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Brittany/Normandy itinerary

Hello all,

My wife and I are visiting northern France in June 2019 and finalizing our itinerary. We have only a short time on this trip and are planning around a couple world cup games. After a week in Paris and Reims, we're driving west:

Day 1 - drive to Nantes (stop in Tours for lunch)
Day 2 - drive to Quimper (stop in Carnac, coast)
Day 3 - drive to Dinan (visit Pointe du Raz, other coastal sites)
Day 4 - drive to Honfluer (visit Mont Saint-Michel, possibly St. Malo if time - in Le Havre at night, not changeable)
Day 5 - drive to Bayeux (visit Honfluer, Caen)
Day 6 - Bayeux, beach sites
Day 7 - drive to Rouen
Day 8 - drive to Paris, fly home

Other than the long drive to Nantes, we're hoping these days will involve about an hour drive in the early morning, and an hour drive in early evening. I know there is backtracking, but because we have to be in Le Havre on Day 4, it can't be helped.

Any advice on where to stop (or if something could be skipped on this time-table) is most appreciated.

Posted by
14167 posts

My disclaimer is that I have not driven in Brittany but have visited most of these sights on various tours.

I think you are underestimating how long it will take to see the various sights you have listed from parking your car, to getting to the actual site, to actually seeing it, then getting back to parking.

Day 3, I'd assume you plan to see Quimper in the AM before you leave? Seems like a very long day. Pointe du Raz is interesting but I'm not sure I'd drive out there unless it's a "must see" for you. I really enjoyed Quimper. Interesting cathedral, cute town.

Day 4 - When did you plan to see Dinan? At least a couple of hours is needed to walk around, more if you want to walk down to the Harbor area. I stayed in Saint-Malo for 3 nights and did not see everything I wanted to see in this neat harbor town. Mont-Saint-Michel uses a lot of time. You have to park off island, take a shuttle across the causeway to the Mont, then continue the walk into the village, and if you want to see the Abbey, head up the main street fighting daytime crowds to get to the Abbey. I enjoyed seeing the abbey, nice audio tour with admission. You'll then work your way back down, perhaps along the wall with the views of the sea and tidal flats. Back to wait for the shuttle, back to the parking lot. Via Michelin gives a drive time of 2h33m for Dinan to Honfleur direct.

Day 5 - I'd skip Caen unless you are set on seeing the Peace Museum. I'd opt for Arromanches (last of the Mulberry Harbor is there) and perhaps the Pegasus bridge area at Benouville and/or the remains of the WWII batteries at Longues sur Mer. I found the museum at Caen not as interesting as the outdoor sights. It is not all focused on WWII but is a museum to peace.

As much as I enjoyed Quimper (spent 3 nights here including 1 day trip doing the loop out to Point du Raz and some of the smaller harbor towns plus 1.5 full days in Quimper), I might go from Nantes to Dinan or Saint-Malo via Carnac. Spend 2 nights there so you can have 1 full day to see Saint-Malo or Cancale (oysters) and MSM.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you for your suggestions.

We plan to see Quimper on the evening of Day 2 (after 18:00), and also on the morning of Day 3. If we leave around 12, then we have the rest of the day to drive to Dinan (2.5 hrs away), make a stop or two, and see Dinan for a few hours in daylight and then in the evening. We may decide to skip Pointe du Raz and save an hour or two.
Our plan for Mont-Saint-Michel is to go early in the morning (Day 4) before crowds get there. Depending on what time we finish, we may skip St. Malo and go directly to Honfluer (check into hotel, then go to game in Le Havre at 21:00). Long day, but we don't mind that.
I'll look into Arromanches instead of Caen - thanks for the suggestion.
I will also look into leaving the car in Rouen and taking the train to Paris. I thought it would be easier with luggage to drive directly to CDG and dropping off the car before our flight.

Posted by
7061 posts

Well, I agree with the others that you are vastly underestimating drive times and time you might want to spend at a location. Quimper to Pointe du Raz is about 1-1/2 hr drive if roads are clear and there is little traffic. How much time you spend there depends on what you want to see and do there. I walked along the cliffs and walked out to the lighthouse and I spent a little over 2 hrs there. From there to Dinan is a 5-1/2 to 6 hr drive - again if the roads are clear and traffic is light and moving at speed limit. If you don't leave Quimper until around noon or so, you won't get to Dinan until around 10:00 pm or so. Yes the daylight hours are long at that time of year but you won't get to see much that evening at all so when are you going to see Dinan?

On day 4 the drive from Dinan to Le Havre is about 7+ hrs without any stops - no Mont Saint-Michel, no St Malo, no Honfleur. Mont Saint-Michel alone would take at least 2 hrs because you will most likely have to park on the mainland and walk or take shuttle to the island and it takes time to navigate up and down the mont itself with the crowds that will be there in June - expect to move like molasses in January through the hordes.

You need to get a better handle on drive times and how much time you think you might want to spend at any stops along the way. And you need to lower your expectations about how many places you can visit between your starting and ending points. Beware of 'drive' times listed on various websites, they are meant for dry, clear roads at speed limit with little traffic, and they don't account for pit stops, lunch stops, etc..

Posted by
7502 posts

I agree that it takes a long time to get from the main highway to the front door of most attractions in France.

But from our 2012 trip to MSM (the first or second year of the "new" access arrangements, it's not that big a deal. I'd read about the massive "causeway" for decades, but there's not much to it. I'd say the causeway, such as it is, is about 100 meters long. It IS a long walk (if you don't wait for the electric bus) to the parking lots, but we walked both ways. Because the tide was low, we didn't even walk in on the causeway, we went down to the sand and walked in a stone step to the ticketing area.

The place is now entirely ready for land-office level business. Yes, it's unpleasantly crowded. But there is enough parking, good, safe sidewalks, a supermarket, a hideous strip of hotels, and yes, a long uphill climb (street or ramparts) up to the Abbey. For someone in good condition, it's not that tough.

Edit: I'd also mention that St. Malo is on a peninsula, with a two-lane (? AFAIR) access road, and maybe a drawbridge. There is a huge, busy private marina and an overtaxed parking lot outside the entrance to the walls. The point is that even if there is no traffic, the approach to the town takes 15-minutes each way, from the mainland highway. That's the kind of warning that Nancy is giving you. I found the drive from (I forget, either Dinard or Dinan ... ) to Bayeux to be interminable. Each stop (like Coutances or Vitre) is 20 minutes from the highway, and then you have to search for a parking space.

I realize that you wrote that Le Havre isn't changeable. But I would not recommend going BACK to Bayeux and then east AGAIN for Rouen. These are not American Interstate highways. (Although the pavement condition is superior to the U.S.!)

Posted by
7061 posts

The point of my comments was not that getting to the mont is difficult, it's that it is time consuming. It's not going to be a 1 hour stop if you want to walk up the mont and see anything worth seeing.

If, on the other hand, the OP just wants to take some pictures of the mont from the mainland, then fine. But it's a long way to go for a photo op.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks Nancy for the suggestions, but I have a pretty good understanding of drive times. The drive from Dinan to Le Havre, according to Michelin, which is what French people have told me is the most accurate, is 2 hrs 53 min - not 7+ hours.

Arriving at Mont Saint-Michel around 9:00 should give us a couple hours before the crowds become bad, and then we can start back to the car and take as long as we want. From there, it is 2.5 hours to Honfluer - plenty of time to check in and have a leisurely dinner before taking the 20 min. drive to Le Havre at 21:00.

Day 3 is more problematic - I think we will skip Pointe du Raz based on comments, and go from Quimper to Dinan, a 3 hr drive (183 km) according to Michelin. So, spending half a day in Quimper, and leaving at 14:00, puts us in Dinan by 17:00, and several hours of daylight at the latest. If we will stop someplace in between, we will adjust on either end.

We're experienced travelers, and we love drives in foreign countries. If I got feedback that Pointe du Raz was a must-see, we would make it work - but it sounds like that's not the case. St. Malo will also have to wait until next time.

Posted by
5963 posts

Very much agree that Arromanches is a wonderful little town to visit/stay. The wonderful little museum on the beach with the artificial harbor in the background, is a must see, in my opinion. Near Quimper is Locranon. Its the prettiest little village I've visited in France. We spent a night there and were able to experience it late afternoon/evening and early morning without a lot of people. Near Dinan, we really enjoyed Dinard. It has a retro resort vibe. If you are not going to St. Malo, you can get a great view of it in Dinard. We did go to St. Malo and found it manageable. It was fall. I usually despise paying for parking, and I don't recall that parking in the ramp was pricey.

Posted by
7061 posts

The drive from Dinan to Le Havre, according to Michelin, which is what French people have told me is the most accurate, is 2 hrs 53 min - not 7+ hours.

Bandit02, you are correct and I apologize. The website I was looking at was giving me misinformation. I looked again this morning and it has been corrected on there. I normally don't give advice like that unless I have experienced it myself. I have driven that route but it was quite a while ago and my memory wasn't clear so I looked it up and oops.

Posted by
752 posts

On day 1, Is the Tours- Nantes routing a priority for you? If not, you could drive Paris - Rennes - Vannes/Auray, spend the night in the area (I like La Trinité sur Mer). It’s just a little longer, but you’ll wake up on day 2 closer to Carnac, and with more time to head towards Quimper. I’ve done a lot of road trips into Brittany (including last September) and usually take the Paris-Rennes approach.

Regarding Pointe du Raz...Morbihan and Finistère are renowned for their dramatic coastlines. If you eliminate Nantes, it would leave you the option to wander a bit west of Quimper.

Love that you’re going to the Women’s World Cup!

Posted by
6 posts

Nantes is a must-see for us - we love steampunk and need to see Les Machines and the Jules Verne sites. We might skip Tours entirely, just to get to Nantes as early as possible on Day 1. So, starting as early the next morning to see more of Nantes, we should leave in early afternoon with some time for a stop in Carnac, and dinner along the coast before going to Quimper for the night.

I'm now reconsidering Pointe du Raz - it's an hour from Quimper, so if we arrive there at 15:00, spend a couple hours, then leave for Dinan at 17:00, we could arrive before 21:00. We would then visit Dinan the next morning, and visit Mont Saint-Michel in late afternoon when crowds die down - around 15:00. We could leave at 18:00, then drive straight to LeHavre at 21:00. That's too close, so I think something has to give - either Raz, or some time in Quimper or Dinan.

And yes, we're big fans of our Women's National Team! But we also really like the French team.

Posted by
10304 posts

If Nantes is a must, then you should take the TGV from Montparnasse Station and pick up your car after you’ve seen all the walkable sites in Nantes. The high-speed train is 2 hours. The drive will take up most of your sightseeing daytime, assuming some things are in sites with closing hours, no matter what via Michelin says. It’s a long haul out there as the roads are currently configured.

The final day, you should drive back to the airport, not Paris. In fact, you should sleep close to the airport the night before any “high-stakes” flight.

*Thanks to Janet for the term high-stakes flight.

Posted by
16894 posts

I agree with Bets about getting to Nantes as quickly as possible, which would be by direct TGV train. Not the earliest train but you could leave Paris Montparnasse about 7:20 to arrive around 9:20. (Or are you starting from Reims?) The Machines open at 10:00 in June.

Here's my trip report: In October, Mom and I drove from Chinon to Nantes (roughly 9:00 - 11:00 to get into the island parking garage), visited probably less than HALF of les Machines de l'Isle and had a simple lunch there, then (it started to rain and we weren't wearing our jackets so) we drove to Guerande for the evening (roughly 15:00 - 16:00) and saw the old walled town briefly before a bigger rainstorm and dinner.

In June vs October, you'll of course have longer daylight drive time and hopefully less rain. But we spent less drive time than you're considering and I'll reiterate that we only saw half of what les Machines had to offer and nothing else in Nantes. If traveling alone or without rain, I would have stayed longer in Nantes, but was still glad that we got to see it. (That happened to be only day of rain in our whole month of travel.)

We enjoyed Guerande old town, and the next day the salt marshes (informative visit center or possible to take a guided visit from there; it's another spot where some people would stay longer). Did not stop in Quimper -- since the ceramic museum is not open in October, the city was "dead to us."

Posted by
6 posts

We are staying in the 12th Arrondissement the night before Day 1, so it would take us close to an hour to get to the train station. Then, it looks like it is 2.5 hours to Nantes. I think I would rather pick up the car near our hotel, then do the 4-5 hour drive to Nantes. It would take a couple hours longer, but we have more flexibility and then don't have to worry about getting the car in Nantes. (Also, that one extra day of car rental happens to be free.)
But we would like to arrive in Nantes by 14:00 at the latest (or 16:00 if we stop in Tours), and see several sites around the city. The next morning, we plan to go to Les Machines at 10:00 and leave in the afternoon. If we decide to see Les Machines on Day 1, we will definitely take your advice and take the train to get to Nantes 2 hours earlier.

On the last day, we are driving directly to CDG and leaving the car before our flight. We are still deciding whether to stay in Rouen on Day 7, or stay in Roissy.
It's funny - for me the "high stakes flight" is the one getting me to Paris - the one back home could be missed if necessary.

Posted by
16894 posts

OK, it sounds like you have a handle on your timings. Though I missed how the flight home could be anything other than "high-stakes. Maybe you mean that you're flying stand-by or already are the airline's best customer and not paying for the flight.

Posted by
10304 posts

Very funny— you wouldn’t mind being stuck in France a few extra days—though it could cost you a bit of change.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you Laura and Bets for your helpful suggestions. Being stuck in Paris for an extra day or so would not be terrible - I have travel insurance and could work there if necessary. It's more important to make sure we make our flight to Paris....