What better place to brush off winter lethargy and enjoy the outdoors than in France’s beautiful Normandy? Just a short hop across the Channel, you’re spoilt for choice of springtime attractions in this coastal region, unfolding the minute you arrive in port and enticingly calm before the summer crowds arrive. It’s France at its best… right on your doorstep.
Having been listed as one of the world’s top destinations to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet, CNN, Frommer’s and Airbnb, Normandy remains at the top of the list for 2020. If you’re an art lover, it’s the year to come and explore – spring will mark the start of the Impressionist Festival , which takes place across the region from 3 April to 6 September and is one of the largest cultural events taking place in France next year.
Spring is also the perfect time to discover or rediscover Normandy’s prettiest villages , which all look idyllic in springtime. Six Norman villages have been awarded the Plus Beaux Villages de France label, including the fishing port of Barfleur in Manche with its granite houses and quays. Legend has it that the boat that carried William, Duke of Normandy, was built here. Meanwhile, inland in Calvados, villages rarely come prettier than Beuvron-en-Auge , quintessentially Norman with colourful timber-framed houses, quaint cafés, a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of brocantes and antique dealers.
Speaking of favourite villages, Normandy’s Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue was actually voted France’s favourite village last year (Le Village Préféré des Français) out of a line-up spanning the whole country. Clinging to the end of the Cotentin Peninsula, it’s a fishing port famous for its top-class oysters and beautiful marina of gleaming boats.
If this time of year has you hankering for the Great Outdoors, the GR21 – stretching all along the Alabaster Coast – was voted France’s favourite hiking trail last month, and for good reason. It runs 186km from Le Havre to Le Tréport and takes in Normandy’s classic coastline, green countryside, architecture and Second World War sites. You can admire the best of the stunning white cliffs, views painted by Monet at Étretat and a wealth of history.
Another of Normandy’s accolades has been won by Dieppe’s Saturday-morning market, which stretches for over two kilometres and was recently voted second best in the whole country in the ‘Votre Plus Beau Marché’ competition. With its deep harbour protected by white cliffs, Dieppe has long been a favourite for cross-Channel visitors.
And did you know that Normandy’s capital of Rouen has the highest number of listed buildings and monuments outside Paris? A new museum housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings, the Aître Saint-Maclou, will open its doors to the public in early 2020, showcasing local and traditional arts and crafts.
Several major food and drink festivals are taking place in Normandy later this spring: Les Rencontres de Cambremer, celebrating Normandy’s AOC products in Cambremer and La Fête du Fromage in Pont-l’Evêque (both in May). Take the time to savour the region’s world-famous specialities and meet the artisans at the helm of their production.
Spring will have you falling completely in love with Normandy’s parks and gardens , such as Monet’s gardens at Giverny . The dreamy ponds of waterlilies created by the father of Impressionism gave him his greatest artistic inspiration – and thanks to generous donations the flower garden and Japanese-inspired water garden have both been beautifully restored.