We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

Spello, Italy
Level Contributor
117 posts
5 reviews
Save Topic
Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

I'm still sorting through our fabulous photos of our week in France, but wanted to send a brief message to TA folks for your help with our trip, which was a roaring success. My family (husband, 3 kids, 2 cats) are living in Italy for a year, and for each person's birthday we have taken a trip, using those Ryan Air cheap fares. This most recent was for my daughter, who just turned 11, and when she went to bed on her last night in Normandy, she closed her eyes and breathed, "This was the best trip ever."

We had planned to stay in Rouen for 2 days, and then the countryside for 5, but our plans were stymied by the Armada. No rooms were available, and besides, I don't like crowds, and read that 10 million people filled the city last time. We ended up staying overnight at a blissful B&B in Beauvais overnight the day we arrived. Our plane had been scheduled to arrive late at night, which is why we wanted to stay where we landed, but as it turns out, the strike cancelled our plane the night before we were scheduled to leave, and we hurriedly had to rebook for one leaving early in the morning. Which meant that we had 7 hours to prepare for our trip (and eat dinner and sleep), rather than 24. Which meant that we were not at all prepared. I had no idea what we'd do in Beuvais for a day, in Paris for 2 days, or in Normandy for the 5. Normally I don't leave planning those details until the last minute, but my husband had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia (hospital in Italy? that's another post), then our town celebrated its annual Infiorata, where the town carpets the streets in flowers, and our children had their last week of school with all the attendant emotional and logistical issues. So it was a busy time, and I'd counted on that one day to prepare. I was nervous when I realized I had, in fact, no time.

And it turns out, that besides the sleep deprivation and traveling with dirty clothes that I didn't have a chance to wash and dry (we don't have a dryer in Italy) before we left, it worked out wildly for the best. Because I remembered how people traveled before the internet.

Answer? They talked to people. Our host in Beauvais sent us to Gerberoy for the afternoon, and we had a splendid time in a magical (though, it must be said, not really vibrant, as many of these "most beautiful villages" have become) town. The host of our B&B, Le Jardin des Marie-Jeanne, made us dinner and it was one of the best meals of our trip. And we fell asleep to the smell of cooking jam for our breakfast. Lovely.

Then in Paris, we decided to skip the tourist attractions, and just wander. We'd been to Paris with our children 2 years ago when we were trying to decide between living in France and Italy, and our children unilaterally told us that it was this visit that made them fall in love with Paris. Who knew? Just wandering and eating and sitting and eating made us all feel much more cleaved with the heart of the city. We were absolutely smitten. Even though we hardly left the Marais, where we stayed. It was utterly glorious.

And then to Normandy. I had posted questions months ago to help isolate where we'd stay, and I so appreciate the advice I received to stay in the Pays d'Auge region. As promised, it was bucolic, with rolling pastureland, dotted with grazing cows, and flourished with apple orchards. Truly lovely, and also fun with the signs for cheese and cider around every bend.

Once we arrived at the Priory Saint Michel (the gardens of which were sublime, and we were out of doors all the time enjoying them) I remembered hearing about Lisieux, so we went there our first day, and went to the tourist office. That tourist office was a treasure trove. We received a detailed map and a booklet of activities. Everything we did—the towns, the cheese factory, the cideries, the castle, the markets—was from that tourist booklet. The blurbs about each place to visit were short, so we didn't have so much information that we arrived knowing exactly what we were going to see, and therefore were deprived of a sense of discovery. Rather, we knew enough to be tantalized, and then arrived ready to be pleased.

I'm guessing most people know this already, but though tourist offices were how I traveled when I backpacked through Europe in college, I hadn't really considered them a resource anymore, and instead relied on the internet. Which can be overwhelming and confusing, there is just so much information. How lovely to sip our coffee in the morning, flip through the lovely little booklet, and decide where we'd go, based on what we felt like, rather than what we'd planned.

As a person who tends to plan every detail including where to stop for snacks, this trip was a giant departure. Part of my "work" in this year abroad has been to accept imperfection and just be present, and this final trip of our sabbatical year absolutely brought that home. Arriving in France with dirty clothes and little information and nothing marked on maps and in fact no maps at all would once have sent me into a tailspin. So I wanted to write this for others who are oriented similarly. To suggest that perhaps abandoning the safety of secure details can lead to spontaneous bliss.

Happy travels,

Michelle

www.ilbelcentro.com

Toowoomba, Australia
Level Contributor
1,325 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

So glad you had a wonderful trip. So many people think of Normandy, think D-Day beaches and coastline, and overlook the Pays d' Auge region. We spent a week in the countryside near St Pierre sur Dives [ great market ] last year and, yes it is gorgeous. Cows grazing under apple trees, lovely lush green countryside, wonderful half-timbered buildings. We took a drive to the priory you mentioned and nearby Crouttes. The basilica at Lisieux, while not old is quite overwhelming. We loved driving through towns with the names of iconic cheeses like Livarot and Camembert. We visited some interesting and attractive chateaux.

Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories of our stay.

Edited: 22 June 2013, 10:18
Spello, Italy
Level Contributor
117 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

You're welcome! The area certainly makes for a dreamy vacation. We felt so present and receptive. We visited the market in St. Pierre sur dives, it was fabulous! Found out about it in that great booklet from the tourist office. What a gem of a market that was.

Of course, what I didn't mention, because my post was already so long, is the food. Blew our collective minds. The best part was our daily picnics—duck salami, market produce, tougerre (spelling I'm sure is wrong, it's the local pudding), fromage blanc and berries, duck rillette, and cheese cheese cheese. We live in the land where pecorino is king, so enjoying some stinky, runny, barny cheese was heaven. At least for most of us, my sons are, unfortunately, cheese averse.

The more we've traveled this year, the more we have found that we get very little out of tourist magnets. So we skipped the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, MSM, and the D-Day beaches, in favor of patisseries, markets, stumbling upon World War 2 minor sites in almost every town we visited, and wandering. No regrets. We did go to Honfleur for the day, and it was the least memorable day of our visit. Though this could be because it was jam packed, I'm thinking with Rouen Armada run-off. But the Pays D'Auge was peaceful, serene, and seemed untouched by time.

So glad you had a similar experience.

Michelle

www.ilbelcentro.com

MD
Level Contributor
709 posts
2 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

What a blissful report. We also love the parts of Normandy no one goes to. No crowds, just natural beauty. But it's hard to recommend something so laid back to people who are eager to cram in every place they're heard about in France, which to them means places like Paris, Le Mont-St-Michel, the landing beaches, Loire Valley chateaux, and Provence.

Honfleur was jam-packed the afternoon we were there, so I think it's not just the Armada. We had just come from a great lunch in an idyllic little town, along hilly back roads, and down into the biggest crowds we'd seen since we left the airport. It was a shock and we didn't stay long.

We've run into more English people than Americans in most B&Bs where we've stayed. I sure envy their ability to pop over to France whenever they want.

St Louet sur Vire...
Destination Expert
for Bayeux
Level Contributor
2,455 posts
31 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

I agree, it's nice to read a report where someone has taken their time visiting "other parts" of Normandy. Most of our guests stay with us because we are midway between MSM and the D-Day beaches. I often have to persuade them to extend their stay from 1 to at least 2 and preferably 3 nights because they think they are going to "do" the D-Day sites on their way from Paris to us and then MSM the next day before returning to Paris. Those that do this, even staying two nights, miss so much. I sometimes get the reaction, when I tell guests that others have stayed for 5,6 or even 7 nights of "what on earth do they do after the first 3 days". However, the reaction I get from those that do stay longer is that they have done as you have ibelcentro, and used local tourist offices, or picked our brains and end up feeling that their 6 night stay wasn't actually long enough

There is so much to see and do in Normandy apart from just the D-Day sites and MSM. Glad you enjoyed exploring the hinterland.

Spello, Italy
Level Contributor
117 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

If that's the case, then I'm particularly glad we stayed in the Pays d'Auge region. I had no idea Honfleur would be so crowded.

My 11 year old daughter actually commented that this year abroad has turned us into better travelers, because we focus more on how people live where we visit, rather than what tourists see. I had to tell her about MSM, because I knew people would ask if she had been there during our 5 days in Normandy, and didn't want her to have to look at them blankly.

But I get it both ways. I've battled the situation just to be able to see the Alhambra (which may be why I found it not exactly as thrilling as I expected), and fought the crowds to walk in the Coliseum (same). I get that there are must sees, but I'm almost glad I was unable to create a list of must-sees for this trip. So I could really see what was in front of me. It's probably a personal thing, but I wanted to put it out there in case people find themselves in similar situations, they can try to look at it as perhaps a blessing in disguise.

Michelle

www.ilbelcentro.com

Spello, Italy
Level Contributor
117 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

Thiaumerie-- your message arrived as I was sending the above, so I just received it.

I have to say I feel so sad for people who miss the rest of Normandy. It really is bliss. One of our most relaxing vacations—we ate well, enjoyed the countryside, learned about cheese and calvados, and were completely charmed by the villages. There is so much to discover. I'm glad you encourage your guests to dig deeper.

Michelle

www.ilbelcentro.com

Essex
Level Contributor
27,616 posts
69 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

Nice to hear that you enjoyed lovely Normandy so much, and had a trip so "personal" and special to your family.

I hope you manage more such adventures, wherever you go in the world.

Spello, Italy
Level Contributor
117 posts
5 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

Thanks, EssexWanderer...

I hope so, too. As we are winding down on this dream of living a year in Italy with our family, we are in the process of formulating the next big adventure. Now I'm thinking...France.

Michelle

www.ilbelcentro.com

tennessee
Level Contributor
462 posts
2 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

Sounds wonderful. How possible would it be to do something like this--if only some of this--without a car?

Paris, France
Level Contributor
11,624 posts
4 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Home from Normandy-- And a little traveling tip

Excellent report Michelle. Glad it all worked out for you. More people should learn to travel the old fashioned way. I always advise about tourist offices (and their websites) being the best travel planning resource for vacationing in France but that advice mostly falls on deaf ears. Too many people like to be told where to go instead of discovering things for themselves. Your report is an inspiration to real travel adventure seekers. :)