A different kind of France: Road Trip Through Normandy and Brittany
Tags: Travel guide, road trip, drop-off at another location, Normandy, Brittany, France, travel by car
Telling your friends that you’ll go on vacation in France, they’ll probably think you’ll either go to Paris or Cote d’Azur. But this is a road trip that will take you to another kind of France.
Even the people in this region are different – there is no famous arrogance of the Parisians and people of the French Riviera. Although the weather in this region can be worse most of the time in the year – people are friendly and more than happy to help you out in Normandy and Brittany.
560 kilometers (345 miles) in total
Planning- Before You Leave
Before you set off on your French road trip, have a look at some basic information below.
When to visit the North of France?
The best time for this road trip in France is during the European summer (June-July). But due to the closeness of the ocean, the weather can be tricky even during the high season.
Don’t forget your waterproof jackets and umbrellas, just in case.
South of France road trip extension
See even more of France! Extend your French road trip and drive down to the world-famous South of France. Stroll down Promenade des Anglais in Nice, or go kayaking in turquoise waters near Marseille. The adventure awaits!
Click here for the guide and plan the best France road trip of all time, spanning Brittany, Normandy, and the South of France.
How long does it take to complete this road trip?
The overall driving distance of this road trip in France is about 11 hours. So, the minimum duration would be 1 week but this trip is perfect for a 2-week journey.
You can rent a car at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and drop-off at another location, or drive back to Paris. Find your suitable rental car for the journey via Rentalmoose.
To avoid any misunderstandings don’t forget to use the Rentalmoose app to take check-in photos of the condition of the car when receiving it and before starting your road trip to qualify for a 50% rebate from the excess coverage fee.
Can tourists drive in France?
France is a part of the open-border Schengen Zone, this means crossing countries is quick and hassle-free. France accepts foreign driving licenses from most countries. International Driving Permits are recognized, but not mandatory. For your peace of mind, consider getting an IDP when going on any road trips in France.
Speeding in France is forbidden and the rules are strictly enforced. Tourists are required to pay any fines on the spot. Fines for speeding in France range from 45 Euros all the way up to 3750 Euros.
Now that you’re all set, let’s dive into your French road trip!
View from a cafe to the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris
Yes – your friends were right because your French road trip does actually start from Paris. Whilst you are already here, stay for a few days to enjoy the city of love.
What to do in Paris?
Go to restaurant Fouquet’s in Hotel Barriere to watch the people rushing by on the legendary Avenue des Champs Elysees, and treat yourself to their delicious boeuf de tartar with a good glass of red wine.
Or go to L’Avenue nearby where rich and famous love to dine (Kim Kardashian and the Beckhams are fans!). Treat yourself to the famous Laduree macaroons but be aware that there will be a line to get into their store.
Go check out the renovated Ritz Paris hotel which is said to have a secret underground tunnel through what celebrities come and go.
Of course, do some (window)shopping in the fashion capital of the world – either at the famous Avenue Montaigne where the high-end designer boutiques are, or see one of the prettiest shopping malls in the world – Galleries Lafayette.
Parking in Paris
Parking in Paris can be really hard to find and also the traffic is crazy in the city so you might want to use public transport there. Rent your car when you begin your road trip in France, or choose a hotel with a car park where you can leave your rental car.
Where to stay in Paris?
Paris hotels are one of the most expensive in the world so it might take some time to find a good one with a price that’s more down-to-earth. A glamorous 5* hotel with a more reasonable price would be Castille Paris.
A great 4* hotel would be La Villa Saint Germain Des Pres.
Once you’ve explored Paris, it’s time to hit the road and begin your France road trip!
Next on your road trip: Giverny, 1 hour 30 minutes
Claude Monet Garden in Giverny
Giverny is not the final destination of the first day but it’s a stop on this road trip that is a must for people interested in art and history.
What is special about Giverny?
This is the place where the famous French artist Claude Monet lived.
His house and its garden is now a museum and it’s possible to recognize the locations of many of his famous paintings in here. His garden is as beautiful as it’s seen in his paintings.
Monet was so proud of the water garden that he liked to host his guests here, and spent hours contemplating it. A full-time gardener, in charge of its maintenance, removed each dead leaf to ensure the perfect beauty of the pond.
Rentalmoose tip: Buy the tickets online before your visit, this way you don’t have to wait in line in front of the house. Buy them here.
Just 3 minutes by car from the Monet house there is an amazing hotel and restaurant Le Jardin des Plumes. If you’d like to stay longer in Giverny then this would be a nice place to stay.
If you are going to drive to the next location to spend the night, then enjoy your lunch at this place. With nice weather, eat in their beautiful garden. The restaurant has Michelin 1* so book your table ahead of the visit.
Hit the road once again, the next stop on your French road trip is the coastal town of Etretat.
Next on your road trip: Étretat, 2 hours
The cliffs of Étretat
Welcome to the North coast of France. Étretat is another place that can be familiar to you from the museums – its rocky cliffs Porte d’Aval arch and L’Aiguille (the Needle), a pillar rising up from the sea – are in famous paintings.
Why is Etretat famous?
The cliffs and the associated beach attracted artists including Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet. Two of the three famous arches are visible from the town, the Porte d’Aval, and the Porte d’Amont. The Manneporte is the third and the biggest one, and cannot be seen from the town. This is a good reason to take a walk on the wild nature cliffs.
Please be extra careful here when traveling with small kids as the cliffs are steep and there can be quite strong winds.
If you happen to be a golf player then Golf d’Étretat has views that are hard to beat! I am sure this course isn’t easy to play and there are hundreds, if not thousands of golf balls found in the sea below these cliffs. But the views and experience itself are hard to beat!
The course is open every day from 8.30 am until 7 pm. Have lunch in the golf club restaurant “Restaurant du Golf” which, of course, has magnificent views as well!
If you don’t play golf you can take a walk in Étretat village instead and relax in beautiful Étretat Plage (with a view of the needle cliff!).
Where to stay in Etretat?
For a hotel (and restaurant) consider The Dormy House Étretat – a hotel among the cliffs. Needless to say – with an amazing view again: overlooking the sea and the village of Étretat. The hotel and restaurant are open since 1955.
Next on your road trip in France: Honfleur, 50 minutes
Le Havre & Honfleur
Pont de Normandie
Detour: Just about a 40-minute drive from Étretat village is Le Havre – a major and very windy port city. It’s up to you if you want to extend your French road trip and go there. The port of Le Havre is the second-largest in France so you can imagine how busy the city actually is. The name “Le Havre” itself means “the port” or “the harbor”.
In 2005 UNESCO inscribed the central city of Le Havre as a World Heritage Site. So it’s worth to see the place.
For example, visit The André Malraux Modern Art Museum – it is the second of France for the number of impressionist paintings. And there is also a great lunch spot – gourmet restaurant Jean Luc Tartarin.
The next stop on your road trip in France would be Honfleur – it’s up to you if you rather skip the busy port town Le Havre and go straight to Honfleur from Étretat or you’ll drive through the big city. I personally recommend adding Le Havre to your road trip.
Honfleur from Le Havre is another 40 minutes drive and straight from Étretat it is about an hour of driving.
Either way, you’ll be driving through Pont de Normandie – a modern cable-stayed toll bridge that spans the river Seine. Its total length is 2,143.21 meters – 856 meters between the two piers. It is also the last bridge to cross the Seine before it empties into the ocean.
Construction of the bridge began in 1988 and lasted 7 years. The bridge was opened on 20 January 1995. At that time it was both the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, and also had a record distance between piers for a cable-stayed bridge. The record was lost to the Tatara Bridge in Japan in 1999.
The total cost of the bridge was an unbelievable 465 million US dollars.
After crossing the bridge you have arrived in Honfleur! This is also a port town, but rather a quiet, old, fishermen port – called The Vieux-Bassin aka the old dock.
The houses with slate-covered frontages are very well known and have inspired many artists like Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet, and Johan Jongkind.
What can you see in Honfleur?
Go see the Sainte-Catherine church which is the largest wooden church in France. It is recognizable because its bell tower is separated from the principal building.
If you do have any time left in the city and you feel like shopping then head no further than to Honfleur Normandy Outlet. There are no high fashion boutiques but rather mid-priced fast fashion stores.
Another reason to visit Honfleur is food! This place has so many great restaurants!
The next leg of your France road trip is a short 30-minute drive down to Deauville.
Next on your French road trip: Deauville, 30 minutes
Boutiques in Deauville
Just about a 30-minute drive from Honfleur and you have arrived at your next location on your road trip in France- Deauville! A place where Parisian rich and famous have escaped from the summer heat for ages. It’s also been named the Parisian Riviera because of that.
Why is Deauville famous?
This place has so much history! Did you know that Coco Chanel opened its very first boutique in this city during the summer of 1913? Ironically, there is no Chanel boutique there nowadays but there are its biggest competitors Hermes and Louis Vuitton for example.
Sadly, the only thing left in the Chanel’s first boutique location is just a poster. I was expecting more.
On the other note – what wonderful boutiques there are – and I am talking about their Anglo-Norman architecture. Deauville has such pretty wooden houses next to classical Belle Epoque architecture. This city needs at least 2-3 days to fully enjoy it. So take your time and don’t rush away from here.
Besides its beautiful buildings, Deauville is known for its Grand Casino, wide sandy beach, horse racing, International Film Festival, and sumptuous hotels.
What can you do in Deauville?
Book your stay at the legendary Hotel Barriere Le Normandy, get yourself a horse racing ticket, relax on Deauville’s beach and walk its Promenade Les Plances – a famous boardwalk that was built so that the ladies long skirts wouldn’t get sand all over them.
The changing rooms at the promenade are marked with the names of famous actors who have visited the town during its American Film Festival which takes place in September. The event has been taken place there since 1975.
Where to eat in Deauville?
Of course, a perfect holiday wouldn’t be so perfect without great food. And Deauville has you covered on this as well. Treat yourself to amazing courses in either of these restaurants: Le Spinnaker, L’Essentiel, or La Peniche.
Another great thing to do in Deauville is to hop on one of the hotel’s bikes and pedal yourself to the next village: Trouville-sur-Mer. It will be about a 10-minute ride with a bicycle.
Trouville is France’s original seaside resort from 1860-1880, it got popular through the paintings in the museum which caught the attention of wealthy Parisians in the Louvre looking for a new place for their holidays.
There used to be a joke that Deauville was for the wives and Trouville for the mistresses. With the arrival of the rich and famous an extravagant mansions started to pop up next to the seashore. And they are still there, in all their glory.
One of the most famous buildings is Hotel des Roches Noires which has also been painted by Claude Monet. A lot of big names used to visit that hotel, like Marcel Proust and Marguerite Duras. The painting of the hotel can be seen in Musem d’Orsay in Paris. Today there are apartments in this building.
Only 1 minute from there is Villa Montebello – a Trouville museum.
For a lunch in Trouville-sur-Mer go to Chez Alain – there is a seafood market and this is a simple place with an amazing seafood choice!
Rentalmoose order tip: Treat yourself to some moules marinere and a glass of champagne.
Next on your France road trip: Bayeux, 1 hour
Chateau La Cheneviere
Is Bayeux worth visiting?
For sure! Bayeux is an amazing old town with cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses with an awe-inspiring Norman-Gothic Cathédrale de Notre Dame. It is a must-see on any road trip in France.
Rentalmoose recommends visiting the Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux Museum where are exhibits and artifacts on D-Day landings.
The landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. Codenamed Operation Neptune was often referred to as D-Day which was the largest seaborne invasion in history. There are also many memorials and war cemeteries around to remember the thousands of dead soldiers.
While in Bayeux Museum go see the famous Bayeux Tapestry – an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long and 50 centimeters (20 in) tall.
The Tapestry depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. It is thought to date to the 11th century, within a few years after the battle.
Bayeux Tapestry tells the story from the point of view of the conquering Normans but is now agreed to have been made in England.
On 18 January 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that the Bayeux Tapestry would be loaned to Britain for public display. It is expected to be exhibited at the British Museum in London, but not before 2020. It will be the first time that it has left France in 950 years.
The tapestry is now still in its place in Bayeux Museum.
Even if you decided to stay in Bayeux we still suggest visiting Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, the Omaha beach and 4 other beaches close-by – to see the historical places where the tragic events of D-Day landing happened.
What are the best hotels in Bayeux?
A great place to stay in the city is Domaine de Bayeux which has great quality for the price they ask!
Or would you prefer to stay in the French countryside? Where there is no traffic and you can wake up to the sound of singing birds? Then drive out from Bayeux city in the direction of Port-En-Bessin.
In the midway, there is Chateau La Cheneviere – a former 18th-century castle. The hotel has 29 elegant rooms, each decorated in a unique style.
Larger groups (up to eight people) can opt to stay in their Escures House, a romantic cottage located just minutes away from the property.
The hotel has two restaurants on-site, one gastronomic and one outdoor garden terrace, as well as a tucked-away speakeasy bar where guests can enjoy a nightcap of the region’s finest calvados.
Breakfast includes a buffet, à la carte eggs, and honey made on the castle grounds. A place of pure relaxation!
Another similar great place suggestion would be Hotel Chateau de Sully, also a bit out of Bayeux center.
Next on your road trip in France: Granville, 1 hour 30 minutes
Christian Dior childhood home in Granville
Your next pit stop in this road trip will be Granville village – another Normandy seaside resort. But the reason to visit this place is not sunbathing. It’s actually to see the house where the world-famous fashion designer Christian Dior spent his childhood.
A pink Anglo-Norman villa “Les Rhumbs” with an amazing rose garden is the place that has inspired Dior a lot. The house and its garden were a dream of his mother – Madeleine Dior, who asked his father Maurice Dior to buy the place when Christian was just an infant.
Today it’s a museum in honor of sir Dior. It’s managed by Jean-Paul Claverie, the LVMH director’s counselor.
After visiting the museum drive down to the Granville center, have a walk and a nice lunch in its cute cafe & tea house Picorette.
Next on your road trip: Mont Saint-Michel, 1 hour
Le Mont Saint-Michel
After a short break in Granville, continue driving to your next destination – le Mont Saint Michel – a famous abbey and monastery on an island about 1km / 0,6mi from mainland France. This famous spot is an essential stop on any road trip in France!
One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, visited by more than 3 million people each year, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Nowadays you can reach the place through a bridge – but way back it was only reachable by a tidal causeway which was uncovered from water only at low tide. This was extremely dangerous as the tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 meters (46 ft) between the highest and lowest watermarks.
On rare occasions even today the tidal circumstances can produce an extremely high “supertide” which can submerge the new bridge.
Rentalmoose tip: The car park for visiting the island is about 2,5km / 1,5mi from the island. Leave your rental car there and either walk to the island, use the shuttle bus, or, for a fancier visit – a horse carriage to reach the place.
For food, we recommend trying Mont Saint-Michel’s famous La Mere Poulard which is open since 1888.
Annette Poulard devoted her life to preparing meals for pilgrims, visitors, and the most famous figures of her time. With 40 years in the kitchen, she was an expert in French cuisine. By the way – their specialty is an omelet, so don’t forget to try that!
The famous omelet is cooked over the fire in the grand fireplace.
Where to stay near Mont Saint-Michel?
La Mere Poulard is also working as an inn – so when you plan to stay on the island for longer, check their place out!
If you want to wake up with a view of the monastery, then Le Relais Saint-Michel will be the place for you.
Next on your French road trip: Cancale, 1 hour
Oyster farm in Cancale
When you are ready to leave the impeccable Mont Saint-Michel behind, then you also exit the Normandy and another great region of France welcomes you – Brittany. The next destination on your road trip in France will be the village called Cancale.
Why is Cancale famous?
This is the place where great French oysters come from. If you happen to love oysters then this place is a must for you! History has it that Louis XIV had his oysters brought to Versailles from Cancale.
Centuries later, the farming of oysters is still a major activity in the port and there are oyster beds covering about 7.3 square kilometers easily seen from the pier at the harbor. These beds harvest about 25,000 tons of oysters each year.
Take a break from driving and enjoy this place either in one of the restaurants in the port – La Houle, or just buy different oysters from the stall at the port and taste them with a view to their farming and with a nice weather even Mont Saint Michel.
If you are a foodie and love cooking, treat yourself to an Olivier Roellinger Cuisine Corsaire cooking school. Olivier is a retired three-star Michelin chef who will teach you how to turn simple seafood into a gastronomic feast. He also has an amazing chateau hotel and restaurant in Cancale – Les Maisons de Bricourt.
Next on your road trip in France: St-Malo, 30 minutes
Plage du Sillon in St-Malo
The beautiful coastal city in Brittany will be your next location to spend a night. St-Malo is a historic place which nowadays is a popular tourist destination. It has a long history of piracy – this is how the city earned its wealth. The city has always been different – meaning doing things its own way. In the 1590s it even declared itself an independent republic.
Take a walk on the cobbled streets in St-Malo old town and take a look at the lavish homes of people who got rich from privateering in the 17th and 18th of centuries.
You will notice that St-Malo is a walled city – the circuit of the ramparts is 1,75 kilometers long. When you do the walk be sure to have some literature with you, because every gate, bastion, and view has a story to tell.
What can’t you miss in Saint-Malo?
Go up to see the beautiful panorama of the sea, the Grand Bé island, Fort National, Dinard across the water and the magnificent granite homes of the city’s wealthy ship-owners. Explore the Chateau de Saint-Malo.
Then, come down to buy a nice souvenir from the shop or fill your energy again at one of the crêperies. Then, after the historic city tour, get some rest in the fine sands of Plage du Sillon.
If you have more time in hand, you can also opt to visit the two Channel Islands: Jersey and Guernsey from here. The ferries to these islands depart from St-Malo port.
Although they are not part of the United Kingdom, they are part of the British Isles which means the UK is responsible for the defense and international relations of the islands. So when traveling from St-Malo then don’t forget to bring a valid passport or National Identity Card with you. Check the ferries here.
Where can you find the best food in St. Malo?
In the evening go to enjoy the food St-Malo has to offer. For dessert and a lovely cup of tea, take a walk to the Salon de Bergamote.
Where to stay in Saint-Malo?
Next on your road trip in France: Nantes,2 hours
Nantes city view. Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons
Nantes – the sixth-largest city in France – is your final destination on your road trip in France. You can make an optional pit stop at Rennes as well as the road will drive through it and this way you don’t have a long drive.
What is Nantes famous for?
Nantes has 100 public parks, gardens and squares covering 218 hectares (540 acres). The oldest is the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden created in 1807. It’s also one of the tourist attractions in the city.
Some other attractions before heading back home would be museums. History lovers can go see the Château des ducs de Bretagne – museum at the seat of the Dukes of Brittany or Arts Museum of Nantes.
Literature lovers can visit The Musée Jules Verne – a museum dedicated to the French writer Jules Verne.
Families with kids should see the Machines of the Isle of Nantes -a massive puppet-automaton machine created by French artist collective Machines de l’Ile. It’s an artistic, touristic and cultural project.
On-street parking in the city center of Nantes is pricey and limited. For a longer stay, you have to park in one of the car parks in the center. The parking capacity is limited in the city center and at the railway station.
Free parking is available on the outskirts of the city. See the detailed price list and locations here.
Where to stay in Nantes?
When spending a night in Nantes a nice hotel with great prices to look at is La Pérouse.
What’s more, probably one of the fanciest Radisson Blu hotels is in Nantes and their prices are really reasonable!
You can drop off your rental car at the Nantes Atlantique Airport. Browse through car rental options that support drop-off at another location via Rentalmoose.
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