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What do you think of my Normandy itinerary?

We are picking up a rental car in Lille at around 10 am on a Thursday in April and plan to drive to our hotel in Bayeux that day. This is what we have come up with so far:

Thursday- arrive in Lille from Amsterdam at 10 am and pick up rental car. Stop in Rouen and then maybe Honfleur and Etratat (?) before checking into our Bayeux hotel

Friday- take the 8:30 am half day Overlord D-day tour then go to Honfleur and Etratat if we didn't have a chance to go the previous day

Saturday- check out of hotel and see the tapestry in the morning then drive to St Malo maybe Dinan then proceed to MSM and check into our hotel. Late evening at MSM?

Sunday- spend the morning at MSM then check out of hotel to drive to Paris. Any suggestions of where to stop if we leave MSM after lunch? Maybe Fougeres or Chartres? We have till 11 pm to drop our car off at Orly then we plan to take a cab into our Paris apt.

We have heard that driving into Paris on a Sunday can be horrendous but we are driving into Paris on Sunday, April 30 and the next day, May 1 is a holiday so traffic will be lighter from what I've heard. I hope our itinerary is manageable and of course, we're open to any and all suggestions. This will be our first time driving in Europe so it will be quite the adventure. Would love to hear from the folks that have been through this.

Posted by
643 posts

Will you be in Europe already or is Thursday your arrival day?

We did an overnight trip from Paris to Bayeux by train - so i cant speak to much of your plan. I can say that we found Bayeux to be charming and was glad we had a full day there. i would have spent a second night there as well.
Our tour was by the Museum of Peace in Caen. I thought this museum was excellent- but it is not a D Day museum. Excellent presentation of what lead up to the World Wars and other exhibits. Then they took us to the beaches and the American cemetery. Could have used more time there.
Bayeux has a small but interesting D Day Museum and a cemetery where both German and British soldiers are buried. We were there on a day when British schoolchildren were there. They each had a soldiers name to find and a poppy to place on grave. Very moving- especially to see how very young these boys are. Sobering.
The cathedral and tapestry are wonderful. The town is quite charming and we enjoyed 2 nice meals on the main square.
Others can speak to your plan in more detail- to me it sounds a little rushed esp since its your first time driving.

Posted by
1171 posts

We usually return our rental car to Caen. There are 3 rental agencies right across the street from the Caen railroad station, if you are not locked into returning the car to Orly. Catching a train into Paris is inexpensive and there are trains every hour or maybe two hours. No traffic problems that way.

Posted by
2624 posts

If it were me, I'd skip Dinan/St. Malo and spend more time in Bayeux and/or the World War II sites. You are just going to be scratching the surface with your half day Overlord tour. We did two full day tours (American highlights and Band of Brothers) and had another day to drive around to sites on our own. We still didn't see everything.

I have not bee to Fougeres, but I can recommend Chartres as an excellent stop. However, since it's a Sunday, you should check the hours the cathedral is open to visitors.

We found driving in Normandy to be very easy.

Posted by
509 posts

As first time drivers in France, we experienced no problems navigating in Normandy. The car had GPS and we were glad it did. (If using GPS in the rental car, confirm that it's "speaking" English or your language of choice before leaving the agency.) Itinerary: (i) we greatly enjoyed Honfluer, but found that a half-day was sufficient. If the weather is accommodating, a meal at one of the many harbour-side restaurants is pleasant, even if 'touristy'; (2) we took a full-day private tour (Executive D-Day tours with Bertrand Saundrais) and wondered why anyone would be satisfied with a mere half-day -- so much to see and absorb. I assume signage to Orly is as good as that for CDG. We had no traffic problems returning a rental to CDG on a Saturday afternoon (mid-May) -- somewhat heavy, but not awful. Good choice, taking the fixed-price cab into the city.

Posted by
1717 posts

Hello Claudette. I think your proposed travel plan in France has too much driving in the car, and zig-zagging south and north that is not necessary. I suggest --
Thursday : public transportation from Amsterdam to Rouen. Some sightseeing in Rouen. Hotel at Rouen that night.
Friday : Rent a car at Rouen, drive to MSM. Hotel near it that night.
Saturday : Drive to Bayeux. See Tapestry. Hotel at Bayeux that night.
Sunday : Drive to Rouen, drop off car. Train from Rouen to Paris.

Posted by
60 posts

I think you'll have very few problems driving in Normandy, having spent 8 days driving there last fall. Traffic was moderate, roads were well maintained, & signage was good. (I'd suggest a good paper map to back up the GPS however). I think I'd go with the itinerary that Ron outlined though. Even though the driving is straightforward, it's not what you want to be spending your time doing. Just about everything you mentioned could use more time.

Posted by
1079 posts

Thank you for all yoir thoughts. I did neglect to say that we will already be in our second week of our trip at this point so jetlag should not be an issue. There is no direct train from Amsterdam to Rouen or Caen or Bayeux or MSM. We would have to train to Paris first and connect from there. I received a great suggestion on a previous post to train from Amsterdam to Lille and pick up a rental car there. The reason we decided to return our car in Paris is because we are returning the car on a Sunday and most car rental offices are closed that day. Our 2 nights in Bayeux and 1 night in MSM are booked already but for sure we are open to tweaking our plans.

Posted by
1305 posts

Regarding MSM - you'll want to visit/see it both at night and during the day. Since you're driving stay on the mainland for ease as well as to get the beautiful view of MSM at night from your lodging. Regarding St. Malo or Dinan - they're beyond MSM from Bayeux and it takes longer to get there than it looks on the map. I'd spend my time in the MSM area instead. Regarding Normandy - don't overlook Arromanches if it's not on your D-day tour.

Posted by
3713 posts

It's hard to answer this kind of question without knowing a little more about your trip. For example, is this your "once-in-a-lifetime" tour of this part of Europe and you want to squeeze in everything you can, including Mont-St-Michel, which you've dreamed of seeing since you worked a 1000-piece puzzle of it when you were 12 years old? Or do you have the luxury of saying, "Meh, I can hit that next time." If the former, I think your itinerary is okay, but it really, really short changes you on understanding what happened at D-Day. I looked at the tours on the Overlord website. The full day tour gives you SO MUCH more than the half-day tour. The museum at Sainte-Mere-Eglise lets you see and touch actual relics of the war. A visit to the bridge at La Fiere lets you see the critical importance of seemingly tiny objectives in Operation Overlord (and the astonishing bravery and self-sacrifice of the Airborne men who fought to hold such tiny objectives). The church at Angoville au Plain, with its stained glass windows, blood-stained pews, and remarkable history as a place to treat the wounded, will be much more memorable to you, I think, than another dinner in a seaside town. So, I would strongly encourage you to at least do the full day tour (I'm sure they would let you switch if you have already booked the half-day tour).

My original plan for the Normandy area kept us headed in one direction and follows: fly into Rennes, rent a car there, set out immediately for Mt-St-Michelle (1-hour drive), then head to B&B in Normandy same day and stay there for 3 nights, then Honfleur for 1 night, drop car at Rouen, and train to Paris. We ended up loving our B&B (an old stone barn that had been modernized and converted into a B&B) and wanted to spend more time in Normandy (for the Caen Museum mentioned above, which was excellent). The B&B had room for us to stay another day, so we cancelled our Honfleur hotel from Normandy. As an aside, there is a late-afternoon direct flight from Amsterdam to Rennes for $240, but that may be outside your budget and would probably require quite a bit of re-shuffling of your itinerary at this point, so it may not be a good fit for you.