- Giverny: The house and stunning garden where the great Impressionist painter Claude Monet lived and painted for over 40 years.
- Honfleur: An insanely picturesque port town and the birthplace of Impressionist painting.
- Pays d’Auge: Lovely inland countryside famous for its quaint villages and production of Calvados, cider and cheeses.
- Bayeux Tapestry: The unique 900-year-old document and astonishing work of art that depicts the story of the Norman Conquest of England and the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
- D-Day Landing: The Allied Forces’ landings of June 1944 and the Battle of Normandy that followed are movingly commemorated.
- Mont Saint Michel: Now iconic in its fame, this solitary rock dominated by its monumental abbey became a place of pilgrimage when St Aubert built an oratory here over 1,000 years ago.
- Emerald Coast: Rocky, heavily indented and very picturesque, this coastal area in Brittany includes a series of points from which fine panoramas can be enjoyed as well as the wonderful towns of Saint Malo, Cancale, and Dinard.
- Paris: Not part of our sightseeing activities, but well worth arriving a few days early or extending your stay if you have the time.
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* The ethereal abbey of Mont St Michel “floating” on water . . .
* The stunning Norman and Breton coastlines which have witnessed invasions from Iron Age Celts to D-Day’s Allied Forces . . .
* Apple and pear orchards producing the region’s popular spirits . . .
* Salt-meadow sheep flocks . . .
* Picture-book villages in the countryside and along the coast . . .
These are all part of the great allure of Normandy and Brittany. We sample the region’s famous drinks (Calvados, cider and pommeau) and of course its cheeses: Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Evèque. We feast in restaurants where great platters of oysters and other fresh seafood are standard fare. We delve into the remarkable history of the region, from a thousand years ago when it contributed to changing the course of the English language to its great importance in World War II. So much beauty, in the shadow of so much history, warmed by a lively hospitality make this an unforgettable journey!
Our tour guide in this part of France is simply outstanding, meeting with rave reviews from our guests. Born, raised, and educated in and around Caen, our guide is professionally licensed by the French government having undergone rigorous examinations, and he knows the nooks and crannies of Normandy and Brittany like the back of his hand! His professionalism and in-depth knowledge of the history, culture, gastronomy and geography of the region are complemented superbly by his easy-going manner, thus making him a real joy to travel with.
The following are the lovely hotels that we intend to use for the tour at the time of publishing this itinerary. Our 2012 tour stayed in all these properties, and we’re delighted to return to them in 2013. However, we do reserve the right to make changes to the accommodations if necessary.
Paris – 1 night
Our selected hotel is housed in a building that dates back to 1877 and used to be a private residence for British royalty. It’s located on one of Paris’s most prestigious streets on the Right Bank in the middle of the action. The stylishly renovated 4-star hotel is a family-run gem that bubbles with history and oozes Parisian charm married with a contemporary flair. The 70 rooms, all non-smoking, feature an attractive decor with luxurious French fabrics, elegant antique-style furniture, and smart contemporary design features. They’re Parisian-sized, i.e., smallish. Double-paned windows are good for keeping out the bustle of Paris when you don’t want it. Other amenities include wifi, flat-screen TVs, minibars, and concierge service. The gastronomic restaurant offers seasonally changing, inventive menus as well as lighter bites, and the bartender can prepare all kinds of smart cocktails. The hotel’s excellent location lends itself well to sightseeing. A multitude of tourist attractions are located in the vicinity.
Honfleur – 2 nights
Step out the door and you’re in the very heart of this lovely old town. The town center has only 3-star hotels (or lower), but we think this is better than being in a fancier place out of town. Our selected hotel was purchased and lovingly renovated a few years ago with great attention to detail, and they did an extremely tasteful job. It’s quite a jumble of various ancient buildings (an old salt warehouse and three 16th-century houses) stitched together in a somewhat confusing labyrinth, but that’s part of its charm. Rooms are small, but again, very tasteful. The staff are very friendly and helpful. The lounge is warm and cozy and the breakfast room inviting. The hotel features a spa so you can indulge in a massage. Other nice touches include free wifi throughout the property and complimentary mineral water in the guest rooms. As this is quite a historic structure, no two guest rooms are identical.
Bayeux – 2 nights
This is the only 4-star hotel right in the center of Bayeux, just opened in 2012. It’s a small family-run operation along with their existing 3-star hotel next door. Twenty-eight spacious air-conditioned rooms feature marble bathrooms, flat-screen televisions, and internet access. An Empire-style bar with fireplace and a fitness room are among the common facilities. The owners have selected beautiful fabrics, finishes, and furniture. Venture Out’s guests were among the first to stay here when the hotel opened, and we’re looking forward to our return visit.
Dinard – 2 nights
Dinard is a fashionable town, and this is the town’s fashionable 5-star address. The property overlooks the water, and it’s an easy stroll both to the main shopping streets as well as to the beautiful waterfront coastal path that extends for a mile in each direction — a delightful promenade before breakfast or dinner, perhaps? A gorgeous buffet breakfast includes Breton specialties. There’s a covered, heated swimming pool, spa, and pretty central garden. The pleasant bar and lounge overlooks the water, and you can also have a casual evening meal here, or indulge yourself in the fine dining room. It’s a historic hotel, dating back to the 19th century, so the guest rooms aren’t identical.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT —
Some Typical Culinary Items from this Part of France…
Norman cheeses include Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Évêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchâtel, Petit Suisse and Boursin.
Normandy butter and cream are lavishly used in gastronomic specialties.
Fish and seafood are of superior quality in Normandy and Brittany.
Normandy is a major cider-producing region (very little wine is produced). Apple brandy, of which the most famous variety is Calvados, is also popular. The mealtime trou normand, or “Norman hole,” is a pause between meal courses in which diners partake of a glassful of calvados in order to improve the appetite and make room for the next course, and this is still observed in many homes and restaurants. Pommeau is an apéritif produced by blending unfermented cider and apple brandy. Another aperitif is the kir normand or kir breton, a measure of crème de cassis topped up with cider.
Other regional specialities include tripes à la mode de Caen, andouilles and andouillettes, salt meadow lamb, seafood (oysters, mussels, scallops, lobsters, mackerel…), and teurgoule (spiced rice pudding).
Normandy is also noted for its pastries. It is the birthplace of brioches.
Large, thin pancakes made from buckwheat flour (blé noir) are eaten with ham, eggs and other savoury fillings. They are made with plain buckwheat flour and water in Eastern Brittany and called galettes. Thin crêpes made from wheat flour are eaten for dessert or for breakfast. They may be served cold with local butter. Traditional pastries include kouign amann (“butter cake” in the Breton language) made from bread dough, butter and sugar, and far, a sort of custardy pudding cake with prunes and a flan-like texture.