Lovely Normandy conquers all for a fabulous taste of France at its best
Beautiful Normandy really has it all – a thousand years of history, from William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc to the D-Day landings, all tied together with glorious scenery, delicious food and drink and an infectiously easygoing attitude to life.
All this and it’s only a short hop across the English Channel.
Thanks to the abundance of glorious beaches, it would be tempting enough to settle down with a good book and simply forget about the world (perhaps only breaking off for lunch at a seafront restaurant).
Still, if ever there was a place to embody the cliché that there is simply too much to do and too little time in which to do it, this perfect corner of north-west France is it.
Also, we were accompanied on our trip by our lively four-year-old, Tom, so moments of quiet contemplation were, shall we say, in short supply.
For this reason, travelling by car is highly recommended.
It allows the freedom to explore many of the beautiful and historic sites the region has to offer – and from the medieval wonder that is Mont-Saint-Michel to the stunningly pretty town of Bayeux, with its cathedral, the must-see tapestry and wonderful historic streets, we clocked up a good few miles during our holiday.
We were happy to do so.
We could have gone farther, if we wished: Paris can be reached in under three hours from the port of Ouistreham (Caen), our point of arrival in Normandy.
We sailed from Portsmouth with Brittany Ferries, on one of the regular daily crossings across the Channel – an opportunity to get the holiday started before even setting foot on French soil.
With an excellent selection of bars, restaurants and family-friendly activities, including a cinema, we had everything we needed to keep a little one entertained and, what’s more, if you take advantage of the ship’s onboard accommodation (which we did), a comfortable cabin provides a base for a snooze or a spot of peace and quiet.
Of course, you don’t have to take a vehicle.
Foot passengers can travel extremely reasonably and simply (documentation checks notwithstanding). We were glad we did go by car, however.
It allowed us to drive through a series of gorgeous sun-kissed French seaside towns en-route to our holiday village, Domaine de Litteau.
Sitting on the edge of the Cerisy Forest and surrounded by lush countryside, Domaine de Litteau offers a covered pool complex, camp shop and outdoor play zone, and is popular with families.
It’s also within easy reach of the D-Day landing beaches and, during our stay in late May 2019, preparations were well under way to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy.
The War Cemetery and D-day Museum at Bayeux, and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach each offer pause for thought and the opportunity to honour the thousands of soldiers who gave their lives to liberate Europe.
The beaches may be historic sites but they’re also lovely, sunny spots to enjoy the seaside.
Turn right on leaving the ferry terminal at Ouistreham and you’re immediately at the beach, with miles of golden sand ahead of you, dotted with seafront restaurants.
The sea food, of course, is wonderful, but local cheeses, lamb, beef, bread and cider are all supremely tasty.
Head left from the port and the seaside delights continue.
We motored to the quaint resort of Houlgate, with its enormous beach looking across to Le Havre and an array of lovely restaurants to enjoy.
Now we’re back home, we’ve already made a list of the places we missed and plan to visit on our return.
We didn’t see the historic splendour of Rouen, the capital of Normandy, for example.
We also didn’t manage to squeeze in a trip to the pretty harbour town of Honfleur, the dramatic cliffs of Etretat or the painter Monet’s Garden at Giverny.
There’s always next time. We may even manage a spot more peace and quiet on the beach.
Phil travelled to Siblu’s Domaine de Litteau holiday village in Normandy, where seven-nights from May 22 , 2020, starts from £426, based on up to six sharing a two-bedroom Elegance holiday home with terrace. Go to siblu.com/camping-domaine-de-litteau, 020 8610 0186.Brittany Ferries operates the longer routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth direct to Brittany and Normandy saving miles of unnecessary and costly driving. Travel overnight by luxury cruise-ferry in the comfort of your own cabin with en-suite facilities or be whisked across the channel in as little as three hours. May fares on the Portsmouth to Caen crossings start from £165 each way for a car and family-of-four. Book online at brittany-ferries.co.uk or call 0330 159 7000.