STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences driving around North-West France.
My wife and I had not visited France for many years and felt a return visit was well overdue. Taking advantage of being retired senior travellers, we chose to travel in June before the busy summer holiday period and decided on a three week holiday in North-West France touring Normandy, the Loire Valley and Brittany.
We took our car on the three hour Brittany Ferry Portsmouth-Cherbourg route. Our first day’s journey from Cherbourg to Saint-Lô was via Sainte-Mère-Église where we saw the famous church complete with model parachutist hanging from it. There is much American Memorabilia in evidence including an American war museum.
From Saint-Lô it is a short drive to Le Mont St-Michel. Parking is well signposted and at €12 includes the shuttle service to the island. It is well worth the additional €9 Euros to visit the Abbey perched at the top of the island reached via slopes and steps and narrow passageways.
The next day we visited some Normandy beaches on our way to Bayeux. We commenced at Point du Hoc which prove very different from when we visited 20 years before. It now has well signposted free parking and a visitor centre. The path around the site has interesting information boards recounting historical and personal events. We continued to Utah Beach which has plenty of eating places but not a lot to see! Our final beach was Arramanches. The parking at the front by the D-Day Museum was €2 per hour, but at the entry to the town it is free.
Parking was difficult in Bayeux, but there is an accessible car park near the Tourist Information Office. In Bayeux, as in many other towns, there are many parking places marked with blue lines. These spaces must be avoided, as they are only for people with passes i.e. not visiting tourists! The Bayeux tapestry is excellent. The €9 entry charge includes an automated audio guide explaining the tapestry as you walk along its 70 metres. Bayeux Cathedral is very impressive.
We used a one week stay at timeshare apartment at Connelles, near Rouen, as a base to visit Rouen itself, Giverny and Versailles. We broke the journey at the very pleasnt seaside resort of Deauville, but gave up on visiting Honfleur as it was extremely busy with no obvious parking available.
The centre of Rouen is pedestrianised, with the main buildings all within 30 minutes walking distance from the car park we selected using our sat-nav. The Tourist Information Office was very helpful, providing a map with suggested walking tours taking in the city’s fine buildings and its links with Joan of Arc.
The ample free parking near Claude Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny was easy to find and was just ten minute walk to the house. However it then took 45 minutes queuing to pay the €9 to enter. We spent a pleasant two hours walking around the house and pretty gardens, recognising many scenes from the artist’s famous pictures.
Whilst in Normandy, we decided to take advantage of our being just 65 miles from the Palace of Versailles to visit for a day. On arrival we were advised to avoid the extremely lengthy queue at the palace in the morning, and to visit first the amazing gardens and Trianons. The whole thing is spectacular.
The walk through the gardens to the Grand Trianon can take about 30 minutes, but in our case took much longer as we stopped to admire the plants, views and statues. If the distances involved are a challenge, then there is a tourist train available. When we returned to the palace at 3.30, there was no queue. The grandeur is of the various rooms is quite breathtaking.
During our stay at Connelles we also visited a number of small towns and villages in the surrounding area, including Lyons-la-Forêt and Les Andelys, in the Seine valley.
The Loire Valley
Our next destination was Blois, in the Loire Valley, an easy three hour drive via Evreux (to avoid the motorways near Paris on a Saturday morning). Here we stayed two nights in the Holiday Inn which is well situated for walking to central Blois, the river and the chateau.
The following day we drove to Amboise and to our surprise found that we spent the whole day there. Initially we visited the huge market alongside the river before driving into the town centre. From there we wandered around the picturesque streets and through the large town square, complete with a band playing.
A long walk with steep slopes and excellent viewing points took us to Château of Clos Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last three years. The buildings were interesting and the gardens extensive. Both had many examples and much information concerning Leonardo’s many inventions – truly fascinating!
From Blois we travelled 300 miles (5 hours not including breaks, mostly motorway/dual carriageway, tolls nearly €30), to Quimper, where we stayed in Holiday Property Bond apartment for a week.
Short visits from our apartment included:
• Quimper: A pretty, compact town, with indoor food market, cathedral, old houses, and bridges over the river, all within 20 minutes walk from the car park north of the pedestrian area near the Rue de la Providence.
• Benodet: A small seaside resort with pleasant walks along the estuary to the beaches.
• Concarneau: Parking was available at the quayside in Concarneau near the Tourist Information Office. A bridge gives access to the small fortified island town of Ville Close, which has a main street with many shops and restaurants. You can walk around the walls, which give views down into Ville Close and across to Concarneau.
• Pont l’Abbé: We visited on a Tuesday, a busy market day, but managed to park by the river. There is a four mile walk along the river to its mouth at Loctudy, but it was hot in the early afternoon so we decided to drive there! Loctudy is a small, pleasant town with a busy harbour and beach.
We returned to Cherbourg for the return crossing to Portsmouth via a one night stay at the sleepy little seaside town of Vivier-sur-Mer.
Overall the tour proved a very enjoyable holiday, although with hindsight, we should maybe have either spent longer in the Loire Valley, in order to fully justify the long drive there, or just concentrated on enjoying Normandy and Brittany.
POSTED 27th FEBRUARY 2017 by TONY TAYLOR