Countless artists have found inspiration in France’s landscapes, though perhaps none so much as Impressionist painters in Normandy. From the pastoral Seine River Valley to the Alabaster Coast, scenes depicting Normandy hang in museums all over the world, inspiring visitors to see the region for themselves. When you experience Normandy from the seat of a bicycle, it will feel like you’re riding through a painting – and you’ll be able to stop and find your own inspiration at your whim.
The tour begins in Honfleur, once a base for great artists like Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, and Eugene Boudin. After discovering beaches and turn-of-the-century resorts, you’ll ride through a lesser-known Normandy where rivers run slowly, half-timbered buildings rest in tiny clusters, and farmers toil down the road from imposing castles. With stays at privately run, comfortable lodgings and meals of fresh, local produce, you may want to set up residence in Normandy yourself!
Day 1: Arrive in Honfleur
Less than three hours away from Paris lies Honfleur, a picturesque port on France’s “Norman Riviera”. Arriving in Honfleur feels like floating into a Eugene Boudin painting; for travelers without a sailboat, we recommend taking a bus to Honfleur from the nearby train station in Pont-l’Évêque. Feel your pulse slow down as you adjust to the quiet charm of Honfleur, aided by the gentle rocking of the boats in the old harbor. Wander along the sea wall or stroll along the Seine, stopping to rest in cute little parks along the way. Visit the Eugene Boudin Museum on rue Haute to see if your impressions of Honfleur match those of the artist. Follow the old world streets back to your hotel, where you’ll receive your bikes and route instructions.
Day 2: Honfleur to Honfleur Loop – Short route (37 km or 23 miles) or Long Route (50 km or 31 miles).
Choose your own adventure on your first day of cycling! The two route options divert from the same point, so no matter what you choose, you’ll begin with a ride along the coast to Villerville, once a popular vacation spot where a few lovely villas remain from “La Belle Epoque”. Continue on to the fisherman’s village of Trouville, which makes a perfect lunch spot for seafood fanatics. After about 21km, ride over the Toques River into Deauville, a seaside resort dotted with beach huts named after movie stars. Check out landmarks like the casino, the grand Royal Hotel, and horse racing tracks before making your next move.
Shorter option (37 km): Head back to Honfleur from Deauville. Pass through the small village of Toques, where Gustave Caillebotte painted along the river nearby. The route will wind up near the old lighthouse in Honfleur and get you home in time for an afternoon cider.
Longer option (50 km): Continue on to Saint-Arnoult, right into Impressionist territory. Ride through Beaumont-en-Auge, a typical Norman village turned artists’ retreat, home to comfortable cafes and amazing views over the Toques River Valley. Head northeast through tiny villages with long names until you enter the ‘enchanted’ forest’ You may feel moved to paint an impression of your party lunching amidst the trees. Once out of the woods, coast downhill and take in the views over the Seine estuary and the port of Le Havre until you arrive back at Honfleur’s old harbor.
Day 3: Honfleur – Le Bec Hellouin (49 km or 30 miles).
Say goodbye to the coast and ride along the Seine to the Risle River. It’s easy to imagine painters setting up their canvasses along the banks – keep an eye out for fishermen to complete the scene! We highly recommend a lunch break in beautiful Pont-Audemer, known as “Normandy Venice” thanks to the charming canals that run through the medieval town center. After lunch, feel free to head off course to explore pretty villages like Montfort-sur-Risle. Follow the map to finish the day in Le Bec-Hellouin, a town that’s on the list of France’s most beautiful villages. If time allows, check out the storybook-worthy town center and the ruins of an old abbey.
Day 4: Le Bec Hellouin – Pont-de-l’Arche (46 or 54 km; 29 or 34 miles).
Get in touch with nature on the Eure plateau! You may encounter more cows than people in this rural part of Normandy, where ‘towns’ refer to strings of beautiful properties along a road. You may even ride back in time with a visit to the Chateau d’Harcourt, one of France’s best-preserved medieval castles (an optional ride of 8 km). When you return to civilization, pause for a cup of tea in Saint-Pierre-des-Fleurs before your final stretch to Pont-de-l’Arche.
Day 5: Pont-de-l’Arche – Vernon (56 km or 35 miles).
Today’s route crosses the Seine a few times to keep you on traffic-free routes throughout the river valley. Cycle alongside stunning white cliffs until you reach Les Andelys nestled around a bend in the river. This pretty town is home to large, beautiful churches and the tale of a saint whose prayers turned spring water into wine. It’s also the site of the Chateau Gaillard, Richard the Lionheart’s 12th Century stronghold on the hill. Stop for a visit or lunch (with wine!), then pedal onward to Gaillon, where the hauntingly beautiful Chateau de Gaillon sits in disrepair. Ride further upstream to Vernon, your final stop for the day; if time allows, swing by the Chateau Bizy, a miniature Versailles complete with a baroque water garden.
Day 6: Vernon- Giverny – Vernon (14 or 35 km; 9 or 22 miles).
The highlight of your day – perhaps even of the entire tour – will be a visit to Claude Monet’s house and gardens in Giverny. It’s only a quick ride away on back roads, allowing you plenty of time to tour the artist’s residence and have lunch in the village. If you’re not ready to conclude your tour after lunch, feel free to enjoy a quick loop we’ve devised. Cycle up chalk cliffs to La Roche-Guyon, another of France’s most beautiful villages and home to a hillside chateau. Look for some of the historic mills that once inspired Monet and other painters, for many have been preserved as restaurants and inns. If you’re so inclined, visit some of the prehistoric sites in the region – its history goes further back than you can imagine!
Day 7: Departure.
Depart at your leisure following breakfast.
860 euros per person April & October. Single supplement is 310 euros.
Also see tour packages in:
Europe France Outdoor: Land Rambler Bicycle Touring