate
La Marine – While seeing the sights in Arromanches, we stopped for lunch at La Marine Hotel on the beachfront. The food is very good and there are nice views of the village, beach, and surrounding cliffs.
La Rapiere, 53 Rue Saint-Jean — It was at this small restaurant where we had our favorite meal in Bayeux. La Rapiere serves regional dishes in a very cozy setting. It gets very busy, so be sure to make a reservation.
Patisserie Ordioni, 25 Rue Saint-Jean – For pastries and coffee before a day of sightseeing, try this wonderful bakery that was recommended to us by a local.
Day 5 – Bayeux to Dinan via Mont St. Michel
Mont Saint-Michel — This important historic site about 73 miles from Bayeux was our final stop in Normandy. We spent about 3.5 hours, including a quick lunch, exploring the island of Mont Saint-Michel, its abbey (first built in the 8th century) at the top and the winding streets of the village surrounding it. From Mont Saint-Michel, we drove about 36 miles to Dinan where we checked in to our hotel, strolled a bit around town and had a lovely dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 6 – Dinan
We felt that a full day of exploring Dinan on the Rance River was sufficient to at least get a look at the main attractions and feel the town’s charming ambiance. However, if you have more time, an extra day or so here would be a good addition to this itinerary. Refer to our previous post with detail about this charming town and main attractions and activities, including the Basilica of St. Sauveur, English Garden, walking the ramparts and riverside path to Léhon, and browsing the shops and galleries lining the cobbled streets from Place St. Saveur down to the riverside.
Where we stayed
La Maison Pavie, 10 Place St. Saveur — This is a bed and breakfast located in a historic 15th-century half-timbered house on Place St. Saveur across from the basilica. It has five spacious and beautifully-decorated guest rooms.
Where we ate
Favorite meal: Le Cantorbery, 6 Rue St. Claire — This charming and intimate restaurant is located in a 17th-century house on a quiet street near the old town square. Service was impeccable and the regionally-inspired courses were and deliciously prepared.
Day 7 – The Brittany Coast
We were looking to round out our northeast France experience with a coastal experience. There are many choices for diverse scenery and available activities along the Breton coast.
What we saw
Perros-Guirec — This gorgeous area of the Brittany coast is called the Pink Granite Coast. There is a wonderful trail along the coast through the abundant rock formations with gorgeous English Channel views. We had about three hours to spend in the area for the walk and lunch on the harbor.
Then it was on to Combrit (a little over two hours via inland route) where we would spend the night.
Combrit —There are numerous cities and locations that we could have chosen for our last night in the Brittany region, but Mr. TWS loves water and coastal vacations and came across an ad for an inn in the small village of Combrit. Being off-season for Combrit, a very popular spring and summer getaway spot, it was very quiet when we visited and quite affordable. This is a place to get a taste of a small coastal resort village in Brittany in the off-season.
Basically, our time in Combrit was a brief, but enjoyable, chance to just relax and soak up a coastal resort town’s ambiance (albeit in the off season). After check-in at our hotel, we took a long, leisurely walk along the harbor and through some residential neighborhoods of this small village.
Where we stayed
Villa Tri Men, 16 Rue du Phare — Villa Tri Men is a lovely inn with 33 rooms. As one of only two couples staying in the hotel that night, we got a beautiful large room with a wrap-around terrace and views overlooking the harbor. One of the wonderful benefits of traveling in the off season!
Where we ate
Le Bistrot du Bac on the port of Sainte-Marine – The restaurant at the hotel was not open on the night we arrived, but the bistro (also run by the owners of the hotel) was perfect for drinks on the patio and later dinner inside. It was the only choice in town, but it was a good one.
Then it was on to Paris for three days. We returned our rental car to the Hertz location across from the railway station in Quimper (13 miles from Combrit). From there we took the train to Gare Montparnasse in Paris. We’ll tell you about that part of the trip in future posts.