We just got back to Paris last night after a whirlwind tour of Normandy! It was a great weekend full of adorable small towns, beautiful beaches, great food and LOTS of driving. Today I’ll share a quick recap of our trips, some photos of our adventures, and of course a summary of what we spent along the way.
Day 1: Rouen, Côte d’Albâtre and Honfleur
We set off early on Friday morning. Our first stop was picking up our rental car from Europcar. We selected Europcar using Auto by Europe based on recommendations from Rick Steves, and overall we were satisfied. We were able to pick up the car from a location only a 15 minute walk from our apartment in Paris, which was very convenient. Getting the car was pretty simple. The only issue was that we didn’t know that we needed the driver’s passport for the rental, so BF had to run home to get his passport. We rented a manual car (this is the standard in Europe, you’d pay more for automatic), so BF was the sole driver. I know, I need to learn to drive a stick!
Our first stop along the way was the city of Rouen, known for its beautiful cathedral. We spent about two hours in Rouen, mostly just walking around and enjoying the medieval architecture. We went inside the cathedral, which was very ornate and beautiful. Our last stop in Rouen was a lovely lunch outside. We enjoyed some hard cider, a local specialty, and even beer-loving BF said it was good!
From Rouen we headed off to a few small cities along the Côte d’Albâtre or Alabaster coast. We visited Dieppe, drove through Veules-les-Roses, and stopped in Étretat to see the beautiful natural arches carved along the coast. Étretat was by far our favorite stop. It was a lot of driving and BF and I agreed that we would recommend to others to go straight from Rouen to Étretat to save time and also because there isn’t much to see in Dieppe or Veules-les-Roses.
From Étretat we headed out to Honfleur. We were considering stopping in Le Havre, but we’d heard great things about Honfleur and decided we wanted a bit more time there. Honfleur was adorable and a must-see when in Normandy. The old port was incredibly picturesque. We ate a late dinner in Honfleur after a looong day of driving and then headed to our home for the night, rented via Airbnb. In case you are planning a trip, we stayed here and it was lovely. We had a little cottage all to ourselves and there was even a cow of the property!
Day 2: D-Day and Bayeux
Day two was dedicated mostly to seeing the D-Day sites. I really enjoy learning about WWII so I was particularly excited for this part of the trip. There are a LOT of museums and sites related to D-Day in the region, as well as organized tours. We decided to see things on our own, which worked out well for us. We started off at Utah Beach, where we saw the beach and the Landing Museum. The museum was great and was a good size for an hour long visit. The beach was pretty but all vestiges of battle have been removed.
Our next stop was Pointe du Hoc, where US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs on D-Day. This site was very cool because you could see craters left by Allied bombs and bunkers left by the Germans. Going into the bunkers was fun but super creepy!
From there we headed on to Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. The cemetery was both very somber and very beautiful. Nearly 10,000 Americans are buried there beneath identical white crosses (and a few stars of David).
Our last stop of the day was the city of Bayeux, known for its tapestry (which we did not visit). It was a(nother) cute, tiny city. All the cute, tiny cities/towns start to look alike after a while. In any case, we had fun walking around and enjoyed a really lovely dinner in celebration of Dia dos Namorados, which is the Brazilian equivalent of Valentine’s Day. Did I not mention that BF is Brazilian?
We spent the night in another Airbnb rental just outside of Bayeux. We were very pleased with this rental as well. Overall we’ve been having great experiences with Airbnb.
Day 3: Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Ceneri-le-Gerei
On our last day, we drove further west to see the iconic Mont Saint-Michel. Driving towards it we kept getting little glimpses of it in the distance. It is really a remarkable site – the only high point with such a distinctive silhouette in an otherwise flat landscape. We arrived at the parking area, about 4 kilometers from the site, only to find out that the drivers of the shuttle bus to take you to the site were on strike! How French! We were able to walk there, which took a bit longer but gave us lots of nice views. And luckily by time we were ready to head back, the strike was over. It lasted two hours. Weird.
In any case, Mont Saint-Michel was beautiful. The site itself is full of tiny, winding pedestrian streets. It is very touristy and has lots of tacky souvenir shops. But it has beautiful views out to the countryside and towards the sea, and lots of historic charm. We decided to visit the Abbey at the top of the site, which was very interesting to see. It is quite the feat of architecture/engineering to construct that building atop such a small rock!
After Mont Saint-Michel, we got back in the car to head home. On the way, we stopped in a teeny tiny town called Saint-Ceneri-le-Gerei. The whole town can be seen in about 15 minutes but it is incredibly picturesque and quite a bit different from the other villages we visited. We had a lovely “linner” (lunch/dinner) there of terrine, steak and tarte tatin. BF needed fuel to drive back to Paris!
In all, we covered over 1,300 kilometers (a little over 800 miles) in three days. It was a great trip!
Now on to the good stuff: what did we spend on this lovely little excursion? While we tried to be smart with our money on this trip, it didn’t end up being super cheap. Below is a full breakdown on our expenses by day. We spent about $840 total, or $420 per person, for three days away. BF and I both agreed that it was money well spent!
Here is how those expenses breakdown by category:
A few thoughts on spending for this trip:
- The rental car itself wasn’t too expensive, but that ended up being just a fraction of the cost of transportation. Gas in Europe is much more expensive than in the US. It is hard to get a direct comparison because it is measured in different units (kilos vs. gallons) and different currency, but we rented a small car that probably has a similarly sized tank to my Honda Civic, and it cost about twice as much to fill up here as it does at home.
- Also, tolls were crazy expensive! One bridge that we ended up crossing three times cost €5 each way! Another road had a single toll that was €21.50 – and we saw people in front of us paying even higher rates! We’ll make sure to factor gas and tolls into our thinking about future road trips around France.
- Airbnb was a great way to save some money. I looked at hotels in the areas we wanted to stay and the least expensive options seemed to be around $130 – $150 per night. That isn’t bad, but we had two great experiences with Airbnb for only about $100 per night.
- There are a lot of sites in Normandy and many of them are expensive, but many of them are also free. The cathedral in Rouen and Pointe du Hoc are both free. Walking around cities and towns is free. There are so many D-Day museums, and some cost €20 per person but some cost €6. When travelling, I don’t like to miss out on a particular site just because it costs money, but a little research can help you find free or less expensive sites that allow you to still get the full experience without costing an arm and a leg.
- I think I’m rubbing off on BF (maybe not in a good way!) because he also had some money-related thoughts as we were driving back yesterday. First, he noted that a good way to save money on food while traveling is to have either two small, cheap meals and then one big meal per day, or just eat only two meals per day. As you can see, we did this when we splurged on two dinners. But most of our other meals were pretty inexpensive, so it evens out. This also allows us to enjoy one great meal without breaking the bank. Second, he thinks that it is more cost effective to eat at a nicer restaurant in a smaller city as opposed to a larger city, like Paris. Our €90 dinner in Bayeux wasn’t cheap, but it likely would have been more expensive in Paris.
- My last thought is that France is a surprisingly big country. It sort of seemed small, but we ended up spending a bit more time in the car than we anticipated. This resulted in higher gas costs than anticipated and a bit more exhaustion that we might have liked.
Have you been to Normandy? What was your favorite thing you did/saw there?