There’s a lot to be said about knowing how to detach. Personally, I find it very difficult. If there’s a lot on my mind, it occupies my every being. I can’t sleep, I can’t focus, I’m inefficient and the wheels in my mind spin faster than I can run behind them. So I was quite surprised at myself when I left Paris mid-week and drowning in work and returned completely disconnected. It’s really amazing what a long weekend can do for you. Despite being totally absorbed by and overwhelmed at work, the 4 days I spent in Normandy felt like a real vacation…just a couple of hours away from Paris and yet so many worlds apart.
We rented a car and made our way from Paris to Rouen to Fécamp to Etratat to Deauville and Trouville and then Honfleur. We then headed back to the coastline, to Omaha Beach, to visit the site of the D-Day landings of WWII, where we walked through the American Cemetery and Museum and then ended our trip in the magestic Mont St Michel.
Rouen was just incredible. A small town feel plus big town scene all rolled into one beautiful package of half-timbered buildings, cobbled pedestrian streets, trendy restaurants and stunning architecture! I would live there in a heartbeat! Historically, it’s most well known as the site of Joan of Arc’s execution in 1431. It’s one of those rare cities that are quite big but still feel extremely cozy perhaps due to the enormous pedestrian area and easy walkability. We managed to see all the main sights in one day: the Gros Horloge clock, the main downtown area, the stunning Notre Dame Cathedral as well as the very avant-garde Jean d’Arc church. unfortunately we saw this by night fall so I have no good photos of this architectural wonder to share (note to self: must take night photography classes!). We also had one of the best dinners I have had since I arrived in France. Simple and utterly delicious. I will forever crave that tender piece of meat and the mouth-watering tarte tatin Normande that had me taking smaller bites to prolong its taste in my mouth. I’m drooling just thinking about it..
We then headed up North towards the coast. We quickly passed through Fécamp just to enjoy some time on the beach. It was a pebble beach that was completely deserted. I dont know what it is about the ocean in winter that is so magnetic. It is a powerful beast in all its solitude. Etratat was possibly one of my favorite stops. An adorably quaint little town and home of the famous Falaise d’Etratat. You can see a picture of the hollowed out cliff in one of the photos above. After snapping a few photos, we ran in from the freezing cold to indulge in some deeelicious crepes.
Deauville & Trouville were by far the black sheep cities of our whole trip. Not because they were ugly by any means, quite the opposite actually, but because you can smell money here. Although two different cities, they are merely separated by a small bridge and in fact all signs leading towards the two cities as well as the train station sport the sign “Deaville-Trouville“. Deauville is definitely the richer of the two and boasts at least two casinos (from what we saw!) and some huge and absolutely stunning houses. The architecture here was also very typical and predominantly of the half-timbered style we saw in Rouen. Despite its riches it still manages to be quaint and utterly charming, probably because this modest architectural style bestows some humility over the grandiose size of most of the buildings. This prestigious seaside resort boasts a small private airport which is no surprise as Deauville has been a fashionable holiday resort destination for the international upper class and is also a desirable family resort for wealthy French families. The luxury brands of Ralph Lauren, Hermes, Longchamps and the like have opened shop in some adorable little villa’s…of-course in the self-timbered style!
Honfleur was another gorgeous little city, mainly renowned for its stunning Vieux Bassin, a beautiful picturesque port where you can see all the boats docked in one of the photos above. It is surrounded by slate-covered houses that have been painted extensively by many artists including Claude Monet. Unfortunately we didnt stay as long as I would have liked in this charming little town but it was very memorable nontheless.
The trip turned somber afterwards as we made our way towards Omaha Beach, code name for one of the 5 sections of shore, home of the D-Day landing sites of WWII. We visited the Omaha Beach Museum and American Cemetery. Both very well kept and a striking reminder of the profoud scale of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France on June 6, 1944. Ironically, it started to snow as we were outside walking through the cemetery, turning an already depressing experience even more gloomy. I have to say that I have a great appreciation for history (even though my brain fails to remember any dates!) and I would love to go back to do a full tour of all the beaches including Utah Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach. I highly recommend this. I was surprised how many people there were despite the whipping winds, testimony to its significance and popularity.
We ended our Normandy weekend on the magical island of Mont St. Michel. No matter how many photos you see and how much you read, you cant help but be stunned by its magnificence. It is majestic as it rises from the sea and its random construction over time has resulted in a wonder that is a feast for the eyes. The abbey was a real highlight to walk through and explore and you can almost imagine robed monks walking through its cold stone chambers. Unfortunately this was also the most touristy stop of the trip. My advice is to stay on the island and not just outside it as that stretch of road is a touist trap waiting to bite, it’s ugly and really kills the magic of the setting. There were throngs of Asian groups but even with that, perhaps beacuse of the piercing cold, it wasnt unenjoyable by any means (maybe only at the tourist shops!). We did the must-do brunch at La Mère Poulard and even bought some of her cookies. I am yet to try one!
This trip was freeezzzzing to say the very least. The “real feel” was between 0C and -9C most of the time but we were still able to enjoy the famous green fields and pastures that Normandy is renowned for. That said, Mont St. Michel would probably have been a less enjoyable experience had the weather been better as it would have been too crowded to appreciate. You need to find your own balance, perhaps early Spring is the best time to visit, a more healthy equilibrium between the number of people and the temperatures! I still managed to find a few woolly friends to say hello to and feed strawberries to as we headed away from the island.
As you can see we covered a lot of ground in just 4 small days and I feel so excited to have seen such a stunning chunk of the country in such a short period of time. Already, I cant wait to discover more! In fact I am so impatient that I am visiting Lille this weekend with a few friends visiting me from Dubai! More on that soon…stay tuned and I hope you enjoy the photos!