Normandy - the land of Cidre, Calvados and Camembert - is also the cradle of Impressionism. Here you can see motifs that you otherwise know from the famous pictures with your own eyes. Great Impressionists such as Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Richard Bonnington and Claude Monet were inspired by the beauty of the landscape and set up their easel.
For the first time, the Impressionists broke free from the requirement that an artist must bring the exact image of reality onto the canvas. Rather, they expressed their impression. But even if you have nothing to do with painting, the landscape will inspire you and of course the good cuisine will spoil you with the fresh, Norman products.
In this collection, we have put together a journey for you in seven stages along the loops of the Seine, through the Pays de Caux and along the alabaster coast. Each of the stages, between 45 and 75 kilometres long, will take you through different landscapes rich in impressions. You start in Vernon, the gateway to Normandy. Between the well known and well frequented places like Giverny or Honfleur and cities like Rouen or Le Havre, lonely paths and little roads await you, which are dreamlike to cycle. The steep climbs worth mentioning can be counted on two hands, but are sometimes challenging at around 100 metres. As a reward you can expect beautiful views and great descents, because where it goes up, it goes down again sometime.
You follow the Seine, which crosses Normandy in countless loops, until you reach the mouth, which you cross on the impressive Pont de Normandie. On the way you will meet witnesses of the rich history of Normandy: from the Vikings, the so-called Northmen, who conquered the country and finally gave it the name Normandy, to the Middle Ages and the landing of the Allies up to the architecture of the post-war period. The alabaster coast is the most scenic. Over a hundred metres high chalk cliffs with spectacular formations line the coast of Haute Normandie, while endless sandy beaches await you in the Basse Normandie.
The starting point Vernon and the destination Caen are well connected to the French railway network and can be easily reached from Paris, for example. You will find several accommodations in different price ranges in all the stages. In summer, especially in August, we recommend that you book your accommodation early. This also applies to the campsites, of which there are many directly on or near the route. For example, campingfrance.com offers you a good overview.
You start your bike ride in the footsteps of famous Impressionists in Vernon, the gateway to Normandy, which can be easily reached by train. Look forward to lonely streets and a beautiful landscape on the river loops of the Seine.After crossing the Seine for the first time, you will see the first highlight, an old mill floating above the river. On a former railroad you drive to the gardens of Claude Monet and overcome the first strong climb. As a reward, a deserted high plateau expects you, which you leave with a nice descent to the Château Gaillard.You follow the leg loop to Val de Reuil, your current destination. Here you can find accommodation in different price ranges as well as some campsites. If the stage was too short for you, you can take another spin around the Etang des Deux Amants, bathe in it or cross the Seine on the Poses lock.
The almost flat stage leads you along the loop to Rouen. After the village of Orival, the road takes you along mighty chalk cliffs, for which the Seine is famous. These will line your way more often until you can admire the famous rock formations of the Alabaster Coast in Etretat.Rouen is not only the cultural but also the economic center of Normandy. You realize this at the latest when you drive on side roads and sometimes even on bike paths through the economic area until the towers of the famous Rouen Cathedral appear out of nowhere.The many sights such as the clock tower, the pyre of Joan of Arc or the cathedral and the timbered houses lined old town invite you to stroll. It's best to stay in town for an extra day. Then you have enough time to visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts extensively. In the Museum of Fine Arts you will find many works of Impressionist painters.
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Today is all about the leg loop. Again and again you cycle on small roads along the shore and cross the river with small, free ferries. You drive quite often, the timetable can be found here: inforoute76.fr/mod_turbolead/getvue.php/48_view.pdfIt can happen that huge container ships pass you, since the Seine from Rouen no longer counts as inland waters. Downstream there are only a few, but huge bridges. You will cross one of them as the grand finale of your stage.There are also two imposing abbeys on your route, Saint Georges and Jumièges, which give your day a cultural kick.If the stage is too exhausting for you, there are several ways to simplify it. In Rouen you can just continue along the Seine and save yourself the first big climb and a few kilometers, but you also miss Saint Georges and some beautiful bike paths.Or you drive from Saint Martin via Duclair to Jumièges. From there you also have the opportunity to stay on the same river side. This shortens the stage and you save the climb on the Brotonne Bridge.
Today you drive to the sea. To do this, you leave the valley of the earth on a decent slope. Once at the top, the plateau awaits you from the Pays de Caux, where once the Vikings settled.The route takes you on tiny lanes from one pretty spot to the next, where time stands still in the slate-roofed brick and half-timbered houses.On a former railway track you drive through Valmont. This place is inseparable from Eugène Delacroix, who spent several summers here and liked drawing stained glass windows and chapels.The best thing comes to the end: the port city of Fécamp. Numerous Impressionists captured in their pictures the chalk cliffs and the port of the city, from where fishermen used to drive to Newfoundland.For the most beautiful view of the place you have to take a few meters in price. The Cap Fagnet is located on the other side of the harbor and gives you an unforgettable view. As a nightcap you can treat yourself to the local liqueur "Bénédictine".
You will probably remember this incredibly busy day as the most beautiful of your tour. You drive on the chalk cliffs, feel the sea breeze and smell the scent of freedom.In Etretat, it is advisable to lock the bike for a short while and to walk on the left and right of the plateau. From up there you can see the breathtaking rock formations and you want to unpack your easel - or at least your cell phone camera - to capture everything pictorial, like famous Impressionists before you, including Gustave Caillebotte, Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet and of course Claude Monet.After ascending to the plateau you meander through small villages where more cows than humans live. Somewhere the milk must come for the Camembert yes.The absolute contrast awaits you at the end of the stage: Le Havre. Many Impressionists painted in the port city, but it has changed a lot since World War II. Completely destroyed by bombings, it was rebuilt in just nine years, resulting in a consistent and coherent picture. Whether you stand on concrete or not, the city is always exciting.However, before taking the long beach promenade to Le Havre, enjoy the descent through Saint-Adresse. This was the site of the first impressionistic work, the terraces of Saint-Adresse by Claude Monet.
Today you have completely new landscape impressions in front of you. You leave Le Havre through its container port, sometimes even on bike paths, and then you suddenly stand in front of it. The enormous but graceful Pont de Normandie elegantly spans the Seine estuary and has even been part of the Tour de France. The pylons are so high that the curvature of the earth becomes noticeable.After crossing the river in an impressive way, make a little dangling look at the structure from below. Shortly after you reach the town of Honfleur. In the 19th century, it became a popular meeting place for Impressionist painters, who liked to make a stop in the inn Saint-Siméon.We have planned the tour for you so that you enter the city with a view of the famous harbor basin and leave it again via a lookout point. Thus, you have seen many motives of the painters themselves.Then you drive through the deserted hinterland and reach after a short time Trouville, the seaside resort with the sophisticated buildings of the resort architecture. Eugène Boudin moved here to sketch the elegant ladies and gentlemen on the beach. His friends Gustave Courbet, Johan Jongkind and Claude Monet did the same.A feast for the eyes in every respect is the fish market, the Marché aux Poissons, especially if you like to eat seafood. Because there you have the opportunity to taste the fresh caught sea animals at the stands.
The last leg of your journey through the Normandy of the Impressionists takes you past several fashionable seaside bands. In between, you meander on tiny, almost always tarmac roads through the hinterland.In the mouth of the Orne you cross a beautiful nature reserve and then drive to Ouistreham. This was the favorite place of the English Impressionist Richard Bonington and scene of the Allied landing on D-Day. On the way repeatedly concreted witnesses of the Second World War appear.If you want to shorten a few kilometers, you can turn left after the Pegasus Bridge and follow the canal. You can complete the stage on two days, then Ouistreham offers with several hotels and campsites as a place to stay.At the end of the journey, Caen awaits you. The vibrant university city looks back on a millennia-long history. Many medieval buildings will not only captivate you, but were popular motifs of English Impressionists as early as the 19th century, including Richard Bonington and William Turner.In Caen you will find many hotels for your last night. Campsites are between Ouistreham and Caen some. By train, you'll be in Paris in about two hours, or at Vernon in two and a half to three hours.