When people talk about France, attention always falls first to the beautiful Paris, its museums, the Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower, cruises on the Seine, the romantic artists’ quarter of Montmartre, the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral, crepes with the Eiffel Tower in the background, and the smell of croissants in the morning. Paris would need half a blog to be able to be explained and made to be appreciated in the best possible way.
Paris catalyzes a huge number of tourists, and excursions around it are mostly related to the Palace of Versailles or Disneyland for those in the company of their children.
Keeping the beautiful capital as a base, it is also possible to go on less popular excursions that nonetheless allow you to fully immerse yourself in the French landscapes. In my recent trip to Normandy i had the pleasure of visiting the environs of Paris with all the small towns nestled in the countryside, pastures and the charm of the bends of the Seine.
Short driving itinerary around Paris
With this article, I want to propose an itinerary of a few hundred kilometers that can be easily done in two days starting from Paris, reaching the sea on the English Channel, and then returning to the French capital. This itinerary includes at least one night outside Paris.
You might be interested in: Things to do in Normandy
Step 1 – Giverny: discovering impressionism
As you leave Paris you will notice how immediately the landscape becomes contrasting with that of the capital you have just left. The crowded city neighborhoods will give way to huge expanses of fields, some cultivated, others ready to be plowed. Trees, roads amidst the green countryside, suddenly you will feel immersed in tranquility.
Giverny is a very small (really tiny) village about 80 km northwest of Paris. Why do I recommend this stop? Because Giverny is an icon for those who love French impressionism. Giverny is home to the foundation and house of Claude Monet, one of the best known and most prolific painters of the Impressionist movement.
Giverny offers no other attractions, but this one is enough. The gardens are disarmingly beautiful in all seasons, a small oasis of peace and serenity within Giverny, which itself does not shine for chaos or stress; so you can imagine how fascinating it is to get lost in the gardens of the foundation.
Monet’s house is also very interesting: small but warmly colored and cozy rooms, paintings everywhere, it feels for all intents and purposes like going back a century.
Little tips: getting to the foundation is not difficult at all. Giverny is tiny and you will not struggle to find directions to the foundation. There is a parking lot in front of the entrance where you can leave your car. Consider committing at least 1.5/2 hours to the visit.
Step 2 – Les Andeleys: the city on the bends of the Seine
The whole itinerary on the outskirts of Paris that I am proposing points to the northwest, the next stop being Les Andeleys, a town not far from Giverny.
Compared to the latter, it is significantly larger. Built on a bend in the Seine, its special feature is the view from the Château Gaillard. By itself, the village of Les Andeleys does not offer much more, but the view from the castle’s rock is phenomenal.
Step 3 – Rouen: a city to discover
They call it the city of a hundred steeples. Once you arrive in the city you can see why. Every glimpse of Rouen features a spire or a church; there are so many of them that sometimes you are likely to mistake each one for the cathedral.
Instead, Notre Dame Cathedral is just one and is easily recognizable because of its stupendous and enormous facade.
All the others are churches that have played an important role during the history of Rouen, such as Saint Maclou, which was badly hit and damaged by bombing in 1944 during World War II.
Rouen is not only the city of a hundred steeples, it is also known as the place where Joan of Arc was killed in Place du Vieux Marché.
It is therefore a very interesting city indeed. It is 40 kilometers from the previous stage and is just a couple of hours’ drive from Paris itself. This means that in case you do not want to spend a night outside the capital, you can do step 1-2-3 in the day and avoid continuing to the sea. In case you want to continue north, then the advice is to find accommodation in Rouen to continue the itinerary the next day.
Read also: Things to do in Rouen
Step 4 – Honfleur: the romantic medieval city
It takes just over 90 km and 1 hour and 10 minutes to reach Honfleur from Rouen.
The beauty of this town is matched by the cost of its parking lots: huge!
It was and is an important port in Normandy and northern France in general. The harbor represents exactly the center of the town arranged in a horseshoe shape on the port area. In the evening Honfleur acquires that touch of romance with all the lights of the small restaurants reflecting in the water.
I’m suggesting Honfleur as the penultimate stop on the entire itinerary, it’s a stopover that doesn’t allow you to see it when the sun goes down but if you get a chance to spend a night there you will see it in its full glory.
Tip: stop for a plate of fresh crevettes (shrimp) at a restaurant overlooking the harbor!!!
Step 5 – Étretat: walking on the chalk cliffs
Étretat is the blue-roofed town nestled between the cliffs of the alabaster coast. To get there from Honfleur, one must cross a remarkable piece of engineering: the Pont du Normandie over the Maritime Seine. A (toll) 59-meter-high bridge that connects Lower Normandy to Upper Normandy.
Étretat is 45 kilometers from Honfleur, just over half an hour’s drive, minimal distances for those accustomed to ontheroads of several hundred kilometers each way. The beauty of Normandy is also this, the fact that it has so many interesting places within a few miles of each other.
So Étretat represents the last stop on this two-day itinerary around Paris. This small town is famous for its impressive chalk cliffs overlooking the sea: the Aval and Amont cliffs. Tourists appreciate these places because there are paths that make it easy to climb the cliffs and look at Étretat from another point of view. On one cliff they even built a golf course, nothing more exclusive!
Read also: How to visit Étretat
The village of Étretat itself is very pretty, although, excluding the casino, it does not have many clubs or activities to do in the evening. I visited it in October and the season was practically already over, probably in July and August there is a bit more life.
Step 6 – Return to Paris
A couple of hours from Étretat and you will be back in Paris. An alternative, should you still have time, would be to proceed to Fécamp and Le Tréport to appreciate the entire alabaster coast.
Conclusions and useful links
There are some very interesting places to discover in the Paris environs. Without necessarily having to go deep into lower Normandy, it is possible to follow this itinerary starting from the French capital. It can be done in a day or in two days by reaching as far as the north coast.