ROAD TRIP THROUGH NORMANDY

There’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned road trip.  Having the freedom to stop on the side of the road to see something beautiful, passing through a random town for lunch, and seeing different parts of the country you can’t see when you take a bus or a train is what road trips are all about.

Last week, I did just that and took a last minute road trip through Normandy, France. 

We left Paris bright and early and headed for Deauville.  Deauville has been nicknamed the “Parisian Riviera,” since it’s only a short drive away and filled with Parisians on weekends and holidays.  The street in front of the beach is lined with hotels and a grand casino; the streets and gardens are well kept, and everything you see – be it the buildings, gardens, or coast – is beautiful.  We walked in the wind and rain along the Promenade des Planches where beach closets dedicated to famous actors and actresses who have visited Deauville go on for what seems like forever.  The tide was low and seashells and crabs had been washed up by the waves filling the vast beach. 

We left Deauville to head to Honfleur, making a stop on the side of the road to see Le Havre* from across the port.  

Honfleur has lots of character (photos below).  The port is picturesque, the timber-framed house-fronts are beautiful, and the streets could bring me back in time. There are traces of history everywhere in Honfleur, with the oldest building dating back to the 14th century. The Lieutenance, a large stone building at the edge of the port, sits on top of parts of the walls that once protected the town. The port is especially famous for the voyage that Samuel de Champlain made, leaving Honfleur to found Québec, Canada, and inspiring painters like Boudin and Monet.  There is something about Honfleur that will stay in my memory; there was something about the streets, peaking past the gates of the old salt warehouses with narrow stonewalls, the constant drizzle, and the colors of the port that are unforgettable. 

Our next “destination,” Mont Saint Michel, is why we decided to take a road trip in the first place! It is an island located a little more than a half-mile off the coast of Normandy, built between the 11th and 16th centuries.  It’s an international place of pilgrimage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and often called “The Wonder of the Western World.”  We arrived when the tide was extremely low and walked out into what is normally the sea.  However, we didn’t go too far since the island is surrounded by quicksand, which was one of its defense mechanisms during the middle ages (it’s not recommended to walk far without a guide). The narrow streets and passageways, the Abbey (which was converted into a prison during the French Revolution), and changing tides make it a mysterious destination that seems downright fictitious.

After walking back to the mainland on the bridge, we drove through a few more towns before stopping for the evening.  I came to discover that there are no two towns that are the same in Normandy.  Whether it be the architecture, the farms, or the history, each town is a bit different from the next. – even if they all have cider and crêpes (Normandy specialties).

During our few days on the road we heard about Le Nez de Jobourg, located in an area known for high cliffs, caves, and beautiful coastal walks. We were only a few hours (… but what’s a few hours, right?) away so we decided to make our way up to Le Nez before heading back to Paris.  It was magnificent.  I’ve only seen Ireland’s coast in photos, but I felt like I was there.  The turquoise waters crashing against the cliffs, the green grass, and animals roaming through the hills made it one of the prettiest places I have ever been.  We didn’t have time to explore the caves, so I guess I’ll have to go back someday!

It had been a while since I had taken a road trip, but some things never change.  I still think it’s funny to make weird faces at people driving by and to sing really loud.  I also still love gas station hot chocolate – after all, it’s the little things in life.  

* My Grandfather debarked at Le Havre during the WWII.  In 2013 I was able to accompany him to Washington D.C. on the Minnesota Honor Flight.  I have been working on a documentary about his story for about one year now and was interested in seeing the place where he and thousands of other soldiers debarked.