Discover Normandy by Motorhome
Some Facts About Normandy
Normandy is divided into 5 separate departments, each with its own unique character. They are as follows; The Manch, Calvados, The Orne, The Eure and Seine Maratime.
The Normandy's 600 km coastline stretches from Mont-St-Michel in the West, to Tréport in the East. Always changing, from the rugged granite coast of the Cotentin peninsular in the Manche, through the sandy beaches of the D-Day landings in Calvados, to the high chalk cliffs of the Alabaster coast in Seine-Maratime.
Inland you will find the Bocage, the rolling meadows separated by hedgerows, and countless little villages with the half-timbered Colombage houses. Looking at all these lush green meadows, it's clear why this is a land of cream, butter and many superb cheeses, not to mention the apples which are turned into cider and also distilled into Calvados. It's truly a gastronomic paradise.
We begin our "Norman Conquest" in the Manche department, by a visit to Mont-St-Michel, like most people do. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, it is a unique monument consisting of a fortified medieval town clinging to the granite rock. Around 3.5 million people from all over the world visit every year. There is a large car park where we can park our motor home for just 4€. Access to the island is free, and between May and September the Abbey at the top of the Island is open daily from 9am to 7pm (last admission 6pm). from October to April, it's open daily from 9.30am to 6pm (last admission 5pm) There are just 3 days a year that it's closed, January 1st, May 1st, and 25th December. There is an 8.50€ charge to visit the Abbey, under 18's can visit free of charge.There is a half mile long nocturnal promenade named "D'un autre songe" . This event can be experienced on week nights at 9pm to midnight through over 20 rooms, accompanied by light and music you can explore the abbey at your own pace. Every night at nightfall, the whole of the Mont is floodlit.
Other attractions are an Autogyro / Microlite trip from the Aerodrome in Avranches, over the mont and around the bay area. Prices vary from 90€ for 20 minutes, to 210€ for an hour. The Balloon trip is a 3 day side trip with accommodation. Check with the tourist office or on-line.
We thought we would visit in the Springtime before the Summer visitors descended. We arrived in the middle of April and there were 5 coaches of Chinese tourists and countless other visitors, luckily the car park is enormous and we all could park comfortably.
We set off to the entrance, the Burgher's guardroom (now the Tourist Office), and on through the Boulevard Gate and the King's Gate with a portcullis, to the main street (Grande Rue) where the shops, restaurants, museums, and the medieval houses are. We found out later from another visitor that there is a quieter route to the top via the Porte Eschaugette, (it's on the left of the main gate) You need some sensible walking shoes as the narrow streets are quite steep and slippy when it's raining. After a long climb with many stops to admire the views, we reached the Abbey church. Unfortunately we couldn't go in as they were working on some urgent repairs that day.After enjoying the views, this time through the binoculars, we started the descent down the ramparts path. There are some great photo opportunities.
There will be some disruption at Mont St. Michel during the next couple of years, due to the car park and road leading to the Mont being demolished to make way for a bridge connecting the Island to the mainland, to be completed by 2012.
We got back to our motor home and had a late lunch, before moving on to our campsite for the night, Camping Haliotis, situated on the Chemin de Soupirs at nearby Pontorson just 9 kms away. We like the Kwaan Villages campsites as they take camping cheques in the low season, good value at 15€ a night for 2 people, a standard size pitch for the motor home and 16 amp electricity and full use of all the available facilities.We found a nice secluded pitch and then had a stroll around the campsite to see what was available and, most importantly, where everything was situated. This is our standard procedure whenever we arrive at a campsite for the first time. It's a good idea to arrive in the afternoon as you get a better choice of pitch. There is a web site so you can check out the facilities at www.camping-haliotis-mont-saint-michel.com
Up early the next day for the trip to Granville
Aspects of GranvilleClick thumbnail to view full-size
A day out in Granville
We arrived in Granville mid-morning, and we made our way towards the 18th century old town within it's grey ramparts (haute ville) by following the direction arrows and the lighthouse on Pointe du Roc, where there is an Aire Communale with parking for 5 motor homes free of charge from 10am to 7pm..
We made this our base for the day while we explored the town on foot. It's Wednesday morning and we head straight for the market to pick up some essentials for tonights dinner, and of course a good look round!
A visit to the "Villa les Rhumbs" is a must as since 1997 it's been the Christian Dior museum. Christian Dior's parents bought this magnificent home with it's winter garden, situated on the cliff facing the Channel Islands, in 1905. Christian Dior's childhood home impressed him so much that he writes in his biography that "my life and my style owe almost everything to it's site and architecture".
The next place we visited was the harbour. From here there are several day trips on offer. The beautiful Islands of Chausey lie about 15 kms off the Granville coast. The ferry runs all year and the crossing is about 50 minutes. In Summer there is the option to cruise the Islands on board a traditional sailing ship. Another trip on offer from April to September, is the ferry crossing to Jersey, which takes around 70 minutes, so there is plenty of time for shopping.
For those who like a flutter, there is the Casino
On to Villedieu-les-poeles
It's after 6pm now so it's time to move on for our overnight stop in Villedieu-les-poeles,loosely translated as "The town of God and frying pans", but known as "The City of Copper". We find the Aire Communale by following the directions to the local hospital on Place des Quais, the Aire is just opposite. Here we can fill up with fresh water and take care of all the emptying of waste water and toilet. There ia an electricity hookup so we can give our battery a rest and run everything off 240v.. Parking is free, but it casts 2€ for water and 2€ for electricity.
Next morning after breakfast we go for a walk around the town. What shall we do? go and vistit the copper smiths workshop I think, after all this is what this town is famous for. Metal work with Pewter, Brass and Copper is all crafted here. The town has been famous since 1780 for making church bells. Like us, why not take the tour of the copper smiths workshop, they do speak some English, so don't worry if your French is not good. After the film show, you are free to walk around the factory floor and watch the men crafting some copper utensils. There are also The Bell Foundry, the Museum of Copper Pots, Pans and Lace, the Museum of Norman Furniture and the House of Pewter (Maison de L'Etain) all of them are worth a visit if you have time..
Now we're off to Calvados, and Bayeux
It's late afternoon so we must move on to our next stop, this time we will visit the D-Day beaches and then Bayeux and the famous tapestry. First we must find a Campsite for the next couple of nights. We decided on Camping Omaha Beach, a 2 star site just a15 minutes drive from Bayeux, it's located on top of the cliff, which gives us a wonderful view of this important 2nd World War site. There are 293 pitches of 80/90 sq m to choose from. After choosing our pitch and hooking up to the electricity, we go for our usual walk around the camp site. It was great to find a path that leads directly to the beach. Tomorrow we will decide where to go first, but for now it's dinner time, and this sea air makes me hungry.
We have decided to visit Bayeux today and have a look at the Cathedral and the Museum that now houses the famous Bayeux Tapestry. If time permits, we will visit the World War 2 Museum as well. The first stop this morning is to find today's parking on the Aire Communal, located in Place Gauquelin Despalliers. We found it no problem, it's situated near the market and the bus station, we just followed directions to the market. It looks good, so we will park up and go find the Tourist Office. I like to get a street map first so we can plan our walk. While we were there we saw that guided tours of the D-Day beaches were available from Bayeux, so we booked one for tomorrow. Battle Bus is the name, and Ellwood von Siebold is the host.
Now we are off to the Cathedral, and the museum. The Gothic Cathedral is the centerpiece of the town near to the Hospital and Museum that was built to house the Tapestry after it was removed from the Cathedral where it was displayed for many years. The Cathedral was built by William the Conqueror's half brother, Bishop Odo sometime in the 1070's. It seems probable that the tapestry was commissioned for the Cathedral's dedication and opening.
We arrive at the Museum to view the tapestry and find that the car park next to the museum allows motor homes to park there! We could have saved ourselves a walk, but, we saw more of Bayeux by walking. The tapestry itself consists of 58 embroidered panels, wool on linen, so actually it's not a tapestry at all, but still a work of art. I was surprised to see how narrow it was, only 20 inches or so wide, but, over 233 feet long. It relates the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, from start to finish, there is speculation that the embroidery was actually done in England by Anglo-Saxon artists, as Bishop Odo had his main power base in Kent, England.
The Museum is open every day from 9am except over the Christmas and New Year holidays. The full tour takes around one and a half hours, and that doesn't include time spent in the gift shop! which is well worth a visit as they have some really unusual items for sale. During the Winter months (November to March) there is an embroidery demonstration, but it's April and we have missed it, all is not lost as there are some super embroidery kits for sale, as well as lots of other textiles, and leather goods.
Tour of D-Day sites
This morning we arrive in Bayeux to meet our Elwood our host in his 8 seater minibus for our full day excursion of the D-day beaches. Elwood proves to be very knowledgeable about the second world war, and he also speaks perfect English, definitely a bonus, as we are with him for at least 8 hours. It's obvious that he has done a lot of research on the Normandy landings in particular the behind the scenes planning and preparations for them. Not to be forgotten are the stories he tells of the men and women involved, he makes the events come alive. His enthusiasm for his work is so marked, that at each beach we visited, he explained not just what happened, but why, and exactly how. The last stop was the US cemetery at Omaha Beach, so many graves! All in all this was a very interesting and worthwhile tour, but not without a great deal of emotion felt by us all. We would recommend it.
You may enjoy a side trip to St.Mere-Eglise, where during the night of 5th and 6th June 1944, more than 16,000 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airbourne Division landed behind Utah Beach, to assist the seabourne landings. Due to navigational errors, not all the troops landed in their zone, some landed up to 25 miles off course! By getting caught on the church steeple, John Steele ensured the lasting fame of the village, being immortalised in the film "The Longest Day".
A city walk
For our last few days we head towards Rouen, in the Seine-Maratime. There is a good camp site set in the heart of the Brotonne National Park. Located in the forest at Jumièges, Camping Le Forêt, on Rue Mainberthe, about 20 kms East of Rouen. On the plus side they also take camping checks, so at 15€ a night we will stay here for a couple of nights or so. Bicycles are available for hir, so you can try out the good cycle paths through the forest, or there are several easy walks, and Jumieges with it's Medieval Abbey is also within walking distance. After choosing our pitch, we head off to Yainville just 2.5 kms up the road to the nearest supermarket to buy some essentials. When we got back we had a walk around the camp but we are leaving exploring the forest until tomorrow.
This morning we decided to hire a couple of bikes and cycle through the forest. It was a bit daunting as we hadn't cycled for a few years, but you never forget, it just needs confidence, so although we were a bit rusty, we managed a very enjoyable hour or so. This afternoon saw us walking into Jumieges to visit the Abbey ruins, they are quite impressive. We stopped for a coffee at a local bar before returning to the camp site, to make our plans for visiting Rouen tomorrow.
First stop is the Tourist Office for a city street map, and some leaflets for places of interest. Were surprised to be told of no less than 6 parking place for our motor home, all parking in Rouen has to be paid for, we chose to head for the left-bank of the river Seine (rive gauche), as there are 2 car parks there, the first on Quai bas, the other under the bridge on Quai Cavliere-de-la-salle. We chose the latter.We decided to use Rouen's excellent transportation system, the Metro and the TEOR bus when and if our legs were too tired to continue, so we asked for timetables before leaving the very helpful lady in the Tourist Office.
Rouen is most famous for the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, also known as the Maid of Orléans, the national heroine of France, and a Catholic Saint, on 30th May 1431 when she was just 19 years old. The city was then under English Rule. In the centre of the Place du Vieux Marché (Old Market Place) stands the modern church of Saint Joan, the building represents the pyre on which Joan of Arc was burnt. The Tour de Jeanne d'Arc, is where Joan was brought in 1431 to be tried by an ecclesiastical court, condemned as a heretic, threatened with torture,but was notimprisioned here.
Rue du Gros Horloge is the site of the astronomical clock that dates back to the 16th century, although the movement is considerably older as it dates from 1389.If you like museums, there are quite a few to chose from. We went to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, on the Esplanade Marcel Duchamp in rue Lecanuet, opened in 1880, where there are exhibits of well known artists such as François Clouet, Diego Velázquez and Caravaggio. They also house the largest group of Impressionist paintings outside Paris, which includes some fine work by Claude Monet and Géricault. There are some beautiful drawings, sculptures and other objets d' art. If you are interested in ceramics there is the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, which contains a splendid collection of porcelain for which Rouen was renowned during the 16th to 18th centuries. Other museums are the Musée maritime fluvial et portuaire, which tells the history of the port of Rouen and navigation. Finally the Musée de Antiquites, not to mention another 10 museums, all with outstanding collections.
Other not-to-be-missed sights are the 15th century Gothic Church of St. Maclou, the Church of St. Ouen, built between the 12th and 15th century, and the Palais de Justice, which was once the court of law for Normandy. The St.Maclou quarter just south of the cemetery ( it dates from the Great Plague of the 14th century) is one of the oldest areas of Rouen, it's here you will find those narrow winding streets lined with timber framed medieval houses, most of them leaning precariously to the right or left. You will find some excellent outdoor cafés in this area, we stopped for a coffee and watched the world go by for a while.
Reluctantly we must now return to our mobile home and return home after a truly wonderful holiday. We can recommend that you take time out to discover Normandy.
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