As days lengthen, it’s time to look ahead to a summer road trip, and surely few places can outshine Normandy when it comes to scenic highlights, idyllic villages, outstanding attractions, good food and fabulous accommodation in a series of luxury chateaux.
Treat yourself to a few nights in Paris before picking up a hire car and following the Seine on its winding, leisurely route to coastal Honfleur. Leaving behind the Champs Elysees, strolls through leafy parks, al fresco dining and Louvre artworks, there are a choice of routes from Paris to Vernon, about 55 miles northwest of the capital. The A13 is faster and gives you time to detour to the Palace of Versailles, although you must prebook admission to avoid spending much of the day in a lengthy queue. Alternatively, choose one of the meandering routes that criss-cross the Seine with views of shabby farmhouses, timeless villages, distant church spires and green forests.
When it’s time to eat, stop at a roadside auberge and feast on a set menu du jour that is likely to include crusty bread, soup, seafood, cheese, lamb, dessert and a complimentary tot of Calvados to send you on your way.
to Rouen (42 miles)
Vernon is the Gateway to Normandy and as such is home to shadowy Gothic churches, crumbling castles and delightful half-timbered cottages. Look out for the stranded Old Mill on the remains of an ancient bridge and book yourself a night at the fabulous Moulin de Connelles, about 20 miles away.
Awaken refreshed and ready to visit Giverny, home of Monet’s Garden, complete with lily pond and famous wisteria-draped bridge. Tour his former home and studio before exploring the one-street village and nearby Musee des Impressionnismes.
Heading towards Rouen, it’s worth taking the back roads to Les Andelys, one of the most scenic parts of the Seine Valley with its chalk cliffs. The river is best viewed from the Belvedere of Chateau Gaillard, said to have been built by Richard the Lionheart in 1196. Spend the night in Rouen after dining on local delicacies such as roasted pigeon and pressed duck prepared by two-Michelin star chef, Gilles Tournadre, at the Relais and Chateaux Restaurant Gill.
Rouen is well worth lingering for a few days, soaking up the magnificent architecture in the city that celebrates the martyred Joan of Arc. The cobbled streets are lined with nursery-rhyme cottages, not to mention the gargantuan Notre Dame Cathedral, Gros-Horloge Clock Tower, Abbey of Saint Wandrille and the Fine Arts Museum.
Pressing on towards the coast again, Honfleur is just 57 miles away. The roads are lined with cultivated farmland, scarlet poppies and neat rows of vines hugging the contours of the rolling hills. This is the land of the Normandy Invasions and the D-Day Landings at Omaha Beach. There are many places to stop and pay your respects, if you wish.
You may want to detour to Deauville, the upmarket resort known as “Paris by the Sea”, with its grand casino and famous racecourse. If you have time to relax, spend a few days exploring nearby Bayeux with its famous tapestry, or head to the rock abbey of Mont Saint-Michel, reached by tidal causeway.
Le Havre offers regularly sailings back to the UK and you’ll definitely want to take some wine back. Open a bottle, sip slowly and remember long sunny days spent in Normandy at a slower pace of life, wrapped in as much history, art and architecture as you can care to enjoy in this delightful corner of La Belle France.