There are thousands of excellent guidebooks about Normandy and we cannot claim our love of vintage postcards makes us experts on this delightful region. However it would be irresponsible not to share a few of the difficult lessons learnt as well as some of the happy traveler insights that have helped our visits to Normandy become an addiction.
New to Normandy? Read the most useful information from the Normans themselves.
Ferry from the UK? East of Englanders can save a lot of money taking the ferry from Dover to Calais. Driving to Normandy from Calais takes less time than the ferry to Dieppe or Le Havre, and you can stop on the way. We suggest Wimereux is much nicer for lunch than Boulogne.
Public holidays? Brocantes and Vide Grenier may well be happening, but the banks, hypermarkets and lots of other shops will be closed, so be prepared.
Brocante and vide grenier diary? Ours of course! The tourist information office in your nearest town often carry a local list as well.
- The brocante lovers guide (all about finding vintage and antique treasures).
On the road
Driving? Very sensible, you will need a car in Normandy it is huge.
Assume all UK laws apply, with a few tweaks:
Do check you have the full French travel pack (breathalyser, fluorescent jackets etc etc). It’s not a suggested list it’s a law with an expensive on the spot fine if you forget.
Remember to stick on some headlamp beam deflectors or you will be breaking the law as well as blinding oncoming traffic. They will be available on the ferry or the Eurostar shop or buy online beforehand.
The RAC will keep you up to date on the latest must-have-in-the-car list for drivers:
- RAC driving in France essentials
New law for drivers in France
The French government have launched a new scheme for all cars driving in Paris and other French cities (currently Lyon and Grenoble) which will include British registered cars.
From 31/03/2017 your car needs to display an emissions sticker showing the age and cleanliness of your vehicle.
If your vehicle does not display the sticker you could face hefty on the spot fines. The anti-pollution sticker can only be ordered on-line from the official Crit’ Air website www.certificat-air.gouv.fr
Paperwork. Make sure you have all the correct documents with you. Don’t leave the gite without your passport (keep it on you at all times!), driving licence, vehicle registration, insurance documents and travel insurance.
Breakdown. Add European breakdown insurance to your cover, including repatriating your car to the UK, as this can save you a fortune in garage bills, storage for your broken down car in France, a hotel for the night, a hire car… Oh yes we know. Breakdown insurance is one of the best bits of holiday planning ever, it has saved us from a night sleeping rough in the middle of nowhere and unimaginable costs incurred leaving a car in France to be fixed, paid for us to get back to the UK for work then back to France to pick it up.
Motorway driving? Carry cash to pay the the péage, toll – these can range from €1 to more than €20, sometimes just by going in a different direction. Or:
- Get a Libert-t auto toll pass online and zoom through the tolls without a care. Until you check your bank statement, as this method takes the fees by direct debit.
Indulge in some route planning that accurately assesses toll charges with Autoroutes.fr
Not sure what the speed limits are? Keep safe and avoid fines:
- Speed limits and road signs in France
Driving a bit fast? When you have paid huge tolls to travel on lovely empty motorways in Normandy (locals save their cash and drive A roads) is it easy to get carried away and exceed the speed limit. If you tend to be a bit heavy with the accelerator, take cash for on the spot fines. If stopped and cashless the police will take your passport while you pop off to the cashpoint.. Oh and drive a lot over the limit and the police can confiscate your car. And sell it. Probably best to have a look at this page before you go, it makes quite interesting reading:
- Speeding fines in France
Radar detection kit? It is illegal to have a radar detection device in your car in France and will lead to on-the-spot fines. If you’re GPS has an option to display local speed traps it MUST be disabled.
Headphones: No, just don’t, especially when cycling. It is illegal and can cost you 135€ plus a deeply unpleasant conversation with the French police.
Children on board? Age 10 an under kids must be in the back with a seat-belt (adapted to fit them). If the back of the car is full of under 10’s then and only then can a child that age sit up front.
Drink and drive? Don’t. We all know it’s a bad idea, no excuses, never-mind that in France random testing is common and the legal blood-alcohol limit is low (lower than the UK).
Traffic updates on the radio. Tune in to 107.7 for radio ‘autoroute’ !
Emergency. Dial 112 for the emergency services.
***DRIVER NOTE FOR 2017!
British drivers have avoided many fines in France as the DVLA has not shared Brits driver info. This is all changing in 2017 when the DVLA will make details available to the French authorities.
You may be lucky enough to be using a hotel or apartment with free WIFI included in the package price. Unfortunately, not all holiday accommodation offers this service.
A much better alternative is to search for the FON network in your WIFI settings. For @ €5 per day or @ €15 for 5 days, you get unlimited internet access wherever you have a WIFI signal.
You can use it on your laptop, smartphone, tablet, in fact, anything with a WIFI capability!
Sign up and Surf
You will need to register but this is simple and extremely straightforward. Simply connect to the FON WIFI network and open your browser. If it doesn’t auto connect to the FON registration page, just open a random website and you will be redirected. Enter all your details and your account will be opened.
Free and Fabulous
Le musée est gratuit pour tout public le premier dimanche de chaque mois…
Across France a delightful range of museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. Check with your local tourist information office for a full local list, but here are a few:
- Château de Saint Germain de Livet, near Lisieux
- Museum of Normandy and Musée des Beaux-Arts in Caen
- Cultural space the Dominican in Pont L’Eveque
- Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Lisieux
- Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bernay
- Musée Alfred Canel, Pont de Audemer
- Musée d’Évreux, former Bishops house in Evreux
- Musée Alphonse Georges Poulain, Vernon town museum
- Musée Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle d’Alencon (art and lace) in Alencon
- Musée de l’Abbaye at Graville
- Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée Le Secq des Tournelles, (metalwork) and Musée de la Céramique (ceramics) in Rouen
In the summer Rouen puts on an amazing light and sound show against the cathedral. Different every year it is always imaginative, dramatic and free. Timed to be just after an early dinner in one of the town’s many excellent restaurants (we suggest you check out those in Place du Vieux Marché) bring a brolly and something to sit on.
(More coming soon!)
Do you have traveler tips to add?
Please share your Normandy traveler tips, we would love to hear them.
The last train back from Paris to Deauville is ridiculously early. Whatever the tourist information office says, start your Paris day trip from Le Havre or Caen. Lots more commuters but also a lot more trains!