AnneMarie McCarthy, Lonely Planet's destination editor for France, recently traveled to Normandy for an autumnal foodie tour that was packed with farm-to-table treats and cozy accommodations. Here, she shares some tips and insights for anyone planning a similar trip.
After spending most of 2023 working on the upcoming France guidebook (publishing next April!), I was eager to spend time on the ground in France, not just in my head. After being enamored with our writer Cyrena Lee’s descriptions of Normandy I eagerly took a foodie tour around the region, exploring the importance of local food culture and tasting autumnal harvest delights.
Where did you stay? What was the vibe?
We were fortunate to stay in three different places on three different nights, each with a different budget and atmosphere. Les Canisses is tucked under a bridge but is incredibly peaceful and quiet, offering a calming view of the River Seine. Downstairs, there is a popular restaurant with an open fire that gives it a homestyle feel. It's just a 12-minute drive from the Vernon Giverny train station (less than an hour from Paris), making it a great budget option, with rooms starting from €68 and suites from €112.
Night two was spent at La Malherbière gîte (holiday home) overlooking Camembert Valley, accommodating up to nine people. Breakfast can also be provided, including apple juice and honey from the same estate. Normally, the gîte is rented out on a weekly basis, starting at €1000 for the week. Our final night was at the dreamy five-star Château La Chenevière, just outside the fishing village of Port-en-Bessin. It is a splurge-worthy stay for foodies, with its own herb and vegetable garden emphasizing permaculture. You don't need to be a resident to dine at its restaurant, Le Botaniste; their three-course menu is €72 per person (excluding wine). Room rates start from approximately €260.
Best thing you ate?
Now this is a tough one! After much deliberation, I would have to say the scallops ceviche made with orange juice and carrots at Château La Chenevière, which we saw being made in the kitchen with chef Hugo Genty after preparing the scallops ourselves. A close runner-up must be the two-course lunch at Sara’zin creperie in the little town of Pont-Audemer, full of winding streets. The main course was a galette (buckwheat pancake) with gorgonzola and apple (of course), followed by a dessert of a sweet crepe topped with sakura-infused pear and whipped cream. They have an extensive cider menu to pair with the food too.
What was the most touristy thing you did?
We took a break from eating to visit the House of Claude Monet in Giverny, home to the famous water lilies that inspired the Impressionist master. It was just a couple of weeks away from closing for the winter, and we saw this reflected in the fading of the blooms, but it was still a spectacular sight. The place is hugely popular with cruise tours, which can make for a crowded experience as you navigate the narrow paths. Aim to go an hour or so before closing time to avoid the crowds, although it's likely to be somewhat busy no matter what time of day.
What's your favorite photo from the trip?
This postcard-perfect snap was taken at La Ferme de l'Instière, an organic farm that produces its own Camembert. It embodies the essence of the whole trip: a spread of good, local food in a bucolic idyll. The photo captures Dalila, one of the farmers, as she explains the care they take of their cows, the cheese-making process, and their commitment to always maintaining the best quality, rather than solely focusing on business growth and profits. Most of the producers I met were fiercely protective not only of the quality of the food they produced but also of their quality of life, seeing the two as intrinsically connected.
Did you bring home a souvenir?
Oh yes, I exceeded my baggage weight limit on the way back to bring a taste of Normandy with me. My overloaded bag was filled with semi-sweet cider from Mont Viné cidrerie, cider jam and calvados (an apple brandy) from Calvados Busnel Distillery, pommeau (an aperitif made with calvados), and various delicious cider varieties from the scenic La Galotière cider farm. These goodies were made even sweeter because they came after tours and tastings of the farms and production areas, and the passion of the people producing them really shone through.
What was the most under-the-radar activity you enjoyed?
The small Musée du Camembert in Vimoutiers is run by volunteers and provides a wealth of information, not only on the history of Camembert, but also a snapshot of the various types of advertising found on the famous circular wooden boxes – some artistic, some traditional, some downright surreal. You can also take part in a workshop at the museum where you make your own butter, a simple process that just requires patience and a bit of elbow grease. Don’t worry, you’re rewarded with a tasting of various local cheeses afterwards.
AnneMarie traveled to Normandy at the invitation of Atout France. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.