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Moon Normandy & Brittany
By Chris Newens
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- Trade Paperback $23.99 $29.99 CAD
- ebook $14.99 $19.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 26, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Flexible itineraries for 1 to 5 days in Normandy and Brittany that can be combined into a 2-week trip, plus suggestions for easy side trips
- Strategic advice for foodies, art lovers, history buffs, outdoor adventurers, and more
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences: Hike the dramatic chalk cliffs of Étretat or stroll the gardens that inspired Monet's Water Lilies. Cycle the rolling hills and endless backroads to small villages and sip cider with locals at a Celtic Festoù-noz pulsing with traditional dance and music. Pay your respects at the D-Day beaches and monuments and learn about the largest military landing in history. Admire the spectacular monastery rising above the tidal plains of Mont Saint Michel and enjoy fresh seafood in Saint-Malo
- Honest advice on where to stay, how to get around, and where to find the best regional cuisine, from creamy cheeses in Normandy to Breton galettes and cider
- Local perspective from British expat and local expert Chris Newens
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Helpful resources on COVID-19 and traveling to Normandy and Brittany
- Background information on the landscape, history, and cultural customs of each region
- Handy tools such as a French phrasebook and tips for traveling with children or as a senior
Exploring more of France? Try Moon Provence or Moon French Riviera.
About Moon Travel Guides: Moon was founded in 1973 to empower independent, active, and conscious travel. We prioritize local businesses, outdoor recreation, and traveling strategically and sustainably. Moon Travel Guides are written by local, expert authors with great stories to tell—and they can't wait to share their favorite places with you.
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DISCOVER Normandy & Brittany
14 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
IF YOU HAVE…
Best of Normandy & Brittany
BEST PLACES TO HIKE AND BIKE
Four-Day Getaway to Brittany
HISTORICAL NORMANDY AND BRITTANY
Seldom have two regions had more in common, yet more that divides them, than Normandy and Brittany.
On the one hand, there’s their northern climate, their proximity to the sea, and the essentials of their cuisine—apples, dairy, and seafood—which they share. On the other, there’s how both are so fiercely proud of their regional heritage, whether for the horse-riding exploits of Norman conquerors or the music and legends of the mysterious Celts.
Normandy is a land of towering Gothic cathedrals, sedate farmland, and bourgeois seaside resorts, while Brittany has squat, almost pagan chapels, primordial woodland, and wind-lashed harbors that seem to exist in another time.
As one of the closest regions to Paris, Normandy has long been a weekend retreat for stylish urbanites looking for country air and exceptional rustic cooking. Its history is inextricably linked to that of the rest of France: It is long, deep, and known, and still feels like it can be touched. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen; Impressionist painters roamed the cliffs of the Alabaster Coast; and D-Day, the largest land invasion of all time, with implications not just for France but for the whole world, took place in living memory, at the base of the Cherbourg Peninsula.
Brittany, meanwhile, is otherworldly and distinct. Here are mysterious Neolithic monuments, legends of giants, and the forests where King Arthur and Merlin are said to have trod. Its coastline is salty and wild, spangled by hardy lighthouses and wondrous islands, a water-sports paradise crenelated with grand natural harbors and hidden coves. Then there are the Bretons themselves, whose culture swings to its own rhythm, drinking cider from earthenware bowls, telling folktales of the hinterland, and partying with Celtic dancing and song.
Bringing the two regions back together is that both offer remarkable rewards for the independent traveler. And whether your tastes run to the luxury sophistication of the casinos and elegant promenades of Deauville, or dancing into the night to the wail of bagpipes at a traditional fest-noz (night festival) in some little-known Breton village, there’s more than a lifetime’s worth of things to explore.
14 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Feeling like you’re inside an Impressionist painting in Monet’s garden at Giverny, where the natural world has been tended into a living masterpiece.
2 Paying your respects at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, a haunting sanctuary on the blustery Norman coast, where the massed ranks of silent graves tell the true cost of the D-Day landings.
3 Letting your imagination run away with you, exploring the abbey at Mont-Saint-Michel, the Gothic monument that soars high above a tidal plain and seems like it belongs more to fantasy fiction rather than the real world.
4 Experiencing the future as it was conceived of in the past in Le Havre’s unique modernist downtown, especially in the Église Saint-Joseph, a concrete-and-glass kaleidoscope of a building.
5 Going back in time as you gaze at the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most fascinating artifacts in Northern Europe that also tells the compelling story of the Norman conquest.
6 Enjoying the metallic taste of Saint-Vaast oysters at sunset, while overlooking the beds in which they were grown, and washing them down with a glass of chilled white wine.
7 Getting lost in the half-timber labyrinth of Rouen’s old town, where every turn seems to reveal something beguiling, from the Saint-Maclou Ossuary to the elaborate carvings on the city’s Gothic cathedral.
8 Pretending you’re a French corsair as you tour the granite ramparts of Saint-Malo, which look like they’ve been carved from the ocean itself.
9 Learning to surf on Goulien Beach on the Crozon Peninsula, which is well shielded from the wind but still gets big waves: ideal for beginners and experts alike.
10 Hiking the jaw-dropping coastal route between Fort la Latte and the Cap Fréhel. When the sun’s out and shimmering off the blue sea, the wildflowers are in bloom, and the air is dusted by a spring wind, you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s no more beautiful walk in the whole world.
11 Discovering something truly unique at Nantes’s sculpture-park-cum-theme-park for adults, the Machines de l’Île, where inventions straight from a Jules Verne novel are brought thrillingly to life. Conceived by Pierre Orefice and Francois Deleroziere.
12 Swilling cider and watching the dancing to bagpipes at a fest-noz. These Celtic night festivals take place in villages across Brittany and pulse with traditional food, dance, and song.
13 Cycling the narrow roads of Brittany’s many different islands, from the genteel Île-de-Bréhat to the windswept and ragged Île d’Ouessant, on the western edge of the European continent.
14 Marveling at the mysteries behind the stones of Carnac and questioning how early Bretons ever managed to drag into place the largest collection of prehistoric standing stones in the world.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
GIVERNY, ROUEN, AND THE “IMPRESSIONIST COAST”
A region rich in history, holiday resorts, and natural beauty that has been attracting tourists and inspiring artists for generations, there’s something here for all visitors. Architecture lovers and foodies will find much to enjoy in Normandy’s capital, Rouen, with its elaborate Gothic churches such as Saint-Maclou and the Notre Dame, and its wide variety of modern restaurants updating the deep flavors of Norman cuisine for the 21st century. For those passionate about art, the landscape from the banks of the Seine to the cliffs of the Alabaster Coast—at their most jaw-dropping in Étretat—has been one of the greatest muses in the history of painting. Nowhere is this more the case than at Giverny, where for the latter years of his life Claude Monet set to work building one of the most glorious gardens anywhere in the world, making art from the landscape itself. People with a more contemporary eye in search of something unusual should head to the modernist marvel that is Le Havre, rebuilt after World War II in poured concrete, with buildings like Église Saint-Joseph and the Vulcan theater offering a view of the future as it might have been imagined in the past. Tourists wanting luxury should head straight for Deauville to relax on its umbrella-dotted beach or to get pampered in the ultra-plush Normandy hotel.
CAEN, BAYEUX, AND THE D-DAY LANDING BEACHES
The huge majority of visitors to this region will be here because of their interest in the events of June 1944, when the largest sea-to-land invasion of all time took place along its coastline. There is so much to see that only the most die-hard World War II enthusiasts should try to take it all in. With that in mind, most people will create their own itinerary based on particular interests and often their nation of origin. Not to be missed, though, are the hauntingly grand Normandy American Cemetery and the dynamic remains of the Pointe du Hoc, where D-Day’s impact on the landscape can be most clearly seen. Away from the beaches, the Bayeux Tapestry is a truly unmissable sight, being both an incredible artifact and an evocative visual story of another cross-channel invasion (this one in the other direction) almost 1,000 years ago. In Caen, the Peace Museum offers an excellent overview of the fighting that followed D-Day and far beyond. An entirely different and more pleasure-oriented experience can be found on the eastern side of the Cotentin Peninsula, where in the charming historic town of Saint-Vaast the oysters are some of the best in Normandy.
MONT-SAINT-MICHEL AND WEST COTENTIN
The abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is an irresistible draw: The way its Gothic splendor rises with ethereal majesty out of the tidal plain makes it one of the most spectacular monuments anywhere in the world. While here, it’s worth trying one of the enormous fluffy omelets cooked over an open fire at La Mère Poulard, and certainly having a stroll on the sands of the bay itself. There’s also more to this region than just the Mont, with classy Granville just up the coast, where you can drop into the house of legendary fashion designer Christian Dior, and, if you’re here at the right time of year (February or March) go to the town’s lively Mardi Gras carnival, which attracts visitors from all over France.
SAINT-MALO AND THE NORTH COAST
A visit to this region, brilliant for history and hiking, lounging on beaches and luxury, would not be complete without spending at least a day touring the fortified seafront city of Saint-Malo. A walk around its ramparts offers views that will both stir your historical imagination and thrill you purely in terms of color, being a veritable paint chart of blues and grays. More refined visitors might then want to take the ferry across to Dinard to see and be seen on its classy beachfront and try their luck at the town casino. Farther down the coast there’s some fantastic walking, and not all of it too trying even for casual hikers: The trip between Fort la Latte and Cap Frehel, with its splendid sea views and bracing winds, is sure to be enjoyed by all. Farther still, the Côte de Granit Rose offers visitors unusual rock formations, sheltered bays, and incredible bird life, while the micro-archipelago making up the Île-de-Bréhat constitutes a beautifully textured landscape of glassy waters and rough-faced rock.
Its name literally means “land’s end,” and this region will attract visitors looking for the raw, authentic Brittany. Go to Brest for its laid-back atmosphere and bars full of salty sea dogs looking to spin a yarn or buy you a pint, then head out across some of the most trying seas in Europe to the windblown Île d’Ouessant and experience life at what feels like the continent’s edge. Sample the island’s famous lamb ragout, slow-cooked under heated clods of earth, while you’re there. Water-sports enthusiasts should make their way down to the Presqu’île de Crozon, where in addition to sailing and kayaking, there are some of the best surf spots in France. Inland, Quimper is Brittany’s traditional heart, where you can find the best crepes in the region.
GULF OF MORBIHAN
For those in search of magic, the area around the Gulf of Morbihan and the gulf itself are places of unanswered questions and bizarre but beautiful landscapes. The massed ranks of standing stones at Carnac are one of Brittany’s greatest draws, being the largest Neolithic construction of their type anywhere in the world. The gulf, meanwhile, is almost an inland sea, pocked by mysterious private islands and plied by countless boats. A trip on its waters, whether by kayak or pleasure cruise, is a must. Nearby, a great place to base yourself is the walled city of Vannes, home to much traditional half-timber architecture and ramparts the equal of anywhere in Brittany. Farther down the coast are the striking Guérande salt marshes, a man-made landscape where Brittany’s famous fleur de sel is produced. This area is also a great spot for bird-watchers. If you’re around the Gulf of Morbihan in early August, feel like a party, and don’t mind bagpipe music, check out the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, a vast, week-long celebration of Celtic culture.
NANTES AND INLAND BRITTANY
Boasting the region’s two biggest cities in the form of its historic capital (Nantes) and current capital (Rennes), this area might be an obvious destination for urbanites. Nantes’s unusual steam-punk-inspired sculpture park, the Machines de l’Île de Nantes, and Rennes’s infamous drinking scene are just two of many elements that will keep such visitors happy. However, city attractions are far from the region’s only draw. Even Nantes and Rennes are extremely green: Nantes was recently voted one of the best cities in the world in which to ride a bike, thanks to its extensive system of bike paths stretching deep into the surrounding countryside, while Rennes has powerful links with the farmers of the Breton hinterland, seen at its extensive town market, the Marché des Lices, and an eco-museum—effectively an open farm within the city limits. There’s also the magnificent Château in Josselin, sure to delight history buffs, and the mystical Paimpont Forest, where many legends associated with King Arthur are said to have taken place, and where a simple bike tour takes you into the presence of such sights as the tomb of Merlin and a font said to be the original fountain of youth.
When to Go
With their mild climate, both Normandy and Brittany are perfectly hospitable for travelers whatever season they choose to visit, though there is a tendency for a number of hotels, campgrounds, museums, and other tourist sights to shut down and for local transport to run a skeleton service in the winter months, around November-March. Temperatures around this time average at about 50°F (10°C), though they can sometimes drop close to, and even just below, freezing in the very coldest months (December-February).
For both regions, things start to pick up in April, with average spring temperatures about 59°F (15°C). Though it’s usually still too chilly for a beach holiday around this time, April and May are great months to enjoy walking through the landscape, and many of the top tourist sights are relatively undisturbed. Things don’t get really crowded in the summer until July, when French kids break for school holidays, and August, when most workers take their annual leave in a tradition known throughout France as la pause. Temperatures around this time average at 72°F (22°C) and seaside resorts can get very busy. As such, these months are more or less the only two when booking ahead for most things is practically essential. At the same time, both Normandy and Brittany are at their most convivial at this stage, and it’s when they have the nicest weather—and best conditions for swimming. Moreover, museums, other sights, and water-sports centers will all be keeping their longest hours, with some opening only for this season.
June and September have almost as good weather, with average temperatures of around 68°F (20°C), but not being fueled by the school holidays, places can be surprisingly quiet, except on weekends. Note that the D-Day Landing Anniversary is on June 6, with events spanning the couple weeks before and after that date. By October, things have usually already started to wind down, particularly campsites, though the fall colors in both regions can be the equal of those in New England, especially if the summer has been hot.
Of course, there’s also some appeal to heading out to the ragged edges of the regions in the middle of winter, renting a cottage on the Île d’Ouessant, say, and battening down the hatches, creating a cozy little isolated bunker against the Atlantic storms. Normandy is, on balance, the more “year-round” destination, having more big-name sights that can persist regular opening times throughout the year. Such sights include the Bayeux Tapestry, Mont-Saint-Michel, and most of the D-Day beaches and the museums associated with them. Note: Monet’s house and garden at Giverny is not on this list, being largely outside and dying back in the winter.
Before You Go
Passports and Visas
UNITED STATES, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, AND NEW ZEALAND
A visa-waiver program allows individuals from all of the above countries to stay in France and the entire Schengen area (a group of 26 European nations with no border controls between them) for up to 90 days within a 180-day period, as long as they have a valid passport. In 2021, a pre-travel registration system (European Travel Information and Authorisation System or ETIAS) is expected to be implemented for entry to the Schengen area. Check with the state department or foreign affairs ministry in your home country for more information if traveling in 2021.
At the time of writing, it’s unclear what the rules will be for travelers to France from the United Kingdom due to Brexit. Most likely, laws similar to travelers from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand will apply, though of course you should check www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/france closer to the date of travel.
Travelers from EU countries are allowed to travel in France for as long as they want without visas, though they should inform authorities should they plan to do so for more than 90 days at a time.
South Africans must apply for a Schengen visa, which can be done via French authorities, no more than three months and no less than 15 days before their date of travel.
What to Pack
In general, traveling in Normandy and Brittany does not require specialized gear. Given that rain is likely in any season, packing a waterproof jacket and an umbrella is advised. Conversely, sunscreen is needed for protection against the strong coastal sun. Electrical sockets in France require round, two-pin plugs, so bring an adapter or two to keep your devices charged. Otherwise, what to bring depends on what you’re planning to do, whether it’s hiking (appropriate footwear) or just staying by the beach (swimsuit).
Most people accessing Normandy and Brittany by air will be doing so by going via Paris, which is a major international hub with three separate airports, serviced by many of the world’s biggest airlines. For visitors coming from outside of Europe, connecting through the French capital is pretty much the only option. Aside from that, several of Normandy’s and Brittany’s towns and cities have their own airports, including Rouen, Caen, Deauville, Rennes, Brest, and Nantes. Some of these even receive a handful of international flights. Internally, there are very few distances in the region that warrant a flight, either for economic reasons or in terms of saving time. Only if you’re planning on going from Paris to the very western edge of Brittany is an internal flight worth considering, and even then, it usually makes more sense to take the train.
Traveling by car is the best way to get the most out of the two regions. Normandy and Brittany are well connected by a number of highways, some of which are toll routes, but the true depth of their charm lies in their many small roads that wind their way through every inch of the two regions’ beautiful countryside.
There are no trains that run directly from abroad to either Normandy or Brittany. As with flights, you’ll either have to travel via Paris, or, in the case of the Eurotunnel, Calais. The latter service is a good, fast way of getting a car to France from the United Kingdom, though a significant amount of driving is still required to get to Normandy or Brittany after that. Paris, meanwhile, is connected by train to numerous European countries. In Normandy and Brittany, all trains are run by the SNCF. The French are justifiably proud of their intercity national train service, which is one of the fastest and most efficient in the world. But prices can be high, with last-minute fares from Paris to most places in Brittany easily topping €140 return. Booking just a week in advance can significantly reduce the price, however, and most of Normandy, being much closer to the French capital, is cheaper to reach. A further disadvantage of rail, though, is that only large towns (Rouen, Caen, Saint-Malo, Rennes, Brest, Quimper, and Nantes) are easy to travel between, and not even all of them are directly linked. Branch lines, run by SNCF subsidiary TER, reaching out to smaller destinations do exist, but they do not always connect to one another, apart from at major transport hubs.
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- On Sale
- Apr 26, 2022
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Moon Travel