The path less travelled in France produced stunning rural vistas, friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture, far beyond our expectations.
Heidi and I hired an electric car at CDG airport in early spring 2022 and drove a six thousand kilometre “figure of eight” around France. Despite moderate fitness levels we hiked and cycled many remote picturesque places. We also found rural and remote areas of France have much to offer serious foodies.
Off the Beaten Path: Nothing ‘ordinary’ to be found
Determined to take the path less travelled we discover stunning rural vistas, super friendly locals, and a vibrant food and wine culture in France, way beyond our expectations.
This is part 8 of a 12-part mini-series which follows our recent 12-week trip.
I invite you to join us and make some delightful discoveries.
You will find each part of this mini-series here.
Part 8 – Normandy
Situated in the far north-east of France, Normandy is a region like no other. It is an often haunting landscape – a stark reminder of wartime atrocities – as it is littered with vast war graveyards and memorials. Pleasingly, it has many less sombre attractions, including for les gourmands its apple cider, calvados, and camembert cheese; the incredible Bayeux tapestry, numerous stunning coastal towns and of course l’inoubliable Mont Saint-Michel.
Highlights and Hidden Gems
When one thinks of Bayeux one usually only has the tapestry one in mind. We planned to find a B&B near Bayeux township for 2 nights and use it as a base to check out the tapestry while giving the town a cursory nod. It turned out Bayeux is a delightful small town well worthy of a full day a pied. Despite being somewhat sceptical (I detest crowds), the tapestry turned out to be an incredible moment in our journey.
Do book tickets as it is a small museum and the crowds can be large.
What a huge and delightful surprise was the township. I’d describe it as the quintessential Norman small town. The architecture was amazing. One can walk the enchanting main street in less than half an hour, however, we wandered myriad lanes for hours on end discovering hidden squares, quaint artisan shops, galleries, and lovely boutiques.
Walking, Cycling, Touring
Étretat is an incredibly picturesque small town on the coast of Normandy. It’s known for the striking rock formations carved out of its white cliffs, including the Porte d’Aval arch and L’Aiguille (the Needle), a pillar rising up from the sea. It is almost always overwhelmed with tourists.
Almost every soul we’d encountered in France suggested Étretat as a must-see day trip. However, on a holiday weekend, we were not keen to do battle with the expected hordes. Some hasty research uncovered a 12-kilometre coastal walk from little-known Saint-Léonard (in the north) to Étretat. And as Saint-Léonard has an EV charging station we decided that it would be a great place to start our randonnée to see what is some of the most spectacular coastline in the world.
It was a stunning, if somewhat physically challenging hike, and well worth the effort. The view of Étretat from the cliffs to the north was inoubliable! We didn’t bother clambering down the long and steep slope to the town, cognisant of the 12-kilometre return hike that we now knew to be tres formidable!
Food and Wine
Our eccentric British B&B host gave us a couple of restaurant recommendations including L’Alchimie which we walked past mid-afternoon on the day we wished to dine. Unsurprisingly it was fully booked but a table might be available if we were willing to arrive about 9.30 pm and take our chances. So we did take a chance and ate perhaps the best meal of our entire 12-week French tour. The restaurant was small with an eclectic decor, no two tables or chairs were alike, and the vibe was young and loud. However, the service was friendly and attentive and the food was superb modern French with a heavy emphasis on fresh local seafood. The tiny wine list was excellent and we enjoyed an excellent Chablis with les fruits de mer.
I was very keen to try the famous local ciders and calvados and our host just happened to have a friend in a village some minutes away with a highly recommended cave, Bernard Lebrec. Bernard speaks good English and was a very convivial host. I didn’t much like his calvados but the cider and an interesting aperitif (part cider, part calvados) were both very good.
I’d certainly recommend a visit.
In our sixties, we’re not fans of late-night dining. However, the lesson we’ve learned is that if you don’t seize the day then you’ll often miss a great experience. Our restaurant recommendation by a respected local was strong and they’re rarely wrong.
We were very happy we took the tip and dined late.
Have you ever visited this part of France? Share your experiences below.
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