A coastal adventure in Normandy

Whether you sail into Caen, Cherbourg or Le Havre, Normandy’s spectacular coast is a short hop from English soil and has a wealth of treasures to be explored, from city attractions to dramatic beaches and a plethora of waterborne activities. Get the heart pumping with a session of surfing or coasteering, or slow down with contemplative kayaking or tucking into the oodles of delicious local food and drink, from seafood to cider and cheese.

If you’re arriving by ferry in Le Havre (External link) , this is a brilliant place to start your coastal adventure. Once upon a time visitors would leave as fast as possible, but these days, Le Havre is an exciting destination with plenty to do that doesn’t just involve traipsing around galleries. The city itself is celebrated as a masterpiece of modern planning – having been nearly obliterated by allied bombing in the Second World War, France’s second-largest port city was rebuilt under the direction of architect Auguste Perret. He created a modern city using predominantly reinforced concrete and it’s extremely elegant – so innovative, in fact, that it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. One of the best ways to appreciate the master plan is from the 17th floor of the Hotel de Ville.

Before Normandy became a hotspot for contemporary art and design, it was inspiring generations of artists - like the Impressionists - and writers such as Gustave Flaubert. One of France’s most famous and influential writers, perhaps best-known in the English-speaking world for his debut novel Madame Bovary, Flaubert will be celebrated across the region in 2021 to mark the bicentenary of his birth (External link) . Watch this space for a packed programme of exhibitions, shows, tourist trails, dramatised walking tours and educational activities - especially in Rouen, where Flaubert was born.

Of course, Normandy’s coastline is mostly about wilderness and adventure. One of the region’s most famous natural sights are the white cliffs at Etretat, which also inspired the Impressionists; erosion has carved out three spectacular arches, as well as a needle-like structure known as L’Aiguille. To soak up the most dramatic views, head out here on a paddleboard (External link) – you can pass right through the arch on your board, which is a supremely humbling experience. If hiking is your thing, the GR21 – which stretches all along this Alabaster Coast – was voted France’s favourite hiking trail in 2019.

The region’s surfing (External link) opportunities are also excellent, one of the hotspots being Siouville-Hague on the Cotentin peninsula. Whether you’re a first-timer or surf pro, the Contentin Surf Club is a great place to go with friends and have fun in the waves, all with expert guidance. Or for something a bit different, ever heard of coasteering (External link) ? Head to the Baie d’Ecalgrain for a mixture of swimming, canyoning and rock climbing, giving you a big dose of adrenaline while making the most of the dramatic scenery. Alternatively, off the coast of the peninsula further south are the wild and beautiful Chausey Islands, which can be explored by sea kayak (External link) from the fishing port of Granville. The archipelago is a little slice of Norman paradise, and feels a whole world away!

For big walks under big skies, make for the renowned D-Day Landing Beaches (External link) , which extend over 70km from Sainte-Marie-du-Mont to Ouistreham, via Colleville-sur-Mer and Arromanches-les-Bains. In 2021, the region is celebrating the 77th Anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy with a varied programme of events, including the Normandy World Peace Forum and the opening of the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer, which will both take place in June.

If you’re leaving on the ferry from Cherbourg (External link) , there’s lots to see here too. The port prides itself on a vibrant local lifestyle and culture with its Italian-style theatre, basilica and the Cité de la Mer museum and aquarium, where you can even board a disused nuclear submarine. The world’s second largest man-made harbour can also be found here, part of the legacy of the 18th century. What’s more, Cherbourg will host the final stage of the Rolex Fastnet Race in August 2021 (External link) , welcoming hundreds of sailors and promising a wealth of entertainment for visitors. Watching the finish of this popular ocean race looks set to be a real visual spectacle.

From travel to the port to exploring when you get there, taking your own car to Normandy offers the freedom and reassurance you need. Sailing with Brittany Ferries is a hassle-free experience, with various ticket types allowing you to choose the level of flexibility you need. The company is constantly reviewing and updating its health-related procedures to ensure that everyone travels safely. Fresh sea air is supplied in all public spaces – including cabins – and there’s plenty of space to roam around, wherever you are on board. We can’t wait to welcome you back to France again.

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Normandy