Selected departures in September 2019 & April to October 2020
For a short break with a difference, Normandy is hard to beat – it truly is one of the unspoilt corners of Europe. The region is lush and green, its countryside a patchwork of emerald-green fields, apple orchards, ivy-clad farmhouses, timber-framed buildings and pretty churches with distinctive Norman spires. Our tour is based in charming Lisieux, a town with a rich heritage from the Middle Ages through to modern times, when it was home to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, one of the most popular Catholic saints of the 20th century.
We visit fascinating Rouen, one of the most splendidly preserved medieval cities in Europe. It was here that Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, just one of many momentous events that took place in this crucible of history, whose legacies can still be felt today. William of Normandy, of course, set sail from here in 1066 to conquer England – you’ll see the full panorama of his campaign in the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry. Almost 900 years later, it was the beaches of Normandy themselves that were the site of the biggest-ever invasion – D-Day – and the rusting remains of the Allies’ landing equipment movingly reminds us of the sacrifices made.
Spared the ravages of war, the charming port of Honfleur is a delight to explore, with its merchants’ houses along the waterfront – so beloved of artists, including Claude Monet. It’s also the perfect place to enjoy the bounty caught by the colourful trawlers in the waters off Normandy’s rugged coastline. If the freshest seafood weren’t enough, you’re also spoilt with some of the finest food and drink in the whole of France, from creamy cheeses to celebrated cider. So rich in history, captivatingly beautiful and replete with culinary delights, Normandy really does offer something for everyone.
We take the Eurostar service with our tour manager from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. On arrival we transfer by coach to Lisieux, a venerable medieval town in the heart of the Calvados region, which gave its name to the popular local brandy distilled from apple cider. We stay four nights, with breakfast, at the three-star Grand Hotel de l’Esperance, located in the heart of Lisieux’s old town close to many restaurants and boutiques. Settle in and enjoy a welcome dinner at the hotel, where you can meet and get to know your fellow travellers.
After breakfast we discover Honfleur, often regarded as the most picturesque spot on the northern French coast. Exquisitely preserved, its old harbour – complete with both fishing boats and luxurious pleasure craft – is surrounded by a pretty waterfront of tall pastel-coloured houses dating from the 16th to 18th centuries. Many of these have been converted into seafood restaurants or traditional shops selling all sorts of items. Take a seat at one of these quayside restaurants and observe talented artists capturing the superb views on canvas, perhaps inspired to follow in the footsteps of Eugène Boudin, a native of Honfleur and one of the forerunners of Impressionism. Away from the harbour, Honfleur’s intricate maze of streets is a delight to wander through and offers an authentic flavour of this wonderfully provincial old port.
This afternoon is devoted to Normandy’s most iconic product – its cheese. We’ll visit a local producer to learn about the different varieties and sample them as well. Although Camembert is by far the most renowned, Normandy produces a wide variety of rich, creamy cheeses including Pont l’Évêque, the grandfather of Norman cheeses produced since the 12th century; Livarot, nicknamed ‘Le Colonel’ for its stripes; and Neufchâtel, which often comes heart-shaped – legend goes that French dairy maids gifted them to English soldiers during the Hundred Years War.
Today we explore Rouen, the capital of Normandy, and enjoy a fascinating walking tour around the old centre. We visit its remarkable Notre-Dame Cathedral, which over the centuries has been destroyed and rebuilt to create the fantastic Gothic edifice we see today. Immortalised in several paintings by Monet, the cathedral is simply stunning – marvel at the epic scale of the four-storey nave and the famous cobalt-blue stained glass, and see the tombs of kings and dukes, as well as a recumbent statue of Richard the Lionheart containing his heart. You’ll also see the Gros-Horloge, a 14th-century astronomical clock, and the old marketplace where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake – it is today a popular pilgrimage site.
There’s free time after to explore more of this intriguing city. Perhaps have lunch in the local market or visit one of its superb museums, such as the excellent fine arts museum, which includes works by Monet and Boudin. Or simply browse Rouen’s charming shops dotted along some of the most atmospheric old streets you’ll find in France.
This morning we visit Bayeux, home of the world-famous tapestry depicting the Norman invasion of England in 1066 in glorious detail. The 230-foot-long tapestry comprises nine panels of extremely delicate embroidery – gazing at its wonderful depictions of the battle and the period’s architecture, weapons and everyday life, you’ll appreciate why the Bayeux Tapestry is arguably the most perfect relic from the early Middle Ages.
After lunch we discover nearby Gold Beach, one of the five main landing sites on D-day, when Allied forces surged into Normandy to begin the liberation of occupied Europe. Casting your eyes across the sand, it’s sobering to consider that on 6 June 1944, around 25,000 British troops came ashore on this one beach, with 400 killed by the defenders. At the western end of the shoreline is Arromanches, where you may wish to visit an excellent museum dedicated to the ‘longest day’, and view the pontoons from one of the Mulberry harbours constructed for the landing craft.
Before returning to our hotel we drive through the picturesque area of Pays d’Auge along Normandy’s ‘Cider route’, passing delightful apple orchards and half-timbered houses. We stop to visit a local producer and see how Normandy’s favourite drink is produced, and learn the difference between the many varieties of apple-based drinks, such as cider, pommeau and calvados. And what would a visit to a distillery be without a tasting as well?
Transfer to Paris for your return Eurostar journey.
The price of this holiday is per person based on one person in a double/twin room for sole occupancy. The holiday includes standard class return seat on Eurostar, four nights’ accommodation with breakfast, all local accommodation taxes, welcome drinks and a welcome dinner, all tours as mentioned, and services of a Riviera Travel tour manager. Included excursions are: a guided walk of Rouen, entry to the Bayeux Tapestry museum, a guided visit of a cider mill with tasting, a visit to a cheese producer with tasting, a visit to Arromanches and a visit to the Honfleur.
Entrance to the Arromanches museum is not included - €8.20pp (approximate cost and payable locally).
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival train station||Hotel location||Transfer time|
|Paris Gare du Nord||Lisieux||3 hs 15 mins|