Normandy Part 1 - Haute Normandie

Rouen, Monet’s Gardens, the Route of the Abbeys and the Alabaster Coast

A Journey through Historic Upper Normandy
While most visitors dedicate just a few days to explore historic Normandy, Iberian Traveler has prepared an in-depth journey to explore its architectural treasures, ancient fishing ports, fashionable coastal resorts, and beautiful rolling farmland of this large and diverse region, and of course, the many important battleground sites of World War II’s Allied Invasion.
The Seine River, flowing northwest from Paris into the English Channel, divides Normandy into two regions, Haute (Upper) and Basse (Lower) Normandie.  Because of its size, your exploration of Normandy can also be divided into two distinct parts, beginning with four days in the north, in Haute Normandie before moving south for another week in Basse Normandie, the picture postcard world of half-timbered cottages, apple orchards, grazing cows, the classic Normandy of the four Cs - Cider, Camembert, Calvados and Crème.
You begin your exploration in the Norman capital of Rouen, the lively, cultured gateway city on the banks of the River Seine.  Rich in history, it was where William the Conqueror died in 1087 and where 19th century novelist Gustave Flaubert, author of Madam Bovary, was born.  Known for its magnificent Gothic spires and superb medieval architecture, 45% of the city was destroyed by bombing raids during World War II.  But its beautiful medieval core has been so magnificently restored, it is difficult to imagine the scale of the damage it suffered during the Battle of Normandy.
The Highlights of Rouen, Capital of Haute-Normandie
Its atmospheric old quarter, Vieux Rouen, is filled with highly picturesque half-timbered homes, and a fine Musée de Beaux Arts, richly endowed with the Impressionist masterpieces of Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir.  Its Ceramic Museum is devoted to 17th and 18th century Rouen faïence, decorated earthenware.  You’ll also find the great abbey church of St-Ouen in Vieux Rouen and of course the sights associated with Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), patron saint of France, who was tried for witchcraft and burned at the stake in the city’s historic market square in 1431.
Some of the finest church architecture in France can be found in Rouen, in particular its cathedral, one of Europe’s finest Gothic masterpieces, whose west façade Monet painted 28 times in his studies of changing light.  The 16th century stain glass windows of Eglise Sainte Jeanne d’Arc Rouen, salvaged from the original church of Saint Vincent, severely damaged in 1944, are magnificent.
On the third day in Rouen you journey eastward by car to the picture perfect postcard village of Lyons-la-Fôret, chock filled with flower bedecked 17th century timber framed houses (one, the former residence of composer Maurice Ravel) and the hamlet used as the set for the Madame Bovary films.  The village sits within one of Europe’s finest beech grove forest.
Claude Monet’s studio-gardens at Giverny and on to the ruins of Richard the Lionheart’s Château-Gaillard in Le Petit-Andely.
On the fourth day you drive west through the highly scenic Seine valley, exploring the evocative Romanesque Abbey Route; the haunting ruins of Jumièges, the abbey church and gardens of St-Georges de Boscherville and the ruins of St-Wandrille before reaching the dramatic Alabaster Coast, with its eighty miles of lofty white chalk cliffs, some 120 meters high, reminiscent of the white cliffs of Dover and much loved by the Impressionists.
In the pretty port village of Étretat, with its shingle beaches and colorful timbered houses, on each side of the beach, you see the striking alabaster cliffs at their most spectacular, where the wind and waves have carved fascinating rock formations or falaises: arches, tunnels and a solitary “needle” out to the sea, the Falais d’Aval, immortalized on so many Impressionists’ canvases.
In the ancient cod-fishing port of Fécamp you will sample the “medicinal elixir”, first concocted from local wild plants by the Bénédictine monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli in the 16th century and now one of the world’s most famous digestives, B&B, Bénédictine & Brandy, at the wildly ornate, Neo-Gothic distillery, Le Palais Bénédictine.
Dining in haute-Normandie
Our gastronomic discoveries in Rouen included the sleek contemporary bistro Le 37, 37 rue St-Étienne-des-Tonneliers, opened by Michelin starred chef Gilles Tournadre, and the charmingly traditional le Bistrot de Panurge on Rue Ecuyère, where we feasted on its delectable gigot, roast leg of lamb.
You can stop for lunch at the country-cute Le Grand Cerf with open kitchen in picturesque village of Lyons-la-Fôret, and, on your fourth day, while on the Côte d’Albâtre, Alabaster Coast, at the family-owned seafood restaurant-fish market of La Marée, while visiting Fécamp.
Staying in Rouen
For our 4-day base for exploring Upper Normandy we chose a very charming and slightly hidden treasure of a B&B, Le Clos Jouvenet. This little 4-room gem is a quite sophisticated yet reasonably priced 19th century mansion located in a calm, architecturally interesting and well-to-do residential neighborhood, Quartier Jouvenet, on a hill above the hustle and bustle of the city.  Yet we were within a 15-minute walk of its compact medieval core. 
This very pretty home with its refined décor is surrounded by a walled, tree-filled garden, making it a haven of tranquility.  From our large, handsome, well-appointed room we enjoyed a view of the cathedral spires and slept soundly in the comfortable queen bed dressed with fine linens. The house boasts a cozy upstairs library with computer for guests’ use, a designer-chic, antique-filled living room with open fireplace and a charming winter garden where guests can relax in the evening and dine on a light repast of local cheeses, bread and Norman cider purchased at the high quality neighborhood epicerie, charcuterie and boulangerie.
The delicious, gourmet continental-plus breakfasts, elegantly presented on antique silver, china and crystal, can be taken in the formal dining room or in the conservatory facing the garden and are included in the room rate. The owners also provide sun loungers and tables in the well-manicured garden, complimentary W-Fi and off-street parking. 
The Clos Jouvenet simply delivered with style all the creature comforts we needed for a truly perfect stay. Thanks to the genuinely warm welcome, attention to detail and excellent touring and dining advice from its gracious hostess, Madame De Witte, we began our Norman adventures on a most cosseting and relaxing note.  We highly recommend this lovely chambre d’hôte, one of the very finest European B&Bs we have experienced!

We highly recommend a Normandy holiday for all lovers of French art, history and literature.  Ask Iberian Traveler to prepare a special, very unique, package for you to this captivating northwestern corner of France