The following post and photos come from Zoe of @zobolondon.
The last time I took a ferry across the English Channel I was six years old. I guess like many others I’ve just got so used to air travel that taking a ferry hasn’t crossed my mind. It will from now on! The whole process of sailing from Dover to Calais was just so easy. As soon as we boarded we headed to the Club Lounge and relaxed with a glass of champagne until we reached Calais, with a couple of bracing visits to the outside deck.
Once in Normandy we made our way to the charming seaside Normandy town of Étretat famous for three chalky arches that rise up out of the stunning turquoise sea. We headed off to walk along the jagged coastline and then up along the windswept cliffs.
On the top of one sits the charming Chapel Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde and opposite the stunning Jardins D’Étretat inspired by the paintings of Monet (who in fact painted his Étretat series here). This avant-garde garden, where vegetation creates magnificent sculpture is not to be missed, and the dramatic natural landscape only adds to the drama.
Stay: Dormy House Hotel
Eat: Le Donjon
Our next stop was the impressive town of Dinan in Brittany. The majority of the town rises high above the river Rance on the surrounding hillside. People have settled in this walled town and its’ surrounding area for centuries. We walked along the old ramparts to the Jardins Anglais and then to the Tour L’Horloge to climb the 158 steps for a birdseye view of this medieval town.
We then headed down the incredibly picturesque (and steep) Rue de Jerzual which winds down to the port. This street is wall-to-wall timber-framed houses, stained glass windows and other quirky examples of medieval architecture. Finally at the port we sat in a waterside café in front of the fishing boats and enjoyed a glass of wine as the sunset.
Stay: Hotel Arvor
Eat: La Fleur de Sel
Le Mont St-Michel has long been on my list of places to see! Set on a small island just off the coast where Normandy and Brittany merge, there aren’t many historical sites that trump this place when it comes to settings! The island’s towering abbey, which dominates the surrounding landscape, is one of the most captivating and recognisable landmarks in the country, with an incredible history and architecture.
We parked the car and, despite the option of a free shuttle bus (which we caught on the way back!), walked the 30 minutes to the island. Approaching the island on foot is a must, its setting is just spectacular. On the island itself we walked the narrow cobbled streets through the hustle and bustle to visit the Abbey and afterwards descended via the ramparts for a bit of respite from the crowds.
Tip: Arrive well before opening time to avoid the crowds and check the local tide timetable so you can decide if you want to see the island surrounded by water at high tide, or empty of water.
Next up was Honfleur and I was absolutely blown away. The cobble stoned-lined back streets were jam-packed with a variety of houses of all shapes, sizes, and time periods. Artists, including Monet, have flocked here for centuries for inspiration and it was lovely to see this continuing today with many artists sat along the harbourfront painting the tightly packed in boats that line it. There are also galleries and studios open to visitors, though head into the backstreets to find the best.
We also stayed in our favourite hotel of the trip in Honfleur, at the wonderful 18th century Maison du Parc. This family run hotel was everything we could have wanted and we felt at home immediately thanks to the warm welcome from owner Amande, art deco furniture, four poster beds and amazing homemade breakfasts (the courgette crumble is really something!) A ten-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the city centre this was the perfect place to stay and encapsulated the essence of Honfleur.
Stay: La Maison du Parc
Eat: Bistro des Artistes
Our final stop before heading home was the seaside town of Le Touquet which lies almost within sight of the UK mainland. Well, if you really look hard! This is a resort with a retro feel and is one of France’s oldest seaside towns.
Pine woods line the drive to the wide beach. A century ago it became popular with Parisians looking to relax. Until F. Scott Fitzgerald and his pals made the Riviera a fashionable summer destination in the 1920s and 30s and Le Touquet sprang to life. We had some simple croquet madames in Le Touquet’s oldest café and a chat to the adorable over Philippe before walking along the (foggy that day) beach. We even booked a Segway lesson, which was a fun way to take in the seafront.
Eat: Café de la Poste
CALAIS – DOVER
And just like that our four day trip (had it only been four days?!) came to an end and we eased out way back onto the ferry at Calais to take us back to Dover. We enjoyed some great food in the Club Lounge and another glass of champagne!
Thank you P+O Ferries for reintroducing me to this way to travel. I’ll be back, and sooner than you think! I’ve just seen the other places you sail to!
Inspired by Zoe’s four days in Northern France? Take a look at our crossings from Dover to Calais today!