Travelogue: Normandy With A Toddler – Mont Saint-Michel & Giverny

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.

Mont Saint-Michel

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.

View from the shuttle stop

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.

No one seemed to mind that she climbed over all the pews in the chapel
Stairs: always a big hit with the toddler set
Outside the abbey on the grass: this little French boy decided he loved Julia (must be the stripes) and kept trying to hug and kiss her. Oh, l’amour!

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 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.

Enjoying her ice cream on the terrace

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.

Each bridge had to be crossed at least 4 times, preferably with some water watching
Dodging a tour group by hogging a bridge
“The” bridge in a rare moment of calm

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?


Travelogue: Normandy With A Toddler – D-Day Beaches

Peter and I have been married long enough now that I can usually plan things on a trip that he’ll enjoy, but I still try to ask whether there’s anything he’s particularly dying to do. On this trip, he asked if we could go see some World War II sights. I’d always wanted to see Mont Saint Michel and Giverny, so it was a good area to combine our mutual interests. Most of the things we did around the D-Day beaches were more for Peter’s education and enjoyment, and Julia and I were there as willing supporters, so I’ll list things we did more succinctly with some more brief commentary than normal.

Where We Stayed

We found the B&B Ferme de la Tourelle on (use the link and get $20 towards your stay) and it had great ratings, plus it seemed like it would be nice to have a space further out from a town where Julia could run. Delphine, our host, was very warm and welcoming and we enjoyed getting to chat with other guests over breakfast in the morning. There was a little mix-up with our room – I had reserved a triple room (double bed + single bed) and Delphine needed the triple room for another family and thought she had e-mailed through Booking to ask if we would be alright with a double and a pack and play. I never got the e-mail, but Julia slept fine in the pack and play and we paid slightly less for the room. We really loved our stay, but in hindsight I might have chosen to book somewhere in Bayeux center since we mostly ate and explored there after sightseeing and it might have been nice to walk, but it was only a 15 minute drive.

What We Did And Where We Ate

Day 1:

Admiring the lady pilots’ uniforms at the Airborne Musuem
Enjoying the soft sand at Utah Beach
Lighting a candle in Notre Dame de Bayeux
Admiring the cathedral from dinner


  • Sainte-Mère-Eglise: little village where a paratrooper most famously parachuted in and landed on the church steeple before being captured. The church was really beautiful (a touching Our Lady of Peace stands guard) and the Airborne Museum was very well done (especially the Operation Neptune building with an exhibit that makes you feel like you’re jumping out of the plane). We ate sandwiches in the square from a bakery before heading to…
  • Utah Beach: The Utah Beach Landing Museum was also well done, but less accessible for a toddler (more things to read, less things to see). Luckily, the beach is literally just outside and it’s quite lovely. Julia and I played on the beach for close to an hour while we waited for Peter – the water was a perfect temperature and there were plenty of shells to use as makeshift shovels and buckets. We had a muslin blanket to use as a towel and I dragged our lightweight stroller onto the sand without much difficulty.
  • Bayeux: We tried to go to the Tapestry Museum, but had the only experience in France with an unfriendly person. We were confused by the odd parking situation (there are these funny disks you can buy at tobacco stores, but it’s only loosely marked) and it felt like we were pulling teeth to try to get information about the options. We wanted to buy tickets and have Peter re-park the car, but the employee told us they were closing soon (it was 10 minutes to 5 and they don’t close till 6:30) and that we should probably just come back another day because we could “only” see the tapestry (we realized later that the museum was also open, so we would only potentially have missed a short film that we didn’t care about anyway). We moved the car and decided to walk around, visiting the beautiful cathedral and its crypt, and playing near the ducks at the Parc Michel Ornano. We ate dinner at Le Petit Normand, which is rated well on TripAdvisor. Julia loved my paté and Peter’s French onion soup, but neither Peter nor I were particularly enamored with the food. They did have a high chair, however, which made feeding Julia easy.

Day 2:

Exploring remnants of the artificial port with Daddy
Mom, the rations include chocolate, so mine should, too.
German gun battery at Longues-Sur-Mer
Testing out the kids’ audio guide at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum
Cooling off with ice cream on an unexpectedly hot day
Eating all the peanuts while we enjoy delicious cider on a terrace at sunset near the water mill. Beautiful!


  • Arromanche-Les-Bains: We loved seeing the remains of the artificial port. The fact that it’s largely still there really brings it to life. Peter enjoyed the model in the Landing Museum (it has moving “water” – impressive) and there was a good slide show and movie that Julia made it through, but then we headed out to watch the carousel and the beach. The restroom at the museum, by the way, is very tiny and would be impossible to change a diaper in, so don’t do that to yourself.
  • Longues-Sur-Mer: This was a quick stop to see the German gun battery. Julia and I mostly picked dandelions while Peter walked around, but it was a great spot to run around for her.
  • American Cemetery: The cemetery is really beautiful and touching. Respecting the dead is really important here, so Julia and I had several conversations about what that meant (no running, no climbing, etc) that she did a good job of listening to. If we had felt up to it, it would have also been nice to see the German cemetery to compare and contrast.
  • Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc: Julia fell asleep soon after leaving the cemetery and I felt really tired, so Peter drove the long way back to Bayeux past Omaha Beach and got out at Pointe du Hoc to walk around a bit.
  • Maisy Battery: Julia luckily woke up just in time so that I could join Peter with her in the toddler carrier. The Germans hid a gun battery that was only fairly recently uncovered (2006) after being an odd secret after the war. I really wanted to like this site given its interesting back story, but without more information (a guided tour would have been cool), most of the areas looked similar. I’m still glad we went, but am glad the entrance fee (6 EUR/adult) wasn’t atrocious.
  • Back to Bayeux: We finally made it to the Tapestry Museum! We definitely could have seen it the day prior, but the front desk and other staff were really friendly and helpful, so I’m not sorry we waited. Contrasting to the other things we saw, this was my chosen activity for the area (we studied the tapestry back in my AP Art History class in high school), so Peter took charge of making sure Julia didn’t ruin any millennia old artifacts. They had handheld audio tours (including one for kids, which Julia didn’t listen to, but loved holding) that played automatically as you walked by the tapestry, which is remarkably beautiful and intact. There’s also a small museum on the next floor that gives more information about the tapestry’s history, making and life at the time. It was a really hot day, so we got ice cream, bought Julia a new dress and walked around town before heading to dinner at Moulin de La Galette. The TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews were mostly good, but mixed. We loved the galettes (savory crepes made with buckwheat flour) and the price of our dinner on a beautiful terrace at sunset with a bottle of cider, side salad and fries was significantly less than we had paid elsewhere, so we were ecstatic. We got back to our B&B just as a giant and beautiful thunderstorm broke, so we got to watch it from the common area while we planned for the following day.

Day 3 (last day)

Baby yoga on the beach
Sure, now she loves the bike

We decided to putter around the Normandy area a bit before heading to Giverny, so we stopped near Juno beach in Courseulles-sur-Mer. Their extremely friendly and helpful tourist office (even open on Sundays) pointed us down the road to Chippie Plage, a tiny little hole in the wall stand that rented bikes. For 2 hours, our two bikes with a baby seat and a helmet for Julia (they didn’t have adult helmets) and extra smiles from the owners was only 9.50 EUR. They weren’t the best bikes in the world, and Julia (who was a little sleepy) didn’t love the fact that her head kept hitting Peter’s back, so we stopped by the beach and ate lunch. Julia and I went down to the beach to play while Peter continued on. She was so excited because there’s a horse riding school nearby and ponies and horses kept walking down the ramp near where we were playing. It was a beautiful day for being outside, and Julia liked the bike ride more on our way back when she was more awake. After our little activity, we stopped for ice cream before driving off towards Giverny!

Do you and your partner take turns switching off with activities and child occupying on vacation? How do you divide and conquer?

Travelogue: Normandy With A Toddler – Treehouse Stay

When we were originally scheduling our trip, it turned out that buying flights from Rome to Paris was significantly less expensive (about 120-150 EUR) on Wednesday than Thursday. Also, I had always wanted to stay in a treehouse in France, but when I lived there I didn’t have a car or enough time off to get to one. So when I looked at a map and saw that there were several national park areas in between Orly and our B&B in Normandy, we decided to book the earlier tickets and spend a night in a treehouse in the Perche area at the Chateau de La Grande Noë.

The Chateau has 6 treehouses on the property and all of them looked amazing, but I wrote to the manager, Agnès, to ask her which one would be best for our family (a 2 year old and a very tall husband). While she said La Fermette would be lovely, L’Echaugette (the Watch Tower) had a larger bed, so that made it my first choice.

We had the GPS navigate us to the property and it was a pretty easy and lovely drive. We arrived a little before 4 p.m. and Agnès met us with a map and gave us a little rucksack with water and flashlights and a rundown of the key features of the property before letting us loose. I think our treehouse might have been the shortest walk from the welcome area, but it still felt like we were in the middle of nowhere (in a good way).

Hiking to the treehouse
View from the bottom

Julia loved climbing up all those stairs, and I loved that they felt sturdy and had solid handrails (and a gate at the top to prevent accidental exits). Julia played with the box of toys that had kindly been left for her while we explored the interior. It is honestly the most beautiful space – a fairly large bed (probably an American queen) underneath a loft area that had two single beds, with a day bed across from the door. There was a small table indoors, a sawdust toilet, and a large deck with a table that seats 4 outside.


Peter felt tired after the flight and the 2 hour drive (EasyJet had utterly failed us and the ground crew didn’t push our stroller all the way through onto the oversize baggage conveyor, so we spent an extra hour trying to get it back since everyone was at lunch), so I took Julia out to see the farm. There are a couple of horses, guinea pigs and rabbits, a pony, goats, and chickens, as well as a parcours course for kids over 5 (Julia was too small to even try it), some yard toys, bicycles, and a kids tricycle. It would really be such a paradise to grow up there if you were a kid.

She’s ready to move onto the farm!
Hi horsies!
Hi pony! Hi goats!

A dinner aside: While we were sitting on the shaded grass and talking to the pony and goats, I did some quick research on places we might eat (no WiFi, so plan on having a French SIM card and some data) and came up with Les Pieds dans l’Eau (translates to Feet In The Water). We made a reservation for when they open at 7:30 (might not have needed it, but always a safe bet since some places were closed out of high season) and drove about 20-30 minutes to get there. The restaurant was in the most beautiful location – the sun was starting to set on a gorgeous day and the restaurant is located on a pond in what looks like an old house with a beautiful terrace out front that has rocks and flowers. Even more magical – we started down the stairs and another toddler girl waved to us saying “Coucou” (French familiar for “hello!”). Julia was so excited to see another child that she ran right up and said “Hi!” and waved. She had been shy around other kids for a large part of our stay in Rome, and is generally cautious, so this melted my little mother’s heart. The little girl was named Juliette and she’s the owners’ 20 month old daughter. What?! This place was perfect! The girls loved playing together (although sharing Julia’s toys was hard for both of them) and it gave Peter and me a chance to sip an apéritif with pear liqueur that the owner recommended, which was the perfect recipe for relaxation.

I told Julia that my foie gras appetizer was special butter and she ate it with relish, and enjoyed Peter’s sweetbreads (fun fact that I had completely forgotten: riz de veau has nothing to do with rice). She got a little antsy in between appetizers and dinner, so we took turns hanging out with her while she threw rocks in the pond and the other person sipped wine. For dinner, they very sweetly made her a child-sized portion of brandade (like a fish purée) that was beautifully presented even for a toddler, because this was France. I had a crab parmentier and Peter had a steak with a delicious wine sauce. Dessert was a large macaron with a chocolate filling and a quadruplet of strawberry/pineapple mini items. We loved the ambiance here so much and it was everything I imagined eating in the French countryside to be.

Back to the treehouse: we arrived back and Julia wanted to sleep in the loft, so I did her whole bedtime routine up there, but then when I climbed down, she was really upset. We tried putting her down on the day bed, but she changed her mind again (#toddlers) and wanted back in the loft, where she tucked herself in and promptly went to sleep for her first night in a big girl bed. Peter and I sat on the deck for an hour, chatting and sipping cider while we planned for the next day. I slept in the other single bed to make sure Julia wouldn’t climb out of the loft and had the best sleep of the whole trip. Most of our other apartments felt hot, but the treehouse was the perfect temperature (since we didn’t turn any heat on and it wasn’t too cold out) and the quiet peacefulness lulled me right to sleep.

The next morning, I woke up just a few minutes before our breakfast arrived on a golf cart, which Agnès hooked to a rope so we could pull it up. Peter and Julia woke up shortly thereafter and we enjoyed fresh coffee, tea and hot chocolate with croissants, baguette, local honey, butter and jam. It was delicious!

Enjoying our breakfast – Julia licked all the jam off the spoons, obviously

We had originally planned to leave soon after breakfast to get to Mont Saint Michel as soon as possible, but when Peter went to take a shower and Julia and I were walking to the car with our bags, two of the little girls who live in the caretaker’s house were waiting for us on the path. We couldn’t resist a chance for Julia to play with other kids, so we stayed for another 2 hours while the girls (who were 5 and 8 and mostly only spoke French, so I translated back and forth because my French is about a 1st grade level…) played together. They picked bouquets of dandelions, imitated the chickens and horses, and ran together and I nearly died of the cuteness. We finally went to check out close to 11 a.m. and I felt sorry to leave the beautiful property and the lovely people who manage it.

Have you ever stayed in a treehouse? Would you bring your kids along?