France: Part II – Honfleur & Normandy

9 December 2014

For the second leg of our French honeymoon we headed to the picturesque port town of Honfleur & the beaches of Normandy in the northwest of France.  

This will be Part 2 of a 5 part series beginning with Paris, Normandy/Honfleur, Loire Valley, Provence and The French Riviera.

Part II: Normandy & Honfleur 

During the planning stages of the trip, we almost nixed Normandy. I envisioned it to be horribly depressing and asked myself, who in their right mind would add one of the least romantic destinations in the world to their honeymoon?  We’ve all seen Saving Private Ryan, and I knew the ending, albeit victorious, it was grim and depressing.

But with an American Grandfather who fought with the US Navy and a Jewish/British Grandmother who was bombed and fled the same war, I knew we had to visit. This history deeply impacted my being. Visiting the D-Day Beaches and paying homage to those that fought was a sobering experience. The region is littered with World War II museums, monuments and cemeteries left in tribute to what historically may be one of the most important battles in our history.

Normandy was a more than a pleasant surprise; there’s much more than just the World War II D-Day Beaches. Normandy is a quaint region with a hilly countryside, dotted with horses, cows and apple trees. It was the perfect way to unwind from Paris.

A few of the highlights:

Eat but don’t stayLa Ferme Saint Siméon.  For a Relais & Châteaux property and the boasting five stars, I expected more. But between the early morning construction, snooty staff and clueless concierge, I was nonplussed. Dinner in the hotel’s restaurant made up for it with its delicious Norman fare and grand cheese cart. I encourage you to be a terrible guest: eat, but don’t stay.   

Hire a professional: We enlisted the help of a tour guide to help us cover the major sites and history of the D-Day Beaches, which I highly recommend. Then rent “The Longest Day” to put it all into cinematic perspective.

Omaha Beach.  "Les Braves" sculpture by Anilore Banon.

Omaha Beach. “Les Braves” sculpture by Anilore Banon.

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Pointe du hoc Normandy

Drink: You’ll need one after a long day visiting the beaches. Just a short drive away you’ll find the most adorable town of Beuvron-en-Auge. Drive along “Cider Road” and have a drink of calvados,  locally made apple brandy that will hit you when you least expect it. Sip don’t gulp.

taking flower box notes.

taking flower box notes.

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The town of Beuvron’s villagers take pride in keeping up their architectural heritage with multi-colored, half-timbered homes with overflowing window flower boxes.

Do not miss: Dinner at Le Bacaretto in Honfleur. We stumbled across this restaurant/wine bar during a walk around the seaside port village of Honfleur. When we asked the clueless concierge at the aforementioned “meh” hotel, she gasped in astonishment, “How do you know about Le Bacaretto?” Rhetorical? A compliment? Rude? Unclear. Either way, I knew we found ourselves a local gem. La Bacaretto’s owner doubled as our waiter and was given reign to choose our entire meal. He was kind, patient (with my many menu questions in bad French) and had wines out the wazoo. We left full and drunk. I highly recommend.

From Honfleur we made our way to a small town called Port-en-Bessin, situated between the D-day beaches and the town of Bayeux in the heart of historic Normandy.

Stay: This was by far one of my favorite hotels of our entire trip: the 18th century old Chateau La Chenevièr. The Chateau has a cozy charm with less than 30 rooms and an old English manor feel, fully decorated with period furniture. I was particularly fond of the bar lined with rows and rows of wax seals encased in beautiful frames.

Château La Chenèviere

Château La Chenèviere

the roses on the grounds were so ripe they looked as if they were in hypercolor.

The roses on the grounds were so ripe they looked as if they were in hypercolor.

Head into The Village of Bayeux and visit the galleries and drink more calvados if you find a chill in the air. It was in the Village of Bayeux, where I met fine a photographer, Philippe LeClerc, and had my “tintype” portrait made. Seek him out if you can. One of the best “souvenirs” we purchased.

please see: tintype

Our tintype portraits (Instructed not to smile, but we were, on the inside!)

Even if you’re not a history buff:  While you’re walking around The Village of Bayeux, give yourself 30 minutes to see The Bayeux Tapestry (that’s technically an embroidery).  Over 900 years old and  230 feet long telling the story of William the Conqueror and the conquest of England in 1066… in pictures. The narrative of the Tapestry is told through a helpful audio guide at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum, guiding the visitor through Vikings ships, Norman and Saxon cavalries, Halley’s comet, 202 horses, 55 dogs, 500+ other birds, animals (some mythical), 49 trees, 37 buildings and 57 Latin inscriptions containing nearly 2,000 letters.  The Tapestry itself has hardly has any words, only pictures, so even if illiterate, one could understand. (I found the audio guide incredibly helpful, and consider myself well-read. It’s also highly entertaining and, at times, downright odd.) I’ll say it again, always get the audio guide.

you can also watch an animated version, here.

The Bayeux Tapestry at the namesake Bayeux Tapestry Museum.  You can also watch an animated version, here.

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#YOHO = you only honeymoon once.

#YOHO = you only honeymoon once.

Again, I have to thank our trusty travel agent, Lynn Coleman, who encouraged us to keep Normandy on our agenda.  It was an unexpected highlight and we’ll certainly be back.  Just like Maroon 5 sings, “It’s not always rainbows and butterflies,” or in France’s case, “champagne and foie gras.”

 

Featured Image: Postcard sculpture on Utah Beach in Normandy. There are plenty more photos of the trip on instagram @theoceanviolet. Stay tuned for part III: The Loire Valley.

Categories: Lifestyle, travel | 1 Comment
  • tim

    You write so well, feel so deeply and are sooooooooooo sweet!