Winter can be a wonderful time to visit France especially over the New Year period.
January was mild, sunny, wide blue skies with a hint of Spring in the air.
The French are very much at-home folk at this time of year, so the roads and beaches were empty, with just a few chic cafes and restaurants open for business. I always feel at home in France, and Normandy is full of charm and country coolness.
Here’s my list of nice things to do in Normandy on a short break…
A hotel in the heart of Honfleur
I stayed in historic Honfleur, a pretty port town in the Calvados region, where the river Seine meets the sea.
Nestled in the heart of town in a ancient building, composed of an old salt storehouse and three 16th-century houses is Les Maisons de Léa.
Inside, the cosy and elegant décor has been lovingly chosen, with its collector objects, warm fabrics and furniture.
Just a few steps away from the hotel you can stroll around the Vieux Bassin and admire the high, narrow facades of the buildings that stand at its edges.
Wandering the bustling food market
Honfleur has several ancestral markets with their regional products and the Wednesday organic market was just outside the front door of the hotel.
Right opposite the hotel is the unusual shaped church of St Catherine. It dates from the second half of the 14thcentury, it replaced a former stone church destroyed during the Hundred Year’s War. It was built by the town’s inhabitants after the departure of the English. Without big funds they used as a raw material, wood from the Touques forest and their knowledge of naval construction. It is now the largest wooden church in France with a separate bell tower.
Tea, cheese, crepes and more
There are many creperies tucked away in the narrow side streets of Honfleur, all with their regional versions of a crepe. La Cidrerie was popular with the locals and from the lengthy menu, this buckwheat Galichot became the best. The food is prepared in full view and best viewed from the cosy upper floor.
For a view over the harbour I remembered a lovely tea shop from a previous visit to Honfleur, La Petite Chine, still serving the best green tea and eclairs.
Pont de Normandie
Spanning 2.14 kilometres across the Seine from Honfleur to Le Havre, the Normandy bridge was opened in 1995. The cable-stayed bridge is a motorway toll bridge but there is also a footpath so that walkers and cyclists can cross the bridge without paying the toll. It’s a most impressive drive across the Seine.
D-Day landing beaches
I’m really interested to learn about the events surrounding D-Day.
Just over an hour drive from Honfleur is the Centre Juno Beach at Courseulles-sur-Mer, the Canadian museum of the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. The Centre pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the war, of which 5,500 were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 359 on D-Day.
It was an emotional walk along the beach with goose bumps galore.
If you’re thinking of going to Honfleur, here’s the lowdown:
Drive… via Eurotunnel to Calais then it’s a very easy two-hour drive.
Stay at … Les Maisons de Léa, special offer for a three-night break.
What’s the language like… its easy to get by as lots of people speak excellent English in the main tourist areas. But its polite to speak French!
Favourite restaurant… Many visitors to Honfleur congregate on the restaurant terraces around the picturesque Vieux Bassin. You can’t blame them for soaking up that glorious view, but taking a stroll up the hill behind the wooden church of St Catherine and a treat awaits at Le Bréard at 7 rue du Puits.The décor is elegant but understated, decorated with soothing, natural colours. Seasonal local produce features prominently on the menu, which offers sufficient variety without being overwhelming, and spices and textures make every course into a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Highly recommended!
What I didn’t do… Naturospace, a lush greenhouse that houses scores of species of free-flying tropical butterflies.
This is just a small glimpse into the charms of Honfleur. I’m hooked on France and this corner of Normandy.