France is one of the best countries for camper travels. Not only is it so beautiful and diverse across the regions, but it also provides the easiest of camper facilities, with its hugely advantageous Aires de Camping Cars system.
We’ve been travelling in our camper throughout the fabulous landscapes of France for decades. It never fails to disappoint, with stunning scenery, fascinating history, fantastic food and quiet roads which really help the touring.
Although it can be a little bleak in Winter, extremely cold and almost deserted, there are still some regions open for business all year round. Here, is one of them, Normandy, in the Northern most part of France, it’s easily accessible within a few hours of Calais and full of historic importance, it also has the most wonderful cows, cider and cheese!!
The main focus here is the tall white cliffs which plunge into the sea below, with an array of interesting formations, carved between the layers of rock. It’s worth a stop from Calais en–route to the more high profile tourist sights further along the coast.
No visit is complete to Northern France without a drive over this impressive engineering masterpiece. The 2141m long bridge, has a height of over 50m and spans the Seine Estuary, linking the port of Le Havre to the beautiful, historic port town of Honfleur, it really is a magnificent route. There’s a visitor centre as you cross, with explanation of the construction on the bridge itself, it also has it’s own toll, so be prepared to pay
This sassy little town, has the prettiest of harbours, with historic houses, restaurants and shops surrounding the water front. There’s one huge Aire de camping cars, we’ve stayed there at peak times with probably up to 100 other vans!! There’s also a good walk, taking you up from the town centre to a view point above the harbour, the tourist office has details of the route.
For the more discerning tourist!! This place is upmarket, chic and full of charisma. It’s located between Honfleur and the start of the WW2 sights and landing beaches.Think elegant with sophisticated sports such as Polo, film festivals and long stretches of sand, lined with luxurious sun loungers in Summer!
The incredible events beginning 6th June 1944 are embedded still in the coastline of Normandy. The famous beaches of Juno, Sword, Omagh and Gold follow the coast between Caen and Sainte-Mere-Eglise. It’s compelling stuff, heart wrenching and above all unbelievably educational. Follow the marked driving routes between the sights and pick up the very informative leaflets from the tourist offices.
Despite visiting several times, we still find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the slaughter, sacrifice and destruction that went on here. We always come away feeling gratitude for all those who fought here and for those lost, never to return.
Although, Commenwealth war Grave commission cemeteries are scattered throughout the region, there is no more profoundly moving testament to the horrors of war, than the British Cemetry at Bayeux and the American Cemetery at Omagh Beach. The latter is one of the most remarkable of sights, where 9387 immaculately placed white crosses, mark the resting places of those fallen American soldiers. It’s a dignified reminder of the horrors of D-Day, yet heartbreaking at the same time, the carved stone wall detailing the names of those missing in action is, on it’s own, a sight that stays with you forever.
Don’t miss Pegasus Bridge, Pont du Hoc, the various museums along the coast and Arromanches, where the remains of the Mulberry harbours can still be seen wedged in the sands, on low tide. These are even more poignant for us, as some of the harbours were constructed in our home of Conwy, North Wales, where The Mulberry pub now stands, bearing photos of the construction as a reminder.
The scars of war are just everywhere, look out for the gun emplacements, tanks and various signs showing details of an event that took place in a particular spot, it’s a never ending reminder of the extent of the planning and bloody aftermath that went into the D-Day landings.
Most renowned for the ill-fated heroine, Joan of Arc, meeting her death here by burning her on the stake, in what was then, the English held town. It now has a charming historic centre, a reminder of the medieval past, with lovely ornate timber facades, oozing character.
The town is home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, detailing the battle of 1066 and is UNESCO listed. It also has an excellent war museum and the British Cemetery as mentioned earlier. The tapestry is a must for all those of a similar age to myself, who endured long periods having to learn about it, for history lessons back in 1980’s secondary school! An audio guide and darkened walkways to protect the piece, ease you through the story, intricately sewn into the masterpiece.
Interestingly, this was a new one on us, until a trip back from Brittany a few years ago, when we sort of just stumbled across it! So, it’s a pretty inland area, situated around the Orne Valley, amongst rolling countryside, deep gorges and rivers. It’s great for hiking and rock climbing (not that we do much of that!) but, although, I wouldn’t compare it to the mighty dramatic scenery of Switzerland, it does make for an alternative detour for a couple of days and it’s quieter than many other parts.
Who hasn’t heard or seen images of this iconic rocky peak, jutting out from the sands on the Normandy/Brittany border?! It’s a well photographed masterpiece, an awesome sight when you first set eyes upon it, on the approach and now very different in it’s surroundings from our first visit back in the day.
Gone are the days of parking up in the van on the golden sands at the base and walking over on low tide. The whole approach route has undergone vast re-development, with driving now off limits to the public. Instead, a very elaborate causeway consisting of an elevated road, allows shuttle buses to ferry the visitors across, from purpose built car and camper parking areas a good couple of miles away.
We actually stayed a few miles out on a different Aire, which was less expensive than the official camper parking. We then both walked and cycled across, rather than experience the crossing out of a bus window! The excellent cycle paths and walkways make it a really enjoyable route, however, this place gets so busy in peak season!
Daytime is horrific, the tiny alleyways on the Mont itself get rather uncomfortable, making the walkways up to the Monastery (pay to visit) on the top just a bit claustrophobic. We prefer to visit in the evening, when the bus loads of tourists have gone and you can explore the tiny streets at your leisure.
Where to stay/Park
Motorhome/Campervan parking is a breeze throughout Normandy, the usual Aire de Services de Camping Cars along with the dedicated parking are provided in most locations, so check out one of the Apps (Campercontact is excellent) or pick up a free map which should show camper parking from the tourist office.
If you want a campsite, don’t hold your breath! France has a very short season, with the exception of Ski resorts, sometimes campsites don’t actually open until May and close as early as September. If you find one open and really need it, then grab it while you can!
Weather here can be hit and miss, Summers are a bit warmer than the UK but you aren’t guaranteed the full blown sunshine and higher temperatures that you’ll get further South through France. Winter is very much like home, it can be wet, windy and miserable and also cold, having said that, it’s a good Winter destination for the WW2 history element, as it’s much quieter out of season but benefits from still having the attractions open.