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Detailed Itinerary Suggestions - Normandy

Hello!
I previously asked for suggestions on where to go outside of Paris, we have chosen Normandy. We are going in September (Arriving 10AM Saturday morning in Paris, flying back to USA on following Saturday morning, so 6 nights wherever we choose, 1 night in Paris before return flight). We will rent a car.

We would like to focus our trip on the Normandy Region. So far, here is a list of interests (flexible!).

  1. Bayeux (Including one full day Overlord (or other) tour of DDay sites)
  2. Honfleur
  3. Rouen
  4. Mt St Michel
  5. Caen

Any suggestions on schedule, where to sleep, as well as any places we shouldn't miss? (i.e. scenic routes, small towns to stop in, etc.) Thanks for your help!

Posted by
18752 posts

I haven't driven in Europe so I don't have a good feel for how much can be accomplished in one day via car. I'm sure others can help with that. You can also get estimated driving times from ViaMichelin.com.

Caen was obliterated during the war and is now mostly modern/industrial. It has the very large Caen Memorial museum where I spent nearly an entire day, but many people find that museum too large, too expensive, too time-consuming, not sufficiently focused on WWII, etc. If that doesn't sound like your sort of thing, I definitely wouldn't choose to stay in Caen, which has only a few other points of interest. Those could be knocked off on a day-trip if need be. Caen is a major transit hub, but that's of no value to you since you plan to have a car.

Bayeux is much smaller and has a very attractive, if small, historic center. Getting in and out of town by car shouldn't be difficult, but of course you'd need to seek parking guidance from you hotel. In planning your time there (should you decide not to spend all your nights in Bayeux), I suggest allowing time for the tapestry, the cathedral, the invasion museum (2 to 3 hours would probably be enough for most people) and a walk around the historic center. I enjoyed the walking tour offered by the tourist office.

I thought it was worthwhile to spend a night or two in Rouen, which has a gorgeous, large (rebuilt) historic center and several museums. It's a city of some size, though, and I have no idea what parking and navigating would be like.

I only spent a few hours in Honfleur and wouldn't think it needed an overnight stay, but if you wanted to use it as a base for Etretat and other things in that area, it might make sense. It would be a shame to need to drive over to that area two times from Bayeux.

I haven't been to Mont-St-Michel, but south of it are two attractive historic towns I day-tripped to while staying in Rennes: Fougeres and Vitre. It was lovely to feel as if I had those places almost all to myself, because I had recently been in the very touristy St-Malo. You might have time to stop in one or both of Fougeres and Vitre on your way to or from Mont-St-Michel. They're over the line in Brittany.

Many people like St-Malo more than I did. It does have some actual sights, including a walkable wall. Dinard and Dinan are also worthwhile stops in that area.

You may find your D-Day tour leaves you wanting to see more things related to that topic.

(You wouldn't have time for everything I've mentioned.)

Posted by
466 posts

With the exception of Bayeux and Caen, those places are really pretty far apart and you’ll spend quite a bit of time traveling from place to place. We spent two full days touring the American D-Day beaches and museums, and still didn’t make it to several sites. If you look at the tour itinerary, you probably won’t be at each spot for more that 45 minutes. We are huge history buffs, so we toured independently and spent a couple hours (each) at 4 museums. We stayed in Bayeux, and it was 45 minute drive to some sites.

Posted by
944 posts

It will take 2h 15m to drive from CDG to Rouen. You can also take a train from the airport to Rouen that will require two connections taking a total of 2h 45m. The latter might be the better option since you’ll be sleep deprived and then you can rent your car in Rouen instead of the airport.
From Rouen you can drive to Honfleur (1h 30m) or take a train that requires a connection taking 1h 45m and rent your car in Honfleur.
From Honefleur you can drive to Bayeux (1h 30m) or take a train that involves three connections taking 2h 45m) and rent your car in Bayeux. Anyway, Bayeux will make a good base to visit the D-Day beaches and make sure you visit Arromanches and the American Cemetery.
I would take a day trip from Bayeux to Mont Saint-Michel (1h 45m). It will take 3h 30m to drive to CDG. You can also return your car in Bayeux and take a train to CDG (3h 30m that requires two connections).

Posted by
130 posts

I'm not sure you can see all that you listed. I would take a train to Caen, stay for 4 nights (seeing Bayeux tapestry, Arromanches, American Cemetery, beaches, Honfleur), then 2 nights at Mont St. Michel. Return your car to Caen and train to Paris, spend 1 night. We opted to stay off the island at Mont St. Michel but still had an amazing experience as we visited late in the day. We stayed at Hotel Gabriel.

Since you will have a car, consider staying in a historic chateau, rather than a hotel in Bayeux. We loved https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g2048911-d2284022-Reviews-Le_Chateau_d_Asnieres_en_Bessin-Asnieres_en_Bessin_Calvados_Basse_Normandie_Normandy.html. Not only was it comfortable and convenient (since you need a car in this area anyway) but the owners told us fascinating stories of the Nazi invasion and how they treated the home and the current residents.

Posted by
2732 posts

Of the places on your list, I've only visited the D-Day beaches between Vierville-sur-Mer and the American Cemetery (Colleville-sur-Mer). There is quite a lot to see along that coast; we spent a day and could have easily spent 2-3 days. Just the indoor museum at the American Cemetery could take 2-3 hours to appreciate in depth, let alone the cemetery itself and the trail(s) down to the water. If you take a tour from Bayeux I'd expect that your time will be spent efficiently.

What most people seem to like best about Mont St-Michel is to stay overnight on the mainland so as to have a view of the Mount. Other comments emphasize how much more enjoyable the Mount is in the early morning and late evening when day trippers are not around.

If you go to these five places in the order listed, you'll be backtracking from west to east and then further west and back to the east. Why not start out in Rouen, the easternmost point? As another comment suggested, you could take the train there from Paris and then get a rental car. From Rouen you could work your way westward to Honfleur, Bayeux, and Mont St-Michel, with a run back to Caen to turn in your car and train back to Paris.

Posted by
1131 posts

We picked up our rental car at Caen, right across the street from the railroad station where there are several rental companies. We used AutoEurope. We easily drove to Bayeux, about 30 minutes and stayed one night at the Churchill Hotel. We stayed the rest of the time at bandbnormandie.com on the outskirts of Villers-Bocage, about 30 minutes south of Bayeux. We did take a tour of the D Day beaches but with any tour, we wanted to return the following day with our car and spend time at places we barely got to see. We spent 4 hours at the American cemetery above Omaha Beach and located the graves of the Niland brothers who were the basis for the movie, "Saving Private Ryan" and Medal of Honor winner General Teddy Roosevelt, who led the 4th infantry division ashore on Utah beach on D Day. We arose early and drove about 90 minutes to MT St. Michel and arrived before the tour buses. Two to three hours was plenty and we then drove around the bay to Cancale for a great seafood lunch and slowly returned on the back roads to La ferme du pressoir, stopping at little villages to buy cheeses, meats, and Calvados. Can't help you with those other towns you listed since we enjoyed the small towns in and around Bayeux, Avranches, Mt. St. Michel, Sainte-Mere-Eglis and others along the way. We returned our rental car to Caen and took the train back to Paris. Oh, and in those small towns in Normandy and Brittany, I think we were the only tourists if that is important to you. Good luck.

Posted by
885 posts

After you land drive straight to MSM and then you've got the week to leisurely work your way back to Paris. That afternoon and evening should be enough there unless you don't arrive in time to tour the abbey. Then do it the next morning. We stayed on the mainland and had a great view. I haven't been to any of the others on your list but we did enjoy visiting Arromanches-les-Bains near Bayeux.

Posted by
6519 posts

We picked up our rental car in Paris and drove out to Honfleur where we spent several nights in this charming, historic town. Next we drove to Bayeux. We went on a tour of the American beaches and sites one day and visited the interesting British and Canadian beaches another day. One day we drove over to Mt. St-Michel, another day we visited more of the battle sites where my father had fought in WWII. I am glad we have seen Mt. St-Michel but will not return there. We would happily return to Normandy.
We loved Normandy’s cuisine featuring shellfish, lamb and apple desserts, our favorite foods. Rice pudding for breakfast was a treat too.

Posted by
4865 posts

The list below is a basketful, which includes some places we didn't have time to visit. You'll have to see what appeals to you. I've put an asterisks around the places we particularly liked visiting. Our 2012 trip started in the Loire, so we already had our rental car. We spent a few nights in Paris before flying home. These were our two 3-night hotels. We particularly like public (not "free") gardens, which are typically in old estates. Is the Tapestry going on loan?? We found Point du Hoc a rewarding invasion site stop, without a guide but with books.

Villa Reine Hortense (bkfst extra) 19, Rue De La Malouine Dinard, 35800
(small family owned, reserved parking, beachfront hotel, many stairs, no air conditioning)

Chateau de Sully, Route de Port-en-Bessin 14400 Bayeux Sully
(out of town, car required, not as glamorous as the price indicated, but excellent air conditioning in summer)

Dol-de-Bretagne menhir, M.S.M., Dinan, St. Malo, Paimpol steam train, Beauport Abbey/moonlight walk, Vitré, Coutances, Cider Route,D-Day Beaches, Tapestry, Caen, *war cemeteries, Chateau de Brecy, ... de Canon, … de Harcourt, … de Vendeuvre,
Gardens: Coutances, La Ballue,Chateau de Caradeuc, Jardin Thabor, … de Beaumesnil, … de Bizy

Only because it is a minority view, I want to note that we felt our decision not to sleep at MSM was, emphatically, the right one.

Posted by
515 posts

I agree with most of what acraven posted (as usual). Except that I have gone to Mont-Saint-Michel and highly recommend it—although you really don't need two nights there. One night on the island with time early and/or late without tourists is highly recommended. Someone else mentioned backtracking. You should really look at all of these places on the map and plan a more efficient route between places. As mentioned Rouen/Honfleur and Mont-Saint-Michel are on opposite ends of Normandy, with the D-day beaches kind of in between. Start at one, end at the other.

Bayeux is a good base, Caen is not (IMHO)—although it is a good place to train to/from or in which to pick up a car. If Rick Steves didn't recommend it in his books, I doubt many people would visit it. If you are interested in the D-day history, don't miss Sainte-Mère-Église and the airborne history there. Their airborne museum in town is small but good. The Utah Beach museum is the best in the area. Also, do check out the landing museum in Arromanches-les-Bains, where you can see the artificial harbors described while you look out the window at the ruins left behind.

Posted by
304 posts

The Michelin Green guide to Normandy is worth getting, it has detailed descriptions of most towns and suggested driving routes. We also got some good ideas from Stu's itinerary on Fodors; see the thread https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/normandy-and-brittany-stu-dudleys-updated-itinerary-1670294/ Honestly the problem you're going to have is what to leave out!

As for places to see that we've been to, I'd take the train to Rouen and spend a day there and then pick up the car when leaving. Maybe go to Etretat on the way to Honfleur for a nite. We enjoyed the museum at Caen and spent more time there than we anticipated. A D-day tour is going to be a full day thing (we enjoyed the one by Overlord) so I'd suggest a 2 nite stay in Bayeux so you can see the town too. Cancale, St. Malo, Dinard, these are all in the Mt St Michel area. Do what RS suggests and arrive at Mt St Michel late in the afternoon (4pm or so) when tourist buses have largely left. Sunset is still around 8:30pm so plenty of daylight left. We enjoyed staying at a hotel just over the bridge; regular buses go to Mt St Michel and you park right at your hotel. Then in the morning you can see it again before the crowds arrive.

A lot depends on what you like. We enjoyed walking around Dinard and the Belle Époque setting, visiting Étretat where many Impressionists worked, oysters right on the pier in Cancale, but if that isn't you then other places would be a better use of your time.

Posted by
1533 posts

What I enjoyed in 2012 was following the scenic road -D513- from Honfleur to Trouville and further Deauville. It’s about 15 km long and takes a bit more than a half hour. For going to Caen (if that’s the plan) you can keep following the D513 to Houlgate and Cabourg, both very lovely beach resorts, especially around the casino’s. On the way you can visit the Pégasus Memorial too. However this additional part runs through a lot of residential area’s with 30km/h speed limits and with local traffic it will lower your everage speed very much.
Or you can drive from Trouville/Deauville to Pont-l’Évêque / A13 for going to Caen and make halfway a detour to Beuvron-en-Auge, very adorable.

If you do this on a (sunny) Sunday know that Honfleur is a complete madhouse even without non-European visitors and parking your car somewhere a real challenge. That’s what I experienced last year arriving there around noon. Think earlier in the morning or at the end of the day it will be different. Caen Memorial was for me worth a visit and if I had more time the huge castle too, but otherwise I wouldn't plan too much there unless there are other things being of interest for you.