In addition to our time near the D-Day beaches, which was mostly requested and even planned by Peter, we also did some short trips to two of the other beautiful key sites in Normandy: Mont Saint-Michel and Giverny.
We decided to detour to Mont Saint-Michel in between our stay in the treehouse and the D-Day beaches. This abbey on a rock out past the tides is visually stunning from a mile away and we were lucky enough to come on a beautiful clear day.
There’s an easy shuttle from the parking lot that takes you right to the base of the mountain, where the driver literally hops out, walks to the other end, and drives back. The walk up to the abbey wasn’t too difficult, but it was really crowded even in April and we saw a few people struggling to push strollers up the streets (why though?!). I don’t think strollers are allowed inside, so we were grateful for a baby carrier, even if Julia was less excited about it. She was in a toddler mood that afternoon and really didn’t want to spend much time inside, but luckily it’s not absurdly expensive to go in the abbey and there are are outdoor spaces to run around towards the end of the visit, as well as viewpoints along the way where she could use her outdoor voice. It was also busy enough that her noise wasn’t atrocious.
On the way down, we stopped for ice cream and an apple tart at one of several shops. The ice cream was really and truly terrible (strawberry soft serve that tasted like a bad 7-11 icee), but Peter liked the apple tart. We visited the Skelligs in Ireland for our 1st anniversary years ago, and I kept expecting a similar other worldly experience since this is also an extremely challenging feat of religiously-oriented engineering, but it just didn’t hit me the same way. If I had to do it all over again, I might have spent more time at the beach and less time with the hordes of other tourists. That said, they really do make it easy for you to visit, so if you’re in the area, I would at least recommend driving by (the parking lot has a much lower rate for less than 2 hours, which would be impossible to do for a real visit, but would be useful for a quick one).
Giverny was a really picturesque village and I wish we had more time there just to relax around the beautiful springtime blooms. We stayed at a lovely little B&B called the Forest Farm, which I found on Booking.com. It’s technically in Bois Jérôme Saint-Ouen, but it’s a 10-15 minute drive to Giverny, so it’s much easier than crossing over into Vernon (which is where your train would arrive if that was your travel mode). There was a little playhouse out on a lawn, and our large triple room with a private bathroom was the only place we stayed with a bathtub, which Julia appreciated since she’d been forced to shower with me in a tiny European shower everywhere else.
We arrived on a Sunday evening and our B&B owner recommended the restaurant at the Hotel Baudy for dinner since most places are closed on Sunday. It had a lovely and bustling terrace and Julia even got to play in the gravel with another little boy her age and order fish off the kids’ menu. My Normandy salad and lamb skewers were delicious, and Peter like the goat cheese terrine and duck confit.
The next morning, we ate breakfast on the early side and tried to get to Monet’s House as soon as possible. We over-achieved and arrived before they opened, so I asked if there was a bakery nearby to pick up sandwiches for a picnic later. It was a lovely example of how sweet French people are when asked for help – the bakery didn’t technically have sandwiches until much later, but they saw Julia and offered to make a coupe of the more simple ones for us. Unfortunately, the bakery was further from Monet’s House than expected so we got back a bit late and were stuck at the pre-booked ticket entrance behind several tour groups (might have been faster at the main entrance, but you just never know). However, the sweet employee remembered our little family and waved us to a spot in between groups so we could get in (do people who don’t want to travel with kids know how many awesome perks they’re missing out on?). The gardens don’t open until 9, so you can forget your dreams of seeing them in the early morning light, and we probably would have had fewer tour groups in the late afternoon, but we had to return the car in Paris by 1, so we leveraged Julia’s cuteness to squeeze by the groups. She is obsessed with bridges right now and there were plenty of them (including the iconic bridge from Linnea in Monet’s Garden) to race across.
I felt like the spring timing of our visit to the gardens was perfect. Roses won’t come along for awhile yet, but who cares when you have yards of tulips, my favorite flower? The house was beautiful and full of art, but also difficult to pause and enjoy because of all the people. Luckily, there was no one in the large kitchen, so we got to stop and admire it for a bit before a few last glimpses at the gardens and the gift shop.
We had a little over an hour in the gardens before we left to eat our sandwiches in the courtyard at the Impressionist Museum and drive to Paris to return our rental car.
These were both totally unique day trips that made our tour through Normandy more diverse and definitely kept my interest up (you just can only see so many WWII museums with a toddler…).
I’m glad we visited Mont Saint-Michel since it’s been on my bucket list for a long time, but it was really most beautiful from the bottom looking up, so we could have enjoyed a trip to the beach with the same views (and better ice cream).
I could have spent another day or two in the Giverny area, however. The whole village was full of beautiful gardens (are the homeowners part of some crazy Southern California-type HOA?) and there are a couple of other art museums and galleries that I would have loved to explore, and it would have been fun to come back to Monet’s House in the late afternoon after the buses of tour groups left. I also would have loved to rent bikes to get around since the town has really terrible car access and winding streets that would be lovely on a bike. We’ll just have to go back!
Do you plan day trips from your central location on vacation? What has been your favorite day trip so far?