Nothing like Normandy, to escape Paris for a day. This little town doesn’t disappoint with its charm, perfect for a crêpe or a gelato if sea food is not your thing. I will always choose Etretat for the cliffs, though, these here don’t have enough of a display to appreciate them fully. Still, sea air always does. Plus, I captured a few lovely doors.
Dipping your feet into the hot grainy sand and then into the refreshing ever flowing ocean, let the strong wind mess up your hair and the deceivingly smooth sun redden your skin, why not feel every drop of its moisture. You’re touching summer.
It was the perfect day. Doing a spontaneous train trip with my best friend to Normandy, exploring the cheese markets and flirting with the vendors, then just hanging out on the ridiculously wide sunny beach, after refreshing our toes in the Atlantic. Ice cream was there, and this colourful summer essentials that made me wonder what kind of collage view they form from the above. No doubt how we ended it – with cocktails!
France, like many European countries, is a treasure chest of (long) weekend trips, whether you want to explore charming old towns or relax at the seaside. No matter where you’re located, the TGV train system makes almost everything feel close enough to just go and return in the same day or two. Cheap it is not, true, but with a bit of advance organisation or cutting the unnecessary budget expenses elsewhere somehow still usually doable. For me, it is a matter of priorities. I’ll make my own sandwich and give up coffee that day (no, this I never do…), not use any other public transport, only my own pair of legs, and skip the hotels, so I’ll manage. And it never quite gets old, exploring this beauty of a country.
First, of course, there’s the Île de France region, with all the castles and palaces, parks and villages, from Fontainebleau to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. I, however, am aiming further out. (I’m deliberately not including Provence here which, truth be told, itself alone deserves a whole two weeks minimum anyway.) Some of the places below would with all they have to offer easily demand more than just a weekend, yet they are even if you don’t have the time still worth giving it the few hours you do have. Hope the below gives a few ideas to start your discoveries.
After a few of my own, I decided to share my personal favourites …
Normandy: The North equivalent of Provence, I’d say. And so close to Paris, too. It’s probably best to rent a car if you have the possibility and just roam from town to town along the coast. Honfleur, Deauville, Trouville, Cabourg are a few of the Riviera essentials among so many. Just be prepared for the wind… and the crêpes. Then, you have the city of Rouen with its own cathedral and Le Havre for the impressionism fans. Another classic, of course, it’s Giverny, a nice village with the perhaps most known personal garden in the world – Monet’s. This, I find a bigger must than Versailles and a far more pleasing day trip from Paris, especially in summer and spring.
Étretat : The absolute favourite among the Normandy jewels. Despite the lovely village, it’s nature that reigns here with the magnificent cliffs and meadows.
Bordeaux : This city is the nicest of surprises. You hear talking about it only because of the wine, just to realize its charm has nothing to do with it. Get a good fix of strolls, markets, bistros, history and art. What more do you need?
La Rochelle : When in need of a seaside break in-between the beach and a little town life, think of this one. Take coffee at the Vieux Port, then hit the sand and the rocks and the welcoming sunshine. Again, be prepared for the wind, it’s still the Atlantic.
You can also choose among the other big cities/towns. Strasbourg, Lille, Bourges, Lyon, Toulouse, Marseille… I’d recommend the last two the most, but then they are the furthest from Paris. There, you can easily immerse into their old quarters for a few hours, explore the history and enjoy the laid back atmosphere, in my experience much more than in the others.
Then, of course, there are the smaller ones as well, often even more appealing with their innocent charm, for the last few ideas!
Mont Saint Michel : The magical historical place that competes with Paris for the number of visitors per year.
Chartres : For one of the most beautiful cathedrals and a simple walk through its streets.
Troyes : Another medieval destination, not far from Paris.
Colmar : The least French-like among them all, but so cute.
Now, ready, steady, go! I’ll sure be on my way to a new one soon, I haven’t quite completed the list myself…
From the seed to the flower, from the fruit to the fallen leaves, the roots and the empty branches, there is always this anticipating the next form of life in nature, ever so patient in its expectancy. Because they are necessities? Maybe that is why it’s calming, soothing, seeing the cycle and recognizing it for it.
The cut between the summer holidays and working autumn that has now transformed into a chilling winter seems more brutal than the one during school years when the classes and the tests began. Or is it just a lack of relying memory? Now, the time when I relax is the time when I rest, catch a moment to breathe, lie down and watch a movie. It’s getting harder to read with this rebellious short concentration, to write is a miracle rarely fully realized.
In summer, though, I actually took a whole day to get away and walk the anxiety out, meditate at a distant grassy spot, I could take my shoes off and splash the sea water around me, I was reading a complicated essay collection that got my brain cells going.
I’m glad I took a photo of those moments. They just reminded me to make a plan and escape the unbearable hardness of the morning commute I somehow became a part of. Work itself is not the problem, its omnipresence and overwhelming-ness is. Its insistance on consuming all of your energy and efforts, so that your personality and joyful passions are slowly vanishing into nothing. Wake yourself.
I’ve always had a special relation to cliffs and edges of any sort – fascination and vertigo entwined, in the most curious of minds. Of parts of my mind at least.
I’ve always had a special relation to cliffs and edges of any sort – fascination and vertigo entwined, in the most curious of minds. Of parts of my mind at least. Everything defined in that mixture of adventure and fear. However, I soon realized they are innocent in themselves, it was me who saw that limit of theirs as something full of options which transforms into charm. They are what I find as the most beautiful type of seaside.
This summer I enjoyed the ones in Étretat, Normandy, France. A day that has stayed my favourite of all the one-day trips. That meditation spot where I took off the shoes after a longish walk, rested my legs and only watched, looked, listened. It was so calm and joyful that the edge lost its edginess.
There is something about Normandy that always captivates me. But there is something particularly spellbinding in Étretat.
There is something about Normandy that always captivates me. Is it the style buildings wear with such loveliness or the fields and grass and branches and cows and birds that surround you on your road trip and which you desperately swallow up, like a person on their way back to the city desert usually does?
But there is something particularly spellbinding in Étretat. It is so obvious – it is the cliffs, it is the richness of the flora and the fauna, and of course, it is the beach and the sea. While you’re soaking up the sun rays and dipping your feet in the refreshing ocean water, you probably have one of the best possible views, in the meantime walking bare-foot on pebbles will even grant you a free massage, too.
But all that comes at break-time, after already climbing a few steps and following one stunning cliff after another, taking a walk among occasionally quite high grass and numerous meadow flowers, catching bees and a butterfly or two with your eyes and listening to the desperate cries of the many seagulls above you. Don’t stop your stroll at the most obvious point, but go further on one of the prettiest promenade you could possibly imagine. Because then you find your own little meditation spot where not many people bother you and the view is all yours to appreciate for half an hour or so while your skin is slowly getting rid of the winter paleness. Do remember to bring your sunscreen next time, though.
I needed 10 years to finally come to this place I had heard about during a French lesson, and the day I did was one of those days I live for, a summer trip at its best.