There’s nowhere like Normandy.
This northern corner of France sucked us in like flies to a Venus Fly Trap. We went expecting to relax in the sun, surrounded by pretty flowers. Instead we got an unforgettable trip through one of the most welcoming, historical and daydream-inspiring places I’ve ever met.
In short, here’s where we went and why we loved it.
The first of the two Fleurs Mom and I were to meet was Barfleur. This small stone town perched right at the top of France charmed our socks off. Its two and a half streets of traditional houses and tiny restaurants have been around for centuries. The harbor at the edge seemed to dare the sea to bring on its biggest waves. Although tourists have certainly found Barfleur, it somehow maintains a distinct authenticity. It is absolutely French, from its road side stands selling fresh mussels, to the almost obligatory glass of wine that comes with every meal. We stayed in a lovely old hotel – the only hotel in town- and spent our time walking and imagining to our hearts’ content.
Barfleur’s less famous neighbor is equally romantic. Its clean and rocky shoreline lines one side of the town, while the working harbor is on the other. We originally went to see an island just off the coast, but were too enthralled to ever leave town. This is a place to eat bread and cheese on the dock while thinking about absolutely nothing. Just wish we could’a stayed longer.
The beach itself was surprisingly…beachy. Like every other set of American tourists, Mom and I went to Omaha Beach out of respect for the war. We were met by a large metal memorial, and little else. Instead of plaques, there were kids flying kites. People weren’t crying, they were sunbathing. The beach was a testament to the fact that time moves on. However a great counterpoint to this was the American cemetery. It’s definitely a place to see whether or not you’re American. The attached museum was interesting and gave a good overview of World War II. The cemetery itself was breathtaking. Countless white crosses were a sharp reminder of what happened not so long ago.
Deauville and Trouville
These sister towns love to wear their Fancy Pants. Both had amazing architecture and a lovely river separating them. Both had great fresh markets where we drooled over olives and peaches. Both were crawling with weekenders from Paris (funny how we forgot what day of the week it was while we were traveling), and neither had a place to stay. Saturday in July is not the time to rock up here expecting to find space available, at least not anything for less than a billion Euro. But no worries, our bad luck in Deauvy-Trouvy just meant we had to move on to…
…Villerville. If Barfleur is small then Villerville is teeny tiny. Still, it makes an impression. This little fishing village is somewhat off the main tourist trail. We went only to find a bed for the night, but were quickly in love. This was perhaps the most charming of all the towns we met. Its streets were tighter; its cliff to the beach steeper; and its people the most welcoming of the entire trip. It didn’t hurt that we arrived just as the town set up for its annual blues concert. Don’t think too big on this one – it was one band that set up stage on an old rug in the middle of Main Street. The crowd may only have had 50 people, but that meant the whole town was there. We danced and made as many one-night friendships as we could. It was great! T he next morning the charm continued with the town’s Blessing of the Sea. We saw a lovely small parade…we were next to the parade…we were in the parade. Like a late night murder, it all happened so quickly I can hardly remember. There was the navy, children dressed as sailors, the fishermen, the priest, boats sailing in decorated in French flags. It was wonderful.
And to end on a high note, we finished our time in Normandy at Honfleur. This second Fleur was as picturesque as the first, although very different. Like Barfleur, it had a harbor; its buildings were old; its food was French and delicious. But here the buildings were wood and plaster, almost Alp-ish. Its size was much bigger. It was a different take on French Fabulous. Here we met our first real French friends (although they were actually born in Portugal). Here we rode the giant Ferris Wheel at dusk and ooo’d and aww’d at the town from above. Here we sadly said goodbye to Normandy and promised to visit again soon.
Normandy was not just part of a great trip; it was a great trip in and of itself. If you’re given the chance, go. If you aren’t given the chance, make the chance.