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Trip Report Normandy - driving trip

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Hello!
I often use this site to plan trips and find it such a helpful resource, but selfishly I have yet to posts a trip report. So – here are some details from our trip driving around Normandy France. By way of background, I should mention that I am American married to a Kiwi, with three young children. My husband is on a secondment for his work, so for the next few years we are living in Europe and my goal is take the kids to lots of cool and fun places - even if we don't get an in depth view of a place, they can get some exposure and make a decision as they get older where they would like to come back and visit. I travel a lot with the kids on my own so I tend to find places that make it easy - either close to public transport or parking is available, where there is breakfast on site and/or nearby cafes and restaurants, where there are playgrounds or open areas for the kids to run around before we get back on the road, etc.
We went to Mont Saint Michele, and on the rec of someone here, stayed at the Mercure. I could not have been happier. It had parking, great breakfast, good rates, amazing location. All of what was promised. I would stay again – as the local roads from the highway can take some time, so it seems that if you do not stay on MSM or at one of the hotels along side the Mercure, you are going to be some drive away – and would have to deal with parking and the shuttle. With kids you cannot get a better place to stay. And if you have your own car, it is so nice to able to park without concerns. You can walk from the Mercure to MSM if you want or there is a free public shuttle. There is not much around for restaurants, but we had a lovely meal at the last hotel before the causeway on the left hand side. There is a cafeteria type place across from the Mercure, but the food did not look that impressive when we checked it out.
We did a day trip to San Malo which was well worth it. It was off season so not crowded. A beautiful walled city, with yummy food and shopping – there happened to be a market day that day which was fun. The beach is lovely with plenty of space for the kids to run and you can make your way out to a museum located in an old fortress off a rock jetty from the beach. There is also a pirate ship which was well worth the few Euro a kid, as my kids enjoyed running around and playing pirates in the port.
We stayed in Hornfleur one night but I would have stayed longer. It was cute little town where you could walk everywhere. If we did it again I would use it as my base. We stayed at the Mercure there as well and were impressed (we are now sold on the Mercure line of hotels – and I think because I signed up for a Mercure loyalty card, I get a discount at some of their hotels). We didn’t make it to the ship building museum – but that looked cool. We mostly walked around the town and the port – lots of interesting colors and architecture.
We visited the tapestry in Bayeux and I was surprised at how into the story my children were – and I really enjoyed it as well. It was a history lesson told in a very creative way. The museum is not that big, but it was worth the trip – and the town is cute. I also found that with most of our trip focused on WWII and impressionists – it was nice to see something a little bit different. And my kids are into history enough to have enjoyed it.
We visited the US DDay beaches and US cemetery. My kids were 9, 7 and just 6 so at least the younger one (and maybe the younger two) were not really able to appreciate a lot of the WWII stuff we saw. My oldest was really into though. There was one site though that held the interest of everyone - The one beach that is furthest north has craters still in place from the DDay battle as well as German bunker. It also had a small but informative visitor center. It was cold and rainy on the day we went, and I think that added to the effect, even if it cut our visit a bit short.
We visited Rouen and my kids were mildly interested in the cathedral, but loved the large art museum full of amazing impressionist and new work, which happens to be adjacent to a lovely park (with play structure for the kids).
We like impressionist works and the whole family really enjoyed Monet’s Gardens. I had not realized his house doubles as a museum of his work – it was beyond words. We lucked out with a beautiful day that made it even better to enjoy the gardens. It was a little bit crowded, but in April it was not too bad. I wish we could have had longer in Giverny - there are so many other things to do, but we will have to go back another time. I also would recommend going in the spring time, because driving on the highway, you have this stunning views of the farmland and the rollings hills - it is as if you are driving through masterpieces!
We ended in Paris where we met my husband for a few days and then said goodbye to France until next time – a bientot!
Thanks again to everyone who previously posted on Normandy - I appreciate your advice!

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