We chose France for our first real family road trip with Mila, who was 3 months old at the time. Afterall she is half French and it seemed like a good idea. Our final goal was to reach Ile de Re island, where we ended up staying a month while visiting Charlie´s family and friends, but instead of just rushing on highways we decided to take it slow this time. So we took our time while driving along the northern coastline of the country exploring places I´ve never been to before. The route led us from northern Germany through the Netherlands and Belgium to the French coast, where we spent the first night near the city of Calais, before continuing westward in the following days. We actually focused more on Brittany, wehere we also spent more time, but Normandy pleasantly surprised us with its dramatic cliffs and sandy bays, charming villages, picturesque fishing towns, rich agricultural estates, historically important places, interesting culinary delicacies and much more. To save some time we had to leave out some of the attractions I marked on the map while planning this trip, especially those located further inland, but I will shortly mention those in this post as well, for everyone with a bit more time heading this way.
Places: Dunkirk, Cap Blanc Nez, Cap Gris Nez, Berck-sur-mer, Etretat, Le Havre, Honfleur, Deauville, D day plaže, Le Mont Saint Michel
How: with our LR Defender
Stayed in: campsites
CAP BLANC NEZ | “the Cape of the white nose”
This beautiful cape on the COTE D´OPAL coast near CALAIS was our first real stop, where we stayed for two nights. Date-wise, our first morning fell exactly on our 4th anniversary, so we purposely chose this beautiful beach, near which CAMPING CAP BLANC NEZ is located. Also an excellent choice for our very FIRST NIGHT IN THE ROOFTOP TENT on the top of our Defender with Mila. We slept perfectly, Mila was still waking up 2-3 times a night at that point but nothing what would cause us sleepless nights and, as a result, fatigue the next day, so travelling at this stage was fairly easy.
CAP BLANC NEZ translates as “cape of the white nose”, which certainly refers to a mighty, over 130-meter high, WHITE CHALK CLIFF rising above an interesting sandy beach. An OBELISK is erected at the top of the cliff in memory of the battles in the First World War, to which a panoramic walking path leads from where you access the beach.
Because these places are completely different from the coast by the Mediterranean Sea, which I´m more used to, they especially enchanted me even more with their long sandy beaches, mighty cliffs overgrown with fluttering grass, beautiful sunset shades and, of course, with their huge differences in sea levels during the tide, which really shows its power here.
CAP GRIS NEZ | “the Cape of the grey nose”
After the first two nights and a whole day of relaxing and enjoying the beach, it was time to move west, and we made our first stop after only a few kilometers. Well, at least we tried. CAP GRIS NEZ, or “cape of the gray nose”, is another beautiful place on the coast of northern France, located just a little over 30km air distance from England. Unfortunately, access to the beach was not possible at the time of our visit, as the area was being demined – yes, there are still apparently some unexploded mines or bombs from the war times around here today. So we had a short stop at the beach a little later. But if you are in the area, I recommend a visit, as it looked really lovely from the top of the cliffs.
BERCK SUR MER | popular seaside resort
We made our next stop in the coastal town called BERCK where e first took a pleasant walk on the long sandy beach. The former OLD FISHING TOWN has developed into a popular SUMMER SEASIDE RESORT with a long promenade along which there is no shortage of shops, bars and restaurants, as well as various entertainment offers for visitors of all generations.
Every time I find myself on the FRENCH ATLANTIC COAST, I am fascinated by these beautiful antique CAROUSELS, on which children (well, also the grown ups) enjoy riding at any time of the day.
Instead of riding the carousel, we treated ourselves to a slightly more CULINARY COLORED EXPERIENCE. Namely, with FRENCH FRIES, which is really a big deal over here, and you can get it in special restaurants and at stands with the inscription FRITERIE.
A visit to the so-called FRITERIE is a must in these parts of France, the fries may already look like some other places, but the taste is still something special. The oldest known Friterie is located in Antwerp, Belgium, but they can also be found in the Netherlands, besides France. In addition to fries, there is usually a choice of hamburger, sandwich, sausages, also salads, and yes, for the bravest, there is also a baguette sandwich with fries. Literally.
ROUEN | charming medieval city
With our tummys full, we continued along the coast to the west and this time purposely skipped the visit to the medieval city of ROUEN, which is located a few tens of kilometers from the coast in the direction of Paris. Otherwise, you can visit the mighty CATHEDRAL here, see the GROS HORLOGE astronomical clock, the Gothic COURT PALACE, you can visit many museums and walk through the charming streets of the OLD CITY, where the most beautiful houses in the typical style of HALF-TIMBER HOUSES stand, or take a stroll through the JARDIN DES PLANTES park.
GIVERNY & CHATEAU GAILLARD | Claude Monet´s house and a beautiful medieval castle
If you drive from the city of Rouen for about 45 minutes further in the direction of Paris, you can also visit the MEDIEVAL CASTLE OF CHATEAU GAILLARD, and if you add half an hour to the drive, you end up in the village of GIVERNY, which became famous thanks to the world-famous paintings of the renowned French painter CLAUDE MONET. Monet lived here for the last decades of his life and was, as many other artists who came to live in this area, utterly inspired by the beautiful landscapes of Normandy. Today, all art lovers can visit MONET’S HOUSE AND GARDEN with ponds, bridges, water lilies, flowers and other greenery that look exactly like those in this painting. For us, these two points were also too far out of our route so we will have to come again some other time. This might be a good day trip from Paris too though.
ETRETAT | the most famous cliffs in France
On the way to the world-famous cliffs in and around ETRETAT, we made a quick stop in the coastal town of FECAMP, namely at Cape CAP FAGNET – beautiful scenery and unique views, but also fewer visitors than expected, so I recommend a stop. Otherwise, we were quite lucky in terms of crowds in Etretat as well, but I imagine that it gets quite busy there in July and August, perhaps there is also a bigger problem with parking in the town itself.
Probably the most famous cliffs in the whole of France and despite the fact that this is one of the most popular tourist spots around, they really impressed us. The whiteness of the chalky cliffs combined with the green grass carpet on top and the shimmering reflections of the sea below is just something special. In addition to the spectacular cliffs on the 140 km long coast of the COTE D`ALBATRA, there are also THREE NATURAL ARCHES and one SHARP ROCK rising from the sea. This motifs can also be found in many paintings by famous painters, the place of Etretat also appears in novels.
You can see everything from the top of the cliffs, where the PANORAMIC WALKING PATH runs, or from the main beach in the city of Etretat itself. Or you can choose to check out both, of course. If you do come down to the town, take a walk around, it’s really quite pleasant, and the beach is also nice for swimming or for a short rest. You can also see the interesting gardens on the slopes of the cliff, folow the signs for LES JARDINS D`ETRETAT.
HONFLEUR & DEAUVILLE | charming coastal towns close to Le Havre
This time we also skipped the visit of the larger PORT CITY OF LE HAVRE and preferred a quick stop in the beautiful town of HONFLEUR, which is located just on the other side of the RIVER SEINE canal. Later on we walked around the town of DEAUVILLE, which is located a little further down the coast. Both of these places are famous for their beautiful architecture and pleasant atmosphere, so I definitely recommend a stop in at least one of them.
TEH WWII D-DAY BEACHES | the largest landing in history
History buffs probably don’t need further explanation, but for everyone else, a quick clarification – D-DAY marks June 6, 1944, the day when the allied forces began the largest landing in the history of mankind and thus successfully stood on the edge of what was then Nazi Germany. Basically, there are 5 BEACHES where this operation took place, namely UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and SWORD, located in an area about 70 kilometers north of Caen and Saint-Lo.
MONT SAINT -MICHEL | a one of a kind UNESCO site with a world famous medieval abbey
Mont Saint Michel. The famous UNESCO city on the island, which in some photos sometimes seems to be a photomontage, but it is of course not. A city that definitely belongs to the top 5 tourist attractions in France. We are here now. And it’s raining. Actually it is pouring. We wait a little, but unfortunatelly it doesn´t look like it will get any better soon. From the road we can only see the blurred outline of this spectacular place with its MEDIEVAL ABBEY. And we decide to drive on and come back some other time.
A VISIT to this spectacular place is only possible at certain hours of the day, when the tide is low as the difference between high and low tide in these places can reach up to 8 meters. Thus, the island, on which only about 40 inhabitants live, is cut off from the mainland and access is not possible most of the day. It is also necessary to leave your car in a special PARKING LOT far away and then either take the SHUTTLE BUS or or walk / cycle to the entry point. But all of this in pouring rain with a 3mo baby just didnt seem like the best idea and I guess we wouldn´t have enjoyed it, we would just tick off something for the sake of saying we were there. So we gave it a pass. Afterall we are coming to France on yearly basis now so there will surely be other oportunities.
The next day the skies cleared up and we continued our journey to the west. But since the border between NORMANDY and BRITTANY is just somewhere here at Mont Saint Michel, more about our road trip adventure in these parts of France continues in the next blog post about Brittany. So our trip to Normandy this time was short but sweet, but definitely a great choice to start this slightly longer first family road trip with Mila. We´ll definitely come again some day!