Though my trip to Normandy didn't start smoothly (technical issues on a crowded train in Paris delayed departure for over an hour), from then on it only got better. Our base to explore the area was Deauville and during the long weekend we managed to visit several beautiful places, all of which I can genuinely recommend. Read on to discover four must-see places in Normandy.
Deauville is an upmarket seaside resort on the Northern coast of France. It is only about 200 kilometres away from Paris and is so popular with affluent Parisians that it got the nicknames of 21st arrondissement and Parisian Riviera (while you're there, pay attention to the license plates on the cars - most of them will be from Île-de-France). If you aren't driving, the train from Paris takes 2-2.5 half hours (or over 3.5 hours in my case what with all the technical difficulties).
Deauville is pretty much opposite Brighton in the UK, but its beach is nothing like Brighton - a wide expanse of soft sand won me over straight away! The boardwalk by the beach (Promenade des Planches) also has a row of beach huts with names of film starts who have participated in the annual Deauville American Film Festival held here in September for over 40 years. You can buy passes to attend from the festival's website.
Away from the beach, there are lots of small shops to keep you occupied as well as a regular market in the main square. If you are into horses, you could also pay a visit to the local race course - the programme of events can be found here.
If you are visiting Deauville, then you simply must stop by Trouville-sur-Mer as well - the towns flow into each other and are only separated by the river Touques. Deauville and Trouville even share the same train station!
Though overall a bit less glamorous than its posh sibling Deauville and going for the fishing port vibe rather than yacht harbour, Trouville also has a fantastic sandy beach and a grand casino. There are lots of restaurants in the area and fresh seafood is everywhere, but do bear in mind the restaurants tend to get quite full. We followed Tripadvisor recommendations to Les Affiches only to discover it was fully booked and the strip along the river was crowded - if you have your mind set on a particular restaurant I would recommend booking in advance.
For the times when the sea is too cold to swim in (let's be honest, that will be most of the year), Trouville has a 5-star thalasso & spa hotel called Cures Marines in the same building as the casino - you can either stay here for a full-on spa break (looks lovely, but prices are reflective of the 5-star status) or just book some treatments at the spa.
Honfleur was touted as the most beautiful town to visit in the area in our friend's guide book, so of course we were very happy to discover we could easily and cheaply get there from Deauville using bus nr 20 departing from the Deauville-Trouville train station (for timetables, check the Bus Verts website here).
I would need to see more of Normandy to verify whether Honfleur is indeed the prettiest place around, but it certainly is a very picturesque town with old houses wrapping around a harbour. The town has been immortalised in the impressionist paintings of Monet and Boudin, so if you aren't familiar with them yet, you might want to pop into Boudin's museum on Rue Homme de Bois (for opening times and prices, click here).
There are numerous restaurants here as well as quaint little shops, with options to stock up on some great local produce - I found snail terrine and some brilliant jam (with chocolate!). We were also lucky enough to arrive on the day of a Porsche convention and some sort of free classic car display by the harbour - I couldn't find any information on whether those events will be repeated though.
Visiting Naturospace was probably the highlight of my long weekend in Normandy, so I wanted to pull it out separately instead of lumping it together with Honfleur town. Naturospace is a tropical greenhouse with some awesome birds and multitudes and multitudes of different butterflies that are free to roam the whole area - if you're lucky, one of them might even choose you as a landing spot! The butterflies are constantly on the move and while this makes taking photos more complicated (well, that and the fact that the lenses steam up), it's good to see that they are lively and enjoying life rather than lethargic. Watching them all fluttering around is a mesmerising sight and you can easily spend an hour admiring your surroundings!
Naturospace is located a short walk away from the harbour of Honfleur (about 10 minutes if you're not distracted by the shops on the way). For opening times and practical information, visit the Naturospace website here. The entry price was €8.80 at the time of our visit (April 2017) and though at first I thought it was a bit steep, having seen the magic that those butterflies are I am convinced that it is well worth the money.