Holidays in Normandy are all about cycling, horse-riding and golf – then relax with a spa treatment and browse boutiques for the famous Alençon lace. It’s just a hop across the Channel with Brittany Ferries.
Cycling is a great way to see Normandy and with more than 500km of cycle paths at your disposal, you can combine sightseeing with plenty of fresh air and exercise. It’s a great way of soaking up the local atmosphere and traditions. Choose from a number of lovely trails…
The Vélo Francette passes through Normandy on its way from Ouistreham to La Rochelle, crossing the Calvados department through Caen and following the Orne Valley in the Suisse Normande, before continuing towards Flers and Domfront.
The Véloscenic offers 442km of cycle paths, marked greenways and lanes, stretching from Notre-Dame in Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel.
The 1,200km Tour de Manche crosses Normandy’s Manche department from north to south following the Vire Valley. The 230km route will take you through the bocage landscape of the Cotentin peninsula, through the Parc Naturel Régional des Marais du Contentin et du Bessin and past the Mortain waterfalls, eventually also arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel.
The legendary Avenue Verte linking London with Paris snakes its way through Normandy via the cross-border ferry link from Newhaven to Dieppe. Cycle through the unspoilt Vexin Normand in Eure, past the Château de Gisors and Monet’s garden at Giverny. If cycling the route in reverse, it’s the impressive spectacle of the tall white cliffs of the Alabaster coast as you approach Dieppe that will linger in your memory.
The Val de Seine offers a 165km route from Saint-Aubin-les-Elbeuf to Le Havre. The cities and towns of Rouen, La Bouille, Caudebec-en-Caux and Le Havre are ideal places to break the journey and you cross Normandy’s Seine Valley with its many cultural highlights, including the abbeys of Jumièges and Saint-Wandrille. If you’re in need of a rest, you can board a ferry to cross the Seine.
The coastal route, part of the EuroVélo 4 linking Kiev in Ukraine with Roscoff at the tip of Brittany, provides a complete route along the Normandy coast from Le Tréport to Mont-Saint-Michel. It strings together many vantage points and places of interest, hugging the Alabaster coast in Seine-Maritime, the Calvados coast from Cabourg to Ouistreham, the eastern coast of the Cotentin peninsula from Carentan to Cherbourg, before heading back south inland through Normandy’s bocage landscape and arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel.
Normandy has a distinct passion for horses and no introduction to the region would be complete without their mention. The department of Orne is particularly known as horse country due to its many stables and stud farms, most notably the Haras du Pin. This is the oldest and most striking national stud in France, founded by Louis XIV – and you can meet the horses here every Thursday in summer. There are also numerous horse shows to enjoy in Deauville. Horse-riding is a wonderful way to explore the Normandy countryside – you can hire a horse for the day to trot along bridleways, meander through parks and forests or take a lesson if you want to brush up your saddle skills. Many of Normandy’s equestrian centres cater for families and English-speaking visitors so you can organise your riding to suit whatever plans you have, whether it's for just a few hours’ gentle hacking in the forest in Eure, a few days touring along coastal paths and beaches of Cotentin or through the verdant slopes of the Suisse-Normande, or crossing the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel on horseback for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
British golfers have been flocking to Normandy for years, attracted by the ease of access and the stunning surroundings that many of the courses offer. A golf holiday in Normandy has so much to offer. Dieppe and Étretat are both visually stunning; Golf Barrière de Deauville is superb, as is the Champ de Bataille course; and there are other notable courses at Granville and Omaha Beach. There are around 40 golf courses in the region, 12 of them boasting dramatic sea views and several with a long history, having been founded nearly a century ago. Deauville is well-known for its upscale, luxury courses, while those along the coast of Seine-Maritime tend to be more traditional and scenic. The courses are all open to non-members and offer short breaks and golfing holidays.
The only spa town in the whole of north-west France, Bagnoles de-l’Orne is a delightful hideaway in a forest glade that became particularly popular in the Belle Époque. Amusing legends abound about the hot spring waters surrounding the town and their almost magical properties; one involves an ageing local lord who was led to the waters by his ailing horse and both were rejuvenated after drinking it. Bagnoles de-l’Orne has long been a place to come to relax and indulge in a bit of pampering – so it’s worth knowing that its thermal spa centre has been recently renovated.
Venture into the heart of the Pays d'Auge (famous for its apple orchards) and you can visit Le Spom (Institute Spa de la Pomme), a wellness centre dedicated to the apple in all its forms: massages, body treatments, scrubs, wraps and relaxing baths. It’s housed in an old renovated apple press and the treatments are aimed at both women and men.
Alençon has been celebrated for its lace-making traditions since the 17th century. Many women in the area became involved in the industry, creating unique and elaborate lace for the French court, and Point d’Alençon became known as ‘queen of laces and the lace of queens’. It is formed by outlining details in the lace using a heavier thread or cord, giving it a three-dimensional, textured look. Point d’Alençon is generally fine, light and floaty, but some variations are heavier and chunkier. The supreme skill needed to make Alençon needlepoint lace has led to it being listed by UNESCO as part of the world’s cultural heritage. If you’re keen to learn more, visit the Musée des Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle, housed in the town's former Jesuit school.