It's 6 am. We are in the middle of a vast field. The earth is wet from the grass' dew, with patches of muddy soil. I am in a white dress that it's becoming greyer with every step I take. We could hear in the distance the murmur that we were expecting - getting louder and louder. And in 5 minutes, they are all here. Hundreds of sheep swarm the field, and it's time for us to get into action. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We had to cancel our long-planned road trip to Cotswold, and at the last moment, we have decided to take a car around the North of France. First stop - Normandy.
The region has everything. History, great food, fantastic landscape, world-famous cheeses, and apples. Lots of apples. Consumed in different forms, from topping the local crepes, to the chilled cider that cools you off in summer or the slightly stronger calvados, to warm your windy winter days.
We rented the car directly in the airport in Paris and immediately drove to our first night stop - Etretat. On the way, we have visited Monet's house, in Giverny, where you can admire his gardens and the stunning water lilies, made famous by his paintings. We had our first French lunch of the trip in the beautiful city of Rouen (the place of Jeanne d'Arc trial). And we finished our day in the beautiful town of Etretat, about which you can read more in its separate blog post.
Our tip: Make a short stop at Château Gaillard for the best view over the Seine.
After two wonderful days in Etretat, we have continued our trip through Normandy. The region is full of charming small towns spread along the English Channel. Honfleur is a beautiful old port town whose narrow houses reminded me of Amsterdam. Deauville is the "pearl" resort of the North, an upscale holiday destination since the 1800s, where Coco Channel opened her first shop in 1913. The town has chic boutiques, elegant belle epoque villas, and half-timbered buildings. Bayeux is another charming town, home of a significant historical artifact (the Bayeux Tapestry), depicting England's conquest by William, Duke of Normandy.
Our tip: Eat pancakes. Or, to be precise, crepes (for the sweet version) and galettes (for the salty version). Traditionally they will be served with apples or one of the region's famous cheeses (Camembert is one of them). But since you will eat them probably every day, you have an excellent opportunity to experiment. And don't forget a carafe of cold cider, sweet or dry, according to your preferences.
One of Normandy's most visited places (usually full of American tourists) is the D-Day beaches. In June 1944, the Allies landed on Normandy's coast, from the sea and air, in an operation that led to the end of the Second World War. Today the vast beaches are quiet, the perfect place for an afternoon stroll. But you can still see remains of the war, in the shape of the German bunkers or the remains of the artificial port, in Arromanches-les-Bains. Juno beach was by far our favorite. Near Omaha beach, you can visit the memorial or several museums dedicated to D-Day. And Arromanches-les-Bains was our host town for the night (George's favorite place to stay from the trip).
Our tip: The D-Day area can get quite busy in the touristic season since many Americans usually visit the beaches and the American Cemetery. So plan for more time than you think you need and visit at least one museum to learn more about this significant moment in history that shaped the world as we know it today.
Let's get back to our sheep. And to what we were doing at 6 am, on a muddy field. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably guessed that we were there to photograph Mont Saint-Michel. And not any photograph, but the famous one, with sheep in the foreground. After some research, we found the best location and the best time (before sunrise, of course), so here we are. We had a lot of fun, and it was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. Once the shooting was over, we also visited the castle, located on an island that gets isolated from the mainland during the high tide. Don't worry, this will not affect your visit, since a bridge was built that makes the castle accessible all the time. And again, plan for additional time to visit, since the place is quite crowded, even in the low season.
Our tip: Stay in a real castle while in the region. We stayed at Manoir de Belle-Noë, a manor house built in 1710, fully restored in 2008, but still keeping the old decorations and furniture. It really felt like going back in time. And George's swears that there were ghosts.
We were pleasantly surprised by Normandy. While visiting Etretat was one of my dreams, we were not expecting to find so many other beautiful places. We met friendly people, had an excellent culinary experience, and learned so much more about important historical events. And while our road trip continued to Brittany, we knew that one day we would be back. Soon!