Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Why I love Normandy and Brittany: Trip Report

Why I love Normandy and Brittany: Trip Report

Old Apr 14th, 2016, 10:46 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 171
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Why I love Normandy and Brittany: Trip Report

This post is a long time coming. I wrote most of it last summer, when I had just returned to Rouen from a big weekend sight-seeing, and then lost the post and re-found it recently. I enjoyed myself so much in Normandy and Brittany, that to be honest, writing about what I was doing, wasn’t something I wanted to do in the moment. But now, that I have only the memories left, I want to share a little bit about my time in these unique areas of France.

I was spending a month in Rouen, taking a language course I’d found through researching mercilessly until finding one that fit my budget. I knew, from years past, that Normandy boasted some of the most affordable programs in France, so I kept coming back to it and eventually found a program there that fit my needs (Alliance Francaise). Their Normandy location was Rouen-so it was settled!
. It had been a goal of mine for years to learn French, and knowing I’d never be able commit to long term regular lessons I figured an immersion in the country might be the best way to gain at least a bit of conversational French.

Though my schedule was quite full with five days a week of language lessons, I knew I wanted to take some time to explore the region of Normandy, and if possible, Brittany at the first opportunity. I’d stopped over in London for a week on the way to Rouen, and had spent the time with a friend who said he might be able to come and meet me in France as well, the week after I arrived. He ended up coming, and thanks to this, I had a partner to explore this beautiful area of France with.

Rouen itself is a gorgeous city full of stunning cathedrals and many wonderful museums and restaurants. It is famous for many things, among them the fact that is the city where Joan of Arc was put to death (in the main square) and the city of the cathedrals featured in Monet’s series of paintings ‘The Rouen Cathedrals’.

However, the best days I spent in Normandy and Brittany were the three days I spent in Etretat, Honfleur, a countryside chateau, and at Mont St. Michel. This itinerary, in my opinion was the perfect itinerary for seeing some of the most beautiful spots with only a few days of time, and without rushing or trying to check off too many boxes. We had four days days and three nights to explore Normandy and Brittany, outside of Rouen (where we spent a few nights before leaving the city) and beyond the Normandy Beaches (which we’d done already on a day trip after my lessons one day). We had a rental car, since this is the kind of area you must drive around to see pretty much everything worth seeing.

We chose to drive first to Etretat and spend some hours running around the cliffs, picnicking up near the hilltop church, and enjoying the fresh sea breezes, before driving on to Honfleur where we had booked an Airbnb apartment. Then, we stayed in a Chateau, out in the countryside near Mont St Michel and St Malo, and on a whim without having planned it ahead of time, opted to spend a night ON the famous floating island of Mont St Michel.

The combination made a truly spectacular weekend that I won’t easily forget. I saw a whole new side of France. Different food, scenery, and culture. Before this trip, I’d spent my time in Paris, major wine regions (with the winemakers in cellars and tasting rooms), and in Provence (with a base in Avignon). After this trip, I can say I love France even more.

Normandy and Brittany have food and drink traditions all their own. They don’t make wine at all, as cider and calvados (an apple based spirit) reign here. They are breezy and coastal, green and friendly, yet also often grey and chilly. They are ruggedly beautiful in that wonderful way that wind-swept cliffy seaside areas always are. There’s the sense of the wild, and the calm. The wind and rain, yet the slower pace of life and more easy and friendly manner of the locals (who aren’t as bombarded by tourists from every country in the world as regularly as Paris or the South of France).

Add to this the lack of crowds, compared to other areas near bigger cities (partially due to the expanse of the area and the lack of major transport hubs), and the far more casual dress (and even dining style) and these regions for me, created the perfect ‘French’ experience.

Where do I start….

Let’s start with what struck me most about these places at first sight:

Etretat: cliffs overlooking the ocean, gravel paths and stairs and churches perched on top of cliffs overlooking it all. small beaches, and mellow water. Creperies and seafood restaurants everywhere. Typical ‘Brittany’ style building. Tiny town. We caught the Tour de France whizzing through the day we were there. Gorgeous

Honfleur (photo at top of this post): sailboats sitting on dark turquoise water. Serene harbour. Old school French type buildings and businesses everywhere. Calvados tasting. Our adorable apartment (Airbnb) full of light and nice linens and overlooking a garden, and up a tiny street. About 75 Euros a night-a bargain. Outdoor markets that had the best selection of cheeses, ciders, olives, breads, and charcuteries. Picturesque cafes. Thunder storms. Small town feel. Patisseries and boulangeries displaying gorgeous pastries. Didn’t want to leave.

This is the place I'd choose to spend the most time again if given the choice.

We ate at a really wonderful restaurant called La Tortue which was great for wine choices, presentation, and in general was a cut above most basic French restaurants you'll find with fixed menus. The chef went the extra mile to make the flavors and textures meld very well and to make it look great. Tiny spot-can get hot and sweaty on a hot day. Lovely cocktails though and a great and super reasonably priced champagne by the glass to help you cool down.

For a picnic lunch on our way out of town, we hit the weekend morning outdoor market. Grabbed Normandy Camembert, sparkling Normandy hard Cider (I always opt for driest version) olives, charcuterie, and even some Vietnamese salad rolls (I almost died of happiness).

Chateau Ramatiere: out in the middle of nowhere yet close to what we needed. Not near anything else. Drive up and use buzzer to alert owner you're there and you get let in through private gates… and are welcomed into a green oasis. Only 30 min from Mont St Michel.. we got the last room available, which happened to also be the largest. A suite, at the very top of the Chateau on the third floor in it’s own wing. We paid about 120 Euros for the suite which had a huge and beautiful open bathroom with excellent shower, and a large sitting room as well as Master size bedroom. The regular rooms run around 100 Euros. We spent a lovely night here, after heading to Caen for a seafood dinner (won't give name of restaurant as it was so unimpressive that we forgot) drinking a bottle of Calvados (made just down the road) that we purchased from the owner and feeling like a Queen and King in our castle.

Mont St. Michel:

We dragged getting ready to leave our lovely Chateau, but eventually ended up heading off to Mont St Michel around noon. We found the crowds to be stifling, and had the genius idea of grabbing a room in one of the hotels ON the island so that we could come back and have the place to ourselves that night (in June/July it’s light out until after 11pm!). Best. Idea. Ever. This floating island is beautiful during the day and the night, but during the day, and up until dinner time, there are so many people crowded into the narrow little streets you can barely move above a snail’s pace. People shuffle along behind one another, brushing up against one another and sweating in the heat that feels hotter once inside the walls of this tiny island. We chose to experience it in a different way.

After grabbing keys to our hotel room (a mere 85 Euros which we thought a steal for staying in such a historic monumental place) we were free to run off to the nearby lovely city of St. Malo to eat crepes and drink cider, and walk along the water until it was time to come back to the island. We returned just in time to get into the famous Abbey at the top of Mont St. Michel (they stop letting people in at 6 and close it at 7) and spent an hour perusing the great halls and gorgeous inner gardens, admiring the grand arches and the view of the bay below from various vantage points.

After dinner, we were able to roam the tiny floating city island bottle of Muscadet in tote, running down every tiny street, up every staircase, and along every rampart oohing and ahhing at everything until 2am (didn't get fully dark until almost midnight! Summer days are beautifully loooooonnng in Normandy/Brittany).

We were able to take a morning walk with coffee and be in the car and on the road by the time the first crowds of the day arrived.

I can’t think of a better way to spend three days in Normandy and Brittany- all in all it was one of my favorite trips in many years. Our choices of accommodation had a lot to do with this.

If you'd like to see some photos, I Have them up on my website with my article:

Brooke_Herron is offline  
Old Apr 14th, 2016, 04:52 PM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 2,552
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
A lovely report Brooke. I've spent two nights on the Mont on different occasions and I fully endorse spending a night on the island. It is truly magical when it is lit up at night and you have the island practically to yourself.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Old Apr 14th, 2016, 07:36 PM
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 2,541
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Great way to get around the horrible crowds.
ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2016, 02:54 AM
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 3,438
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
A very nice report. Glad you got out and about. In my opinion Normandy is under-rated by a lot of US visitors. There's plenty to discover, but it takes time that many people on short vacations just don't have.
Coquelicot is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2016, 10:50 AM
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 916
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Bookmarking for our trip this summer...sounds wonderful!
cybertraveler is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2016, 11:37 AM
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 110
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Would love to know where you stayed on Mont St.Michel. Contemplating this for June.
Wonderful report!
laurie23 is offline  
Old Apr 23rd, 2016, 04:55 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,362
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Lovely report, Brooke!

I agree that it's worth it to spend the night on Mont St-Michel, having been there twice, though it's no guarantee of losing the crowds! We were there a number of years ago in July and, even at midnight, the crowds were omnipresent! But the view of the Mont from our window was spectacular!
progol is online now  
Old Apr 23rd, 2016, 05:24 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 24,464
Received 4 Likes on 4 Posts
Glad you enjoyed the trip, I remember an earlier post when you were getting a bit frustrated with Rouen and I'm glad it all worked out.

Just a couple of pedant points, Etretat is in Normandy (and very unlike any Brittany town I know) and, of course, the island does not float ;-)

Still miracles can happen, for instance you found a drinkable Muscadet
bilboburgler is offline  
Old Apr 23rd, 2016, 12:26 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,766
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Lovely report! I spent two weeks in Normandy about 5 years ago and really loved it, especially driving around the countryside. It was in May before the summer crowds arrived, an ideal time for me. I used Rouen, Honfleur and in a great place near the landing beaches as bases. I didn't drive over to Mont St. Michel this trip as I had already been there, although not in the ideal way that you visited it. It's beautiful and interesting, but once was enough, because of the crowds. I agree, nighttime would be magical, though.

I would love to know how you would rate your Alliance Francaise immersion course in Rouen. I liked Rouen and thought there was a lot to see there, but I only stayed a couple of days.

Thanks for your report!
Sue4 is offline  
Old Apr 27th, 2016, 02:43 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2011
Posts: 171
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thank you everyone! I hope to add more reports on my Lucca month, Marche week, Verona trip, and also my Galicia week! I'm so behind!

Laurie23: I stayed in Les Terrasses Poulard on Mont st Michel. Nothing special but reasonably priced, clean, and lovely views from our windows. I thinks this is about what one can expect unless they go to the top of the pricerange. We spent barely any time in the room of course!

Sue4: I have mixed feelings about Alliance. I didnt' care for it, as a complete beginner. But the intermediate and advanced students i Met, really liked it. And, the prices are really reasonable when you factor in the good deals they find you on a monthly apartment while in Rouen so...it beats the prices of most Paris programs by a LARGE amount.

Coquelicot- agreed! I'd go back in a heartbeat. I plan to explore more of Brittany next time though since I didn't really get to do much of that (other than St Malo) this time.

HI bilbo-yes I do know about Etretat since I was there . My title did not call Etretat an island, nor did it say it was in Brittany. I think I made it clear in my report that I visited both Normandy and Brittany as well as floating island. And I did not call Etretat an island, anywhere in my report.

for wine: there is a LOT of amazing Muscadet. If you like light, crisp, white wine it's the perfect seafood wine. If you don't like very light white wine, then of course it won't be your cup of tea. But, It's extremely easy to find a wonderful, great, crisp, perfect muscadet for dirt cheap in France. The trick is to always choose a bottle from Sevre et Maine and to stick to at least $5 or $6 at the store (in France) or at least $10-$13 in the U.S

At the wineries themselves, however, one can pick up bottles of fantastic Sevre et Maine Muscadet for about $3/btl (since there are no layers of profits being given to anyone but the winery)

I more often drink Touraine Sauvignon Blanc than Muscadet, but sometimes when it's hot, or I Have seafood, there's nothing like a wonderfully light, crisp, acidic Muscadet to hit the spot!
Brooke_Herron is offline  
Related Topics
Original Poster
Last Post
Jul 6th, 2011 05:09 PM
Sep 11th, 2008 03:37 PM
Jan 5th, 2007 07:14 AM
Oct 24th, 2004 07:22 PM
Oct 7th, 2004 01:42 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information -