We crossed fields, industrial complexes and many trucks and cars on the French highway. There were no traffic jams, only a few slow trucks holding us down every time we had a decent speed. We left the Belgian-French border behind us and we had a weekend full of joy ahead of us. A good friend of mine and myself had planned a road trip in Northern France and we were going to drive along the coastline of Normandy & Picardy. Here’s a summary of the places we visited.
Our first stop
We decided to take an overnight break in little town called ‘Eu‘ in Picardy as our first stop. In the next morning we went for breakfast in the town center. It was a cozy town and every inhabitant we met was friendly to us. We stayed in a charming hostel called ‘Centre des fontaines‘, which was an good place to stay for a night, and next to this hostel, up the hill, there was a large castle which we couldn’t visit because it was closed because of the offseason. A sign next to castle declared that once the French martyr ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ was kept locked up in this castle.
I never ate mussels the Normandic way before. In Honfleur, they add heavy cream to the pot and have the mussels slightly boiled together with carrots and celery. Afterwards, they sprinkle the dish with black pepper. It’s a delicious local specialty you should try out when you are in Normandy, Northern France.
In Honfleur, you’ll finds coziness, good food, a lot of tourists and the North Sea. If you go when it’s high season, the place can be terrible because it’s just too crowded. In low season, you’ll find the true charms of Honfleur. The cobblestone streets, the little harbor, and excellent restaurants are a delight to explore when there are not too many people wandering around.
Famous beaches of WOII
After Honfleur, we headed towards Ohama beach. As we wanted to complete the original goal of the road trip, which was to reach Ohama beach, we wanted to see some old bunkers and metal anti-tank barricades on the famous beach.
When we arrived, we did see an anti-tank iron barricade, but not on the beach. The tank blocker was located outside of an old US army museum, next to an artillery piece, about 2km away from the beach. The museum was very small and didn’t trigger too much of our interest. The beach wasn’t spectacular either. Just a long stretch of sand with an interesting war monument and steep cliffs on each end.
We knew that there was still something else we could discover. Ohama beach had to be more than this.
Back into our car, we decided to ride along the coastline until we would spot anything that would come close to the looks of a bunker or WOII war artifact of any kind. And just before we were even thinking of giving up, we came across a graveyard, which we couldn’t enter because it was closed. So we decided to look for another entrance and we started walking. We walked until we passed a road, and we didn’t find any other entrance but we did find the beach and ocean again. And as we walked towards the beach we found a piece of concrete sticking out of the grass. It looked like something that wasn’t a bunker, but we discovered hidden bunker paths and shooting rooms beneath the grass on the cliff and we went deeper into the bunker and discovered more rooms. These bigger bunker parts were made for artillery guns. We could see it because there were tracks on the floor for the guns to move left or right. We found out that these guns were not faced towards the ocean, which allowed the Germans to keep the artillery safely hidden from frontal fire from the ocean. I was lucky to bring decent walking boots with me, which I purchased about a week earlier. Without proper shoes walking in bunkers would have been a lot more difficult.
We got to see what we came for and it made us feel happy. Mission accomplished.
An uncharming Ibis hotel in Caen
After our expedition to bunkers and war artifacts, we decided it got time to start looking for a place to stay overnight. As we didn’t plan anything, we also didn’t book any place to stay up front. Which was smart, because we were not exactly sure at first where we would be heading. This whole road trip in Normandy was planned to be an adventure on its own. And an adventure and a too strict planning don’t go hand in hand. Once again booking.com helped me out very well with finding a place where we could sleep. There were not many options, so we had to choose an Ibis hotel outside of the city borders of Caen.
When we arrived we could already see on the outside of the hotel that it wasn’t going to be the most charming hotel. It was located next to a big street with malls and a lot of traffic so the unappealing hotel was rather to be categorized as a ‘practical’ place to stay. The room we stayed in was very clean though.
But ‘if life gives you lemons you make lemonade‘. So we bought enough wine in a nearby supermarket and we started drinking in our hotel room. We drank the wine and we talked about the day we just had. We talked about the beach and we talked about Honfleur. When we concluded those subjects we started talking about what we were going to do in the evening.
We locked the door of our room and left for the city center of Caen, which was a long walk. But we had an amazing night and we met many French locals and students on the streets and a couple of bars in Caen.
A very charming Bayeux
Bayeux is one of those historical towns in Northern France with old cobblestone streets, a few medieval churches, and romantic canals. Very charming and romantic. Just like Bruges, or Ghent in Belgium, but then a lot smaller and not as crowded. Walking around in Bayeux for a few hours is a relaxing experience and there are a couple of good restaurants in the old city center. One of the museums in Bayeux holds a 13th-century tapestry with a story written on it in sewed pictures! It’s a good piece of art to discover. We spend less than a half a day in Bayeux and then we went on to Étretat, which was on our way back to Belgium.
One who finds a beach town with majestic limestone cliffs in Northern France, Picardy, might immediately think about Étretat. Famous for its beach views on the North Sea, Étretat is one of those places where you park your car and you walk to the beach and you stroll on the beach. East and West there are cliffs and when the sun goes down you’ll have a feeling of glory and gratitude for nature because these limestone cliffs are beautiful. If you explore and you discover, you’ll find out there’s also a little tunnel on the West beach in one of the cliffs. This tiny tunnel is a gateway to a ‘secret’ beach. If you don’t go in high season, you might have an even better experience in Étretat as there can be a lot of tourists. One thing is for sure: whenever you are in Northern France, visiting Étretat is always a good idea!
The conclusion of this road trip
End of the story is that a road trip to anywhere is always a good idea. The trick is to make it a bit of an adventure and don’t plan too much ahead. A road trip can loosen up your mind and it relaxes your perspectives on the world.
We had a great time in Normandy & Picardy. If you do have the chance to visit Northern France, or you might have already been thinking about visiting it and you didn’t find a reason yet. Now you have your reason. Something interesting to know by the way: the name Normandy originates from the Vikings in medieval times. If you analyze the name Norman-dy, you’ll quickly realize that it holds ‘Nor(d)man’. The Vikings once (long ago) settled on the coasts of the North Sea looking for fertile lands. Normandy was once actually dotted with Viking settlements.