For a fun and relaxed family holiday, look no further than Normandy. So close to home and yet a world away, this area of western France has everything you could possibly need to keep both kids and parents happy. Regular and speedy Brittany Ferries services link the UK to the ports of Caen, Cherbourg and Le Havre, and once you’ve landed on French soil, exploring everything there is to do couldn’t be easier.
If you sail into Le Havre , you may want to spend a day or two here. This city is a fun place for families, particularly those with older children. The city is a masterpiece of innovative modern town planning and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss the chance to snap an Instagram picture or two at Catène de Containers, one of the city’s most iconic and colourful buildings, and do visit Les Bains des Docks, an architect-designed aquatic centre. The design aesthetics might be lost on kids, but the six indoor and outdoor pools – including a dedicated children’s pool – won’t be. Any families arriving into Cherbourg , on the other hand, should make a beeline for the much-loved Cité de la Mer museum and aquarium, where you can even board a disused nuclear submarine.
Dotted along the 650km of coastline, Normandy’s seaside resorts are beautiful spots for a family beach holiday. The seaside resort of Deauville is considered to be one of the top beach destinations in France. Nearby is Trouville , which locals say is just as good – if not better! The small town of Ravenoville is divided into Ravenoville-Bourg and Ravenoville-Plage, the latter popular for the pretty pastel fishing houses that line the shore. Granville , and its northern neighbour Les Salines, are also popular bucket-and-spade spots.
Normandy offers excellent cycling with 1,600km of cycle routes, 700km of which are voies vertes. These ‘greenways’ were once railway tracks but are today dedicated, secure cycle paths, perfect for all abilities. One of the loveliest runs from Neufchâtel-en-Bray to Forges-les-Eaux, taking in some of Normandy’s lush countryside landscapes bordered by hedgerows, known as the bocage – perfect for a family bike ride with a picnic stop en route. Also don’t miss the improved Vélomaritime (Eurovelo 4), which passes by some of Normandy’s most famous sites.
Speaking of famous sites, Normandy has them in abundance. Some of the most well-known include the D-Day Landing Beaches and the majestic chalk cliffs of Etretat and L'Aiguille (the Needle), which rises 70 metres above the sea. No visit to Normandy would be complete without a pilgrimage to the Mont-Saint-Michel . Soaring more than 100 metres above the sea, the Abbey of Saint-Michel has a magical, fairytale quality to it. During low tide, families can take a guided walk across the bay to reach the island.
There’s also fossil-hunting to be enjoyed on the Calvados coast, in Villers-sur-Mer, whose ‘Vaches Noires’ cliffs hold a fascinating record of Normandy’s prehistoric past. Prehistory can be one of the most challenging periods for children to understand, but the guide’s talk is tailored to suit all ages and really sparks the imagination. After the guided hunt – on which you can keep any fossils you find – you can delve a little deeper with a visit to the interactive Paléospace Museum.
Hankering to get out on the water? As well as sailing, paddleboarding and kite-surfing, boat trips are big business in Normandy. The fishing harbour of Fécamp is a great departure point for a trip on a tall sailing ship, skippered by professional sailors but giving you the chance to try your hand at various tasks on board. Hoist the mainsail, pull the ropes and take the helm to learn to steer, all while bonding with the crew and learning about life as a sailor. Heading out of the harbour affords a fantastic panoramic view of the Alabaster Coast cliffs. You can fish from the boat too – and take home whatever you catch!
Once you leave the seaside ports, green fields and apple orchards stretch into the distance and timbered farmhouses pepper the countryside. For something a little different, take the kids to Cerza Safari Park in the Pays d’Auge, where you can stay overnight in a cosy safari lodge overlooking the ‘savannah’ and have an up-close and personal wildlife experience. By day, children love helping the zookeepers carry out their daily tasks of feeding and caring for the animals, which come from all four corners of the globe. There are great theme parks in Normandy too: classic rides at Le Bocasse; knights, Vikings and pirates at Festyland; and indoor thrills at Raptor Park near Granville.
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.