Take things slow in Normandy

Home to wild beaches and high cliffs, rolling green fields and cider-apple orchards, seaside villages and picturesque, timber-framed towns, Normandy has something for every couple. This easy-going corner of France also boasts some of the country’s best food, largely due to its geography; thanks to an extensive coastline and an abundance of farmland, the cuisine involves lots of fresh seafood and rich dairy produce. Cycling, long walks and romantic river cruises are all waiting to be enjoyed – and to truly savour it all, do as the locals do: take a slow pace.

One of the region’s most famous fish dishes is Marmite Dieppoise, a rich fish stew made with molluscs, crustaceans and fish, and lashings of butter and cream. According to local lore, it was made popular in the 1960s when a tavern near the quays in Dieppe (External link) would make a stew with the leftovers of the catch. Although this dish is served throughout the region, if you head to its birthplace you’ll also be able to visit the Saturday morning market, voted France’s Finest Market in 2020. Held every Saturday from 8am to 1pm, this market’s vast array of tempting treats, whether hoisted from the sea or harvested from the land, is an absolute must for any lover of fresh local produce. It’s only a mile from the ferry terminal and train station too!

As you make your way along the coast, be sure to try the mussels – a la Normande with cream, butter and egg yolks – in Barfleur (External link) , a pretty port lined with restaurants. Nearby is the coastal town of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue (External link) , voted France’s Favourite Village in 2019 and home to one of the oldest oyster basins in the region, as well as one of the oldest stores. Maison Gosselin was founded in 1889 and still sells homemade jams, biscuits and other local goodies for you to pack up in the car and take home.

Another market you should bookmark is the weekly Saturday one in the town of Bayeux; schedule a stop here to stock up on cheeses before catching the ferry back from Caen. Normandy produces some of the best cheeses in France (External link) , the classics being Camembert, Pont-l’Évêque, Livarot and Neufchâtel. These go very nicely with the local apple-based drinks of Calvados (External link) , cider and pommeau, whose orchards and distilleries are scattered through the region’s countryside. For a treat evening, choose from 28 Michelin-starred restaurants across Normandy, and many famous eateries such as La Couronne in Rouen, France’s oldest inn. If you fancy getting hands-on, cocktail-making classes (External link) are even available at the Benedictine Palace in Fécamp, where you’ll learn about this potent local elixir.

One of the best ways to experience Normandy’s rolling countryside is on two wheels (External link) – and there are 1,600km of dedicated cycle paths across the region, of which 700km are voies vertes (greenways). It’s easy to hire when you arrive, but Brittany Ferries’ roof and rear-mounted rack allowances also mean that you can bring your own bikes with you if you want. Some of the more popular tracks include the Vélo Francette running south from Ouistreham, and the Véloscenic, taking in some of the region’s prettiest natural parks and villages as well as the awe-inspiring Mont-Saint-Michel. (You can try Afghan walking near this famous landmark too: inspired by nomadic tribes, this ‘mindful walking’ involves breathing techniques and natural meditation to leave you feeling re-energised.) To admire the cliffs of Etretat and the D-Day Landing Beaches, take to the newly revised Vélomaritime (Eurovelo 4). You don’t have to cycle any route in its entirety; they can all be enjoyed for a couple of hours before you pack up the car and head to the next destination.

Another way to savour Normandy slowly is on foot. Rambling and hiking are popular pastimes in here and there are nearly 2,000 miles of long-distance hiking trails to choose. Walking paths criss-cross the countryside, occasionally joining up with a ‘GR’ (Grande Randonnée) track. The GR21 (External link) , which stretches along the Alabaster Coast, was voted France's favourite hiking trail in 2019. Or to soak up Normandy’s wild side with a touch of romance, try a river cruise with Liberté Seine, accompanied by a local skipper. You’ll have the chance to take the helm, enjoy a decadent picnic and raise a glass to the stunning countryside as you glide along. Disembark and stay overnight at the fairytale riverside Moulin des Connelles – the perfect way to end the trip.

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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