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Trip Report Normandy Trip Report & Les Plus Beaux Villages de France Question

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My wife and I took a trip to Normandy and Paris back in October of last year. We were initially going to go to either Burgundy or the Dordogne, but ultimately opted to visit Normandy instead because of the commute time to the other two regions and we were only there seven days.

On this report I'm not going to mention much of our four days based in Paris. However, the biggest highlights were getting to visit Chartres and Père Lachaise, two great places I had never been before. I particularly loved Chartres, it's my favorite Paris day trip I've ever taken. I would highly recommend it to anyone. The cathedral may be my favorite in Europe that I've seen.

In Normandy we spent all three nights in Rouen and rented a car. I liked Rouen but did not love it. The cathedral and old town were very impressive and I really enjoyed walking around for a few hours, but then I was ready to move on. It would have made a great day trip, but ultimately we found coming back there each night to be really cumbersome. Driving in Rouen was a nightmare, especially at night for someone like me who was driving in France for the first time. Anyway, for future reference this trip taught me that driving in the country in France is much easier and I would have been much happier staying in small towns.

I had Stu Dudley's guide for Normandy, which proved to be of more use than any of the guidebooks we had with us. The real highlight of the whole trip was our three days of driving around Normandy. We visited several towns, villages, and chateaux in the region. We enjoyed all of the chateaux we visited, especially Chateau St. Germain de Livet. The setting and architecture were just sublime.

Of the towns and villages we visited, here is a list of my favorites:

Le Bec-Hellouin

There were very few people we encountered in any of these towns, which really added to the experience for us. I'm sure it was because we were there in October, which is well after their peak tourist season. I particularly liked the setting of Beaumont-en-Auge and the unbelievable views from the lookout just off the center of the village. There is a neat hiking trail that descends down a heavily wooded trail from there that in retrospect I wish I had taken the time to explore. Actually, the only one of these villages that is not surrounded by a stunning landscape is Beuvron-en-Auge. However, wandering through the streets of this village was really enjoyable and unfortunately my wife did some impromptu shopping. Also, we enjoyed the best meal of our trip at their Michelin starred restaurant, Le Pavé d'Auge, per Stu's strong recommendation.

The most disappointing site of the trip for us was Honfleur. We both thought the town and harbor were beautiful. However, it was just too touristy for us and we found ourselves glad to leave after a couple of hours. It did not seem like a real place, but rather like a trip to Maui (my least favorite place I have ever gone on vacation) where the locals have left and what's left are outdoor shopping malls, hotels, resorts, and other schemes to get your money.

After the trip I did some research and realized all of the villages we loved other than Beaumont-en-Auge have the official designation as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. I'm wondering if this is just a coincidence or if there's something to it. I'm wanting to start planning my next trip and I'm wondering where to look as a reference point to find the most beautiful small towns and villages of France. The things that most interest me are small, quiet villages, food, chateaux, and cathedrals, probably in that order. Several of you on here are much more seasoned travelers than me and I'm not wanting to make the same mistakes on my next trip that I made on the last one. I've read several message boards where some of you have mentioned you don't even consult travel guides anymore, which is something I find interesting. I personally have five different travel guides to France and I consult all of them frequently, maybe I have been consulting the wrong material all the time in trip planning.

My big takeaways on how to make my next trip better are the following:

1. Pick up the rental car up and drop it off at CDG instead of a major city center

2. Spend the entire trip based in small villages with maybe a day or two at the beginning or end in Paris to appease my wife

3. Slow down and try to see fewer sights and spend more time enjoying the sights I do get to. This includes doing less driving.

4. Get the Michelin Green Guide and corresponding maps. From the comments I've read on this board, this seems to be the guide that I haven't previously had that would most help me.


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