The delights of Northern France for visitors aren’t exactly in short supply. The regions of Normandy and Brittany alone are simply bursting at the seams with incredible opportunities for adventure and exploration. Or for those preferring to do as little as possible, the North’s coastline is nothing short of magnificent.
But assuming you only have limited time available, where should you head for a short break in Northern France?
Brittany’s administrative capital, the vibrant university city of Rennes, is absolutely worth spending time in during any trip to the region. It has the most glorious medieval old-town center, where getting lost without a map or a destination is an absolute must. Marvel over the architectural masterpiece that is the city’s parliament building, before heading the way of the Thabor Gardens for some well-deserved relaxation.
A major fire that broke out in 1720 destroyed much of the city, but there are certain areas where things have been perfectly preserved for many centuries. The half-wooden houses around Place Ste-Anne carry strong echoes of the past, while Place des Lices used to be where you’d head to catch a spot of jousting! The city’s charms extend to adults and children alike, with endless entertainment, simply outstanding cuisine and a warm, welcoming atmosphere that’s almost tangible.
They often refer to Vannes as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but to experience it once is to know you’ll be back for more. Everything that makes Brittany beautiful is brought together in this one majestic hub, which features everything from oyster farm to standing stones to sailing trips within easy reach.
This stunning walled town had, for the most part, stood the tests of time better than most – especially in the truly iconic Old Town. Pretty much every street and corner you’ll come across represent prime territory for settling in with a coffee or glass of wine at a charming terrace, to do nothing but watch the world go by. If you’d prefer to spend your time reveling in hard-core beach life, pretty Conleau Beach is just 15 minutes away by bus. And when the sun goes down, be sure to see what the locals’ take on nightlife is by heading toward the bustling Saint-Patern district or the harbor’s left bank.
Also if time permits, consider embarking on a seafaring adventure of discovery, checking out any number of the stunning little islands just off shore…of which there are hundreds!
Visitors to Normandy should add Rouen to their lists, if not make it a firm priority. A city of rich and varied culture, today’s Rouen is both cosmopolitan and steeped in history. Nevertheless, the city has endured a rather rough past, to say the least, having been ravaged by war, plague and fire on several occasions. But perhaps the single most well-known historic event to take place in Rouen was the trial and summarily the execution of Joan d’Arc. The Second World War saw huge swathes of the city laid to waste by intensive bombing campaigns, though there are areas that emerged unscathed and tell a true tale of Rouen’s past.
Walking through Rouen feels like stepping back in time for a stroll through what’s in every respect a living museum. It’s almost impossible to turn a single corner without finding yourself presented with something else that warrants full exploration. From the Middle Ages right through to the ultra-modern, it’s a tale on constantly shifting contrasts the likes of which enchant, entertain and inspire. There are more than 50 religious buildings to explore, and the most important areas of the city can all be visited on foot. Walking through the narrow, winding medieval lanes is all part and parcel of the city’s charms – especially if taking the time to stop by a few gorgeous cafes along the way. Other highlights include the Gros-Horloge clock tower and the truly spectacular cathedral.
The capital city of Lower Normandy, Caen is bursting at the seams with unique treasures. A stunning landscape dotted with dairy farms and cider orchards, this is also the place to head for a stark reminder of the events that took place on D-Day. Whether it’s history, nature or cosmopolitan city living you’re out for, you’ll find all you could ever need and more in and around Caen.
The stunning Château de Caen is simply unmissable, which was built in 1060 by William the Conqueror. Time it right with the weather and a stroll around the castle’s gardens makes for a wonderfully enchanting afternoon excursion. Over in the city itself, you’ll want to ensure you head over to Rue du Vaugueux to indulge in traditional local cuisine at its finest. If you want to dine the way locals do, be sure to order yourself a trou Normand or “Norman hole,” which is basically a small measure of brandy to go between courses to help digestion. Suffice to say; it often makes for lively desserts! Explore the markets, visit the city’s important museums and take a trip to the site of the D-Day landings themselves. Whatever you do during the day, be sure to keep some energy in reserve to revel in the high-energy nightlife Caen is famed for.
As for the Loire Valley, the region considered the most beautiful in France is also the country’s capital for living the good life. The best wines in the world, incredible cuisine and the kind of countryside you’ll be dreaming of for the rest of your life. Not to mention, the truly iconic chateaux you could even decide to stay in for the duration of your trip.
Even the most idyllic picture postcards of the Loire Valley just don’t do the real thing justice. Explore the famous Wine Route by car, meander through the countryside or organize a tour of any of the region’s historic buildings. The Loire is all about living the good life by taking stock of what really matters – nature, fine wine, wonderful food and incredible people. Short breaks in the Loire are not to be overlooked, but be warned that after just a day or two, you might find it incredibly difficult to leave!
Traveling to northern France from the UK is a matter of choice and boils down to who you’re traveling with and how much time you have. There are three options available to you – fly, drive (channel tunnel), or one of the most popular ways is to take the cross channel ferry to France and Brittany Ferries offer the widest choice of ferry crossings. They depart from Portsmouth, Plymouth or Poole and sail to Cherbourg, St Malo, Caen, Le Havre or Roscoff. Brittany Ferries website includes all the different ferry to France timetables and routes available, holiday deals to Brittany and many other areas along with useful travel guides.
This guest article was written by Mark Shaw from UK travel blog Travelphant.
This guest article was written by Mark Shaw from UK travel blog Travelphant in collaboration with Brittany Ferries.