Sometimes the best destinations are not new or exotic. They’re old and close to home, their charms forgotten over the years. Normandy and Brittany have been popular in the past. Now they are being rediscovered, twin destinations combining rich cultural heritage with unique natural landscapes.
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Spectacular cliff-lined beaches, time-warped old villages, fantastic food, and an authentic local atmosphere. Except nobody really knows Normandy for these reasons. Normandy is famous for people dying on beaches during World War II.
Nobody knows Brittany for these reasons either. For people born in the 1960s and 1970s, Brittany is where your grandparents went on holiday, before the war. And for people born since the 1980s, where’s Brittany?
These two regions in northwestern France are easily accessible from Paris. They also have multiple private jet airports. Either destination can be perfect for a romantic weekend. Or also two weeks with the family.
Normandy and Brittany are safe destinations close to home. Yet they’re also very different. Which is why we see them trending in 2022.
Destinations to Visit
Mont Saint Michel
So surreal at high tide, Mont Saint-Michel hovers above the water, a moody fortified village home to monks and nuns. It’s even more mysterious when choirsong escapes from the Abbey twice a day. Take a walk on the Saint-Malo ramparts and find yourself on a spiritual island from the Middle Ages. UNESCO describes it best – “the marvel of the Western world.”
A walled city of cobblestone and intrigue, Vannes may just be the prettiest town in France. Think pavement cafes, half-timbered buildings, medieval squares and traditional markets. Stay inside the fortified city but also hit the beaches. Vannes is the gateway to the Gulf of Morbihan, an archipelago of 42 islands in the Atlantic.
Brittany’s capital city is magical for a weekend trip, taking you on a journey across many different centuries. It has the charms you normally associate with France, but it’s not that French. Rennes has its own vibe. Art, architecture, culture, food: Rennes and Brittany have forged their own style.
A 70-metre-long embroidery created in the 11th century. The Bayeux Tapestry scale is astonishing and the highlight is inspecting the details up close – here you will find some battlefield deaths from 1066, stitched into lace. After the tapestry check out the Gothic Bayeux Cathedral nearby. Then spend the night and get lost in the town’s history.
Normandy and Brittany rule for fresh, traditional seafood. The best fresh oysters come from here, where you can eat them freshly plucked from the sea. With one shuck a Breton can tell you exactly where on the coast the oyster comes from – the flavour variety is astonishing. And did you know that eating fresh oysters helps to save the planet.
You haven’t experienced sardines until you’ve tried them in Brittany. Here the tinned sardines are seriously creative and gourmet. They have vintages, like wines, with the best tins getting better over time.
Europe’s best scallops? Yep, they’re found in this northern part of France as well, where they are served in a buttery cream sauce. Steamed mussels are so freshly available they’re a cheap, everyday food in Brittany and Normandy. We like the richness of mussels cooked in a creamy sauce made from local cider.
Are crepes from France or Italy? Actually they come from Brittany. It’s hard to go five minutes without seeing another creperie and you can just imagine the quality of hotel breakfasts in this region. Go super traditional by trying a Breton galette complête, a buckwheat pancake filled with local ham, cheese and a softly fried egg.
The Impressionist art scene was in Paris but it was Normandy that inspired the Impressionists. Monet’s garden is in Giverny and there are dozens of settings immortalised on canvas, like the Alabaster Coast and town of Honfleur. For example, the five-star Ferme St-Simeon hotel and spa was regularly frequented by Renoir, Pissarro, Monet and others. Normandy’s soft, distinctive light and picturesque beauty helped revolutionise art – the region looks as mysterious now as it did in the late 19th century.
Apples apples everywhere, so let’s go drink cider. Half-timbered 19th-century estates are the classic Norman cider settings, in the Pays d’Auge region. There are cider bars and organic producers as well. Just make sure you’re guided by a farmer or cider maker and note that small scale is usually best here.
Cider is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, mineral salts and…alcohol. That’s how good a holiday in Normandy and Brittany will be: even the alcoholic drinks are genuinely good for your physical health.
In northwestern France the landscape varies from empty, windswept sand beaches to peaceful hedged fields and farms. Gastronomy and art are also present, and even fashion — did you know Christian Dior spent his childhood in Normandy? You can visit his home in Granville and explore towns that inspired many other top French designers.
There’s So Much More
Stand on the windswept D-Day beaches just north of Caen. Taste Calvados brandy in Normandy. Travel along the coast to discover the impressive Étretat cliffs, the secret haunt of fictional criminal Arsène Lupin. Roam the medieval streets of Rouen and Harfleur. Meet farmers, to taste and learn all about camembert cheese.
Summer is the time to visit Normandy and Brittany, with May to September bringing very pleasant weather. These old destinations are going to be among the new destinations of 2022.