Our flight arrived at Charles-de-Gaulles airport for our first visit to the Normandy region. We picked our rental car up on a rainy morning. We usually are pleased with Europcar, but this time we almost had to wait a full hour to have our car delivered to the agency.
On our way to Rouen, we stopped by the picturesque village of Giverny, where the museum of the impressionist painter Claude Monet is located. We visited the house and the garden of the artist who lived and worked there from 1883 until his death in 1926.
We arrived in Rouen in the afternoon and checked in at the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde and Spa, which is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. This is a 15th century listed historic property in the heart of the old town.
Rouen, situated on the banks of the river Seine, is Normandy’s vibrant, historic, and cultural capital. We visited the Cathedral, the Gros Horloge clock tower and the modern church dedicated to Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in the city in 1431. We really enjoyed walking in the old town. Rouen is a very quaint city, worth a stop for a couple of days.
The next morning, we drove to the Atlantic coast and had our first stop at the cliffs of Etretat, which features three natural arches and a pointed formation rising at 230 feet. We had lunch on a terrace at the port in Honfleur, one of the most popular places to visit in France. Afterwards we drove through Trouville and Deauville. Deauville is a charming upscale resort town home of the annual American Film Festival, which was taking place during our visit. Our next stop was at the Calvados distillery of Pere Magloire, one of the best-known Calvados brands. It was a disappointing stop as the distillery is not on premises, so you just have an interactive tour. On our way to our Omaha hotel, we made a small detour to visit the Basilica of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. The church has more than two million visitors a year and is the second largest pilgrimage site in France, after Lourdes.
We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We stayed at the Mercure Omaha Beach for two nights. The property is set in a 36-hole golf course. We tried the pool and jacuzzi, but they were not very warm. The hotel is a little bit outdated and the rooms need major upgrades. We had a nice dinner at their restaurant.
We started the next day with a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. We were there early in the morning and it was not yet too crowded. The cemetery covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 American military service men and woman, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings. It took less than 10 minutes to drive to Omaha Beach, the landing area used by Allied forces in the WWII D-Day invasion in 1944. We continued our visit to the south to la Pointe du Hoc where a group of American soldiers undertook the nearly impossible task of climbing massive cliffs with little equipment during the American invasion of Normandy. A visit to the D-Day beaches in Normandy is an experience everyone should have at least once in their lives. These beaches hold so much historical importance as the place that marks the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation during World War II.
We had lunch in Bayeux, visited the cathedral and the famous tapestry. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the 230 feet long embroidery tells the story of the conquest of England in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy.
A heat wave was hitting the region for our day trip to Mont Saint-Michel. The shuttle buses were very busy and we walked the 2 miles from the parking lot to the top of the hill to visit the Abbey (we had purchased tickets in advance). It was very busy that day and I would recommend visiting this UNESCO World Heritage site during the off-season.
We ended that part of our trip in the city of Saint-Malo in Brittany. It is only a 50 minute drive from Mont Saint-Michel. Saint-Malo is best known for its tall granite ramparts (walls) surrounding the old town, which was once a stronghold for privateers (pirates approved by the king). We stayed across the Cathedral at Le Grand Bé Hotel, a wonderful property located in the center of the old town. We walked around the city by foot and took a one-hour tour in the Little Train. They take you around the ramparts and give you a great overview of the city.