January 25, 2016

The island of Mont Saint-Michel is a sight to behold – Image by Flickr user © Zoltán Vörös

I visit France as much as I can, and when I do, I often try to visit smaller towns in order to get a refreshing taste of authentic French culture. So, if you’re looking to experience more of wider France, I’ve outlined some of my favourite places which are two or more hours from Calais, by car. As a keen walker, I’ll also be looking at some of the best walking spots around each place.

Mont Saint-Michel

What to do: A small island on France’s north coast, Mont Saint-Michel is a charming destination. Undoubtedly the most popular spot on the island is the Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel. It’s a stunning structure, sat high at the top of Mont Saint-Michel. While it’s possible to stroll through most of the grounds without an aid, I really recommend taking one of the guided tours, as you’ll learn about the Abbey’s fascinating history.

One of the most enjoyable things to do for me is to watch the tide come in after a long day of exploring, especially if you can time it with the sunset. The tides around Mont Saint-Michel are the highest in Europe so sit back and enjoy the show!

Where to stay: If you’re staying for the night (or longer), I have to recommend Auberge Saint Pierre. It’s right in the middle of town, so you’re close to all the local sights, plus there’s a fantastic buffet breakfast. Housed in a 15th century building, it has all the contemporary comforts needed for a relaxing stay.

Best walking route: Given its location, there are plenty of coastal walks surrounding Mont Saint-Michel. Catch the coast at low tide and enjoy a walk across the sands! I’ve done this many times and it’s great fun, however it’s worth noting that you need a guide to do this walk. The sand can be tricky to navigate and you need an expert on hand to know when the tide comes in.

Honfleur

What to do: For me, Honfleur is one of France’s prettiest ports. It’s got a fascinating history, rooted in commerce, which thrived from ship owners whose trade was bolstered by the Seine. I love taking a stroll around the harbour, remembering its past as a trading hub. Today, it’s distinctly different, with luxurious yachts sat side by side.  

 The pretty harbour at Honfleur.
The pretty harbour at Honfleur.© Fabrizio Sciami

Honfleur’s striking scenery caused it to become a hub for impressionist artists, and this is reflected in the many galleries and museums found across town. With fewer crowds, I prefer walking away from the harbour when looking for smaller galleries. When searching for a bite to eat, there are fewer spots more enjoyable than La Cidrerie. It serves delicious cider and freshly-made crêpes, all within a traditional setting. Dining here, you’ll know that you’re in Normandy!

Where to stay: I’ve visited Honfleur many times, during both on and off peak seasons. Each time I find myself returning to La Cour Sainte-Catherine. This place is great value, beautifully decorated and serves up a delicious breakfast. If the weather suits, enjoy your morning meal in the hotel’s sunny courtyard.

Best walking route: To the west of Honfleur you’ll find the quaint commune of Pennedepie. If you walk there along the coast, the trip will take you about an hour. However head a little further inland and there are some lovely wooded areas with clearly marked trails to enjoy. This is a nice, easy walk, and can be enjoyed whatever the weather if you’re prepared!

Beuvron en Auge

What to do: Beuvron en Auge is listed as one of France’s Les Plus Beaux Villages. I simply adore the half-timbered country houses and love exploring the local market, which sells local produce such as cider, cheeses and wines.

 Explore the local markets.
Explore the local markets.© Graeme Churchard

The village’s 17th century Church of St Martin is a lovely place to explore, and the town hosts an annual flower festival in the first week of May, so keep a look out!

Located along the Normandy Cider Route, there are many great places to eat in town. Given the town’s gastronomic status, I like to splash out a little whenever I visit and really recommend dining at Le Pavé d'Auge. Once a covered market, the restaurant boasts charming exposed beams, setting the perfect scene to enjoy the fine local dishes on offer.

Where to stay: There are only a few places to stay in town, given its modest size. I recommend a stay at Le Pave d'Hotes. Connected to my favourite restaurant, this B&B is conveniently located in the heart of town and the rooms are comfortable, with a pretty garden area to enjoy breakfast in.

Best walking route: France’s Calvados region is full of superb walking routes to enjoy. If you’re looking to stay close to town, try taking a stroll along the Doigt River, which passes through town and can also be accessed from the south of Beuvron en Auge.

 Take a walk along the river at Beuvron en Auge.
Take a walk along the river at Beuvron en Auge.© Connie Ma

Ready to explore the coast around Calais?

With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, you can get from Folkestone to Calais in just 35 minutes, and with all of these destinations within a 30-minute drive.

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