There’s much more to the Normandy coast than tanks and landing craft
We Brits owe a lot to the Normans. Never mind what we called William before he became the Conqueror, this was where he hailed from. Though Caen was his capital, its massive castle one of the few buildings to survive D-Day, the story of his ascension to the English throne is famously told on the tapestry still displayed in Bayeux.
But though Normandy is rich in history, it’s more than a living theme park. It’s a beautiful countryside – in some ways like the south of England, with its verdant fields fringed by hedges and divided by twisty, enjoyable roads. But the villages are very different – churches that somehow look less Norman than the Norman churches of the Home Counties surrounded by grey-stone houses built with proportions that aren’t quite how we do it in Britain.
It creates an interesting atmosphere: you feel instantly at home, yet at the same time it’s clear you’re in a different land. That sense of holiday, of adventure, is there – but there’s a reassuring feeling of familiarity too. It makes it an easy place to have a relaxing holiday.
PLACES TO STAY
Smaller and quieter than Caen, with much more of an old-world feel to it, Bayeux’s an excellent base town. Plenty to do off the bike (from D-Day museums to the famous tapestry) and handy for great riding in every direction.
Hotel tip: Hotel Le Lion d’Or
A charming town on the coast north of Le Havre: great sea views and brilliant roads nearby. Not the place if you want to be out on the town every night but perfect for a stress-free break.
Hotel tip: Auberge les Tonnelle
The Cherbourg Peninsula has plenty of popular resort towns, ideal if you want a day or two of sun worshipping. Our favourite is the smart but unpretentious Barneville, which has a particularly nice beach.
Hotel tip: Hotel des Isles
Further inland from the coast, the small city of Alençon opens up a whole world of beautiful riding, through the Orne region, Suisse Normande. For our money, a much more pleasant city than the neighbouring Le Mans.
Hotel tip: Hotel Des Ducs
OFF THE BIKE
The big attraction for many visitors are the D-Day beaches, which run from Sword (Ouistreham/Lions sur Mer) to Utah on the Cherbourg peninsula. There are plenty of great museums; Juno Beach Centre , Utah Beach, Musee Arromanches. The American cemetery at Colleville and the Omaha beach memorial are must-see sites.
Home to France’s MotoGP race, a 24-hour bike race and apparently some cars as well. The city itself has all the charm of Birmingham (so some people love it) but it is petrolhead heaven. The Le Mans circuit’s museum is focused more on cars than bikes, but still interesting.
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE!
Handy for the lovely village of Barfleur is the impressive granite spire of the Gatteville lighthouse.
The huge Caen castle was once the seat of power of one William the Bastard… who became the Conqueror. Definitely worth a look – but not the only great castle in Normandy. Also try the moated, romantic Crèvecoeuren-Auge, Museum of Normandy
A great lunch stop in a medieval town that celebrates its metallurgical past with copper saucepans and bell foundries.
Nestling in a valley east of Rouen, Lyons-la-Forêt is another of France’s most beautiful villages, often used as a film set for historical dramas thanks to its beautiful covered ‘halle’ and house where Ravel stayed.
CAP DE LA HAGUE
Few people have heard of this coastal area west of Cherbourg, but it’s gorgeous. Cap de La Hague is like the prettiest bits of Cornish coast with a view of Alderney. Well, so long as you ignore the nuclear power station.
Really easy: get on a boat. With ferries to Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre and Dieppe (not to mention Roskoff and St Malo) it couldn’t be easier. In theory, it’s possible to ride from Calais but really – why would you? No. Don’t bother even considering it.
LA MAISON DU BISCUIT
15 minutes south of Cherbourg, La Maison is part of a pre-Great War High Street, incongruously placed by an otherwise deserted road. A good photo stop.
South of Coutances, Le Mesnil-Garnier hosts the Championnat du Monde de Lancer les Savonnettes Mouillées. Yes, the world wet soap-throwing championships. Throughout the year, ask at the bar and you’ll be given a bucket of wet soap cakes and asked to lob them as far as possible. Do well and you may be asked back for the grand final in the autumn. The record is 92m.
Start/finish: Bayeux. Distance: 170 miles. Riding time: 6 hours
A full day visiting the major sites of the D-Day landings, including Pegasus Bridge and the Airbourne museum.
Normandy beaches map Download the GPX file
Start/finish: Bayeux. Distance: 200 miles. Riding time: 6 hours
A full day on fabulous, quiet roads heading out to the west coast and returning through the Bocage.
Morning route map Afternoon route map Download the GPX file
Start/finish: Barneville-Carteret. Distance: 145 miles. Riding time: 5 hours
A relaxed loop around the coastal tip of the Cherbourg peninsula, out to the Gateville lighthouse and Barfleur
Cherbourg peninsula map Download the GPX file
Start/finish: Fécamp. Distance: 190 miles. Riding time: 6.5 hours
A refreshing run from the beautiful coast, heading inland on quiet lanes and crossing the river Seine.
Fecamp coast map Download the GPX file
ALENCON-LE MANS LOOP
Start/finish: Alençon. Distance: 210 miles. Riding time: 6.5 hours
A sublime route heading from the lovely city of Alencon down to the Circuit de la Sarthe race track and the 24-hour race museum.
Morning route map Afternoon route map Download the GPX file
ALENCON SUISSE NORMANDE
Start/finish: Alençon. Distance: 195 miles. Riding time: 6 hours
A relaxed day on the fantastic, smooth and sweeping roads through the hilly Suisse Normande and Orne regions.
Alencon and Suisse Normande map Download the GPX file
Please note: This page contains the routes for The RiDE Guide To France which came free with RiDE magazine in July 2017. These website pages are not regularly updated, so please check all critical information before you travel. All route files are in .gpx format. Garmin and BMW users can download the main file, which contains all the routes. TomTom users can either download the individual routes or use the MyRouteApp (depending on the age of your device). For many routes we also have Google Map links. However, as Google Maps will not plot routes over seasonally closed roads, such as high Alpine passes when they’re shut, so these may not work for every route all year round.