Normandy, the region just northwest of Paris, features both medieval history (such as the Bayeux tapestry) and World War II history...and some great food (calvados, cream, crepes, camembert are the "4 C's" of Norman cuisine).
D-Day/World War II Sites
In World War II, the Allies famously invaded beaches of Normandy on D-Day, and thus there's a lot of sites commemorating World War II in some way or another. Note: Most sites are very difficult to visit without a car (although there are minivan tours)
- Normandy American Cemetery - the "must see", an evocative place with a very nice museum (and view of the coast)
- World War II Mémorial Museum in Caen - a thorough look at the entire history of the war, especially the part that happened nearby
- Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument - site of one of the D-Day landings, gives some of the best look at what the Omaha Beach landings were like
- Longues-sur-Mer Gun Battery - a preserved German gun battery (there's another battery at Merville)
- Utah Beach Landing Museum - a comprehensive museum of the D-Day landings
- Mulberry Harbor ("Port Winston") and Museum of the Landings - in Arromanches-les-Bains, some of the amazing Allied artificial harbor created to supply troops after D-Day (Germans had captured or destroyed the other harbors) still exists; you can see the remains at low tide from the shore/town, and the museum does a great job of explaining the history (and why it was important)
Historic town with a charming medieval quarter and beautiful cathedral (painted by Monet!); also where Joan of Arc was martyred.
- Restaurant La Couronne is NOT recommended...yes, long ago Julia Child liked this, but Luke went here in 2011 and found the food bad and the service worse (~1 hour wait for food)
Where Monet spent his last years; his famous water lilies were painted here, and many of his works are on display (45 min to 1 hour train ride from Paris, then bus/bike/taxi); see Wikivoyage for more
- Monet's Garden and House - the main attraction, open every day from April 1st to November 1st from 9:30 to 6 (last entrace 30 min before closing), €9.50 admission, fewer crowds in the early morning or after 4 PM...also a bit fewer crowds from noon to ~1:30 PM, May & June are especially crowded...start at Walled Garden (Clos Normand) and walk clockwise
- Transport - 3 main options from Paris:
- Drive - about 1 hour drive NW of Paris
- Train/shuttle - take train from Gare St. Lazare in Paris to Vernon (leaves every ~2 hours, 45-50 min journey, first one at 8:20 AM, €14.30 2nd class normal ticket) --> then Vernon-Giverny shuttle (meets each train, leaves 15 minutes after, €4 each way, first shuttle is at 9:25 AM to Giverny, last shuttle back leaves Giverny at 7:20 PM)...you can also take a taxi from Vernon to Giverny for around €14 (or walk, 1-1.5 hours, or rent a bike from L'Arivée de Giverny café across from the train station, ~€14)
- Tour Package - these folks have all-inclusive €79 per person bus tour that leaves from Paris, M-Sat afternoons and Sunday mornings
- €80 (for 1-4 people) English tour: http://giverny.org/guide/ariane/
- Le Bistro des Fleurs - 73 rue Carnot, (0)2 32 21 29 19, closed Sun/Mon and late July/early Aug, rec'd Michelin
- L'Envie - 71 rue Carnot, 02 32 51 16 80, closed late July/early Aug, early Jan, Sun eve and Mon, rec'd Michelin, run by couple (woman cooks, man serves)
- Le Lagon - 6 Place de Paris, (0)2 32 64 45 98, open every day, rec'd Michelin
- Le Jardin Des Plumes - 1 rue du Milieu, (0)2 32 54 26 35, rec'd Michelin, closed Mon/Tues
- Hôtel Baudy Restaurant - where Impressionists used to eat, rec'd by some CHs, Petit Futé, Fodor's, Frommer's and Rick Steves, good cider, nice garden, open every day from 10 AM to 11:30 PM, more info here...try chicken liver terrine?
- Les Jardins de Giverny - rec'd by a CH
- L'Esquisse Gourmande - 73 bis rue Claude-Monet, rec'd by Frommer's as "refreshing alternative to the tourist traps" offering regional specialties (especially apple dishes)
- Museum of American Art café is rec'd by some
- Restaurant les Nymphéas is on site at the Monet Garden, but touristy/overpriced
- other ideas here
- ...or just have a picnic on the river!
- Transport - 3 main options from Paris:
Charming town with nice cathedral and good food...and also home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, a well-preserved chronicle of William the Conqueror's conquest of England.
- Maupassant - cheap rooms, Luke stayed here in 2011
- Bayeux Shuttle offers tours of D-Day sites, and a shuttle to Mont Saint Michel.
Famous spot for Impressionist painters
Mont Saint Michel
One of the most-visited sites in France (so prepare yourself for crowds!), Mont Saint Michel is an abbey built on an island between Normandy and Brittany. It's an absolutely stunning sight, day or night. It's very crowded but less so early and late in the day.
- La Petite Chesnee - a cute B&B run by a British couple, a bit tricky to get to but not far from Mont Saint Michel, Luke stayed here in 2011
- Places to eat on mainland
- Restaurant La Ferme Saint Michel - nice restaurant not far from the island
- Auberge Du Terroir - similar, in Servon, also has hotel (Booking.com listing), Michelin Bib Gourmand, Gault Millau
- Hôtel Le Relais du Roy - pretty good Tripadvisor/Google reviews
- Le Sillon de Bretagne - looks nice, rec'd Gault Millau
- as of 2019, Michelin also rec’s several places closer to Avranches (~30 min drive from MSM parking):
- Get Tickets Ahead - there's a much shorter line to get into the Abbey if you already have a ticket; you can get them online (most people want "Visit of the Monument"), even on your phone
- Consider a Picnic - the food on the island is overpriced and not great; consider bringing your own lunch instead
- Rampart Walk - for fewer crowds, even at peak hours, consider taking this steeper way up to the abbey
- Vespers - most evenings, the monks who live on Mont Saint Michel sing their evening prayers, and members of the public are allowed to watch; it's a beautiful experience
- Transport - there are free "Passeur" shuttle buses that run from the parking lot to the island, although you can also walk (or bike—although bikes aren't allowed in the middle of the day in the high season) across the bridge...note that parking in the lots is relatively expensive unless you are staying on the island. There's also a relatively inexpensive shuttle from Pontorson (where the railway station is).