Normandy and Hauts-de-France: A Relais & Chateaux Odyssey

Normandy is on the bucket list of many travelers but I think that many mistakenly believe it is just a day trip from Paris or a couple of night stay with a focus on the D-Day Beaches. A 12-hour day trip is better than nothing, of course, but I suggest that people dig a bit deeper in to this beautiful area of France. Visiting Normandy is powerfully emotional and especially impactful when considering the region’s role in changing the course of World War II and the countless souls who selflessly gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today. What some might not know is that region of Normandy has impossibly picturesque towns, spectacular culinary delights, and wonderfully hospitable hotels.


We started our touring in the charming historic fishing port of Honfleur, made up of traditional Norman architecture, and full of impressionist art galleries. Honfleur looks so utterly enchanting, it is hard to remember that it was built essentially for commerce. Its harbor sits in a great location, tucked away on the southern side of the Seine’s estuary.

Hotel San Delis – Relais & Chateaux

Hotel San-Delis in a historic manor home in the heart of Honfleur and a wonderful based to easily explore the city and walk to nearby restaurants at night.

The Saint Simeon Collection has several hotels including Hotel San Delis and the historic Hotel Ferme Saint Simeon – in addition to a a wonderful restaurant in town called Le Vieux Honfleur, where we enjoyed our first delicious meal of the region.

Ferme Saint Simeon Hotel, Relais & Chateaux

Honfleur looks much as it did when Claude Monet was a frequent visitor as were a band of “renegade artists” – Courbet, Corot, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir – to paint at the
Saint Simeon farm where they endlessly painted the colors of the Seine bay and surrounding area,
earning them the title of “Estuary Painters”.

Les Impressionistes is the Hotels outstanding gastronomic restaurant where we enjoyed an outstanding dinner or regional specialities. The hotel also boasts a terrific more casual bistro and the bar overlooks the famous estuary. The hotel is a full service property complete with spa and fitness and offers carriage rides down into town.

Chateau d’Audrieu

Another beautiful Relais & Chateau property of Normandy is Chateau d’Audrieu located in the heart of the Normandy countryside, just a few kilometers from the Landing beaches and is the perfect place to celebrate the French way of life!

The Landing Beaches and Memorial at Omaha Beach

On the 5th and 6th of June, 1944 three airborne divisions were dropped on the beaches of Normandy, while 5,000 ships, 135,000 men and nearly 20,000 vehicles approached the five landing beaches along a 50-mile stretch of coastline. From June 6th forward, history changed its course on the world political landscape. Touring the beaches and memorials of the area make for an interesting and moving experience.

Omaha Beach, where the first assault wave landed, and to Colleville-sur-Mer and St. Laurent-sur-Mer. Here you can stand before the Normandy American Cemetery (the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II) and its beautiful Memorial. And continue with a walk along the protected and spectacular Pointe de Hoc—the 100-foot-high cliffs rising vertically from the Channel between Utah and Omaha Beaches and scaled on June 6, 1944 by the intrepid U.S. Army Rangers who fearlessly took the German fortification as part of the famous Operation Overlord.

Your might also include a visit to Sainte-Mere-Eglise, hailed as one of the
first towns to be liberated in France. It was made famous by the paratrooper John Steel and by the film The Longest Day. You might see the remains of the astounding Mulberry Harbour in Arromanches also known as Port Winston or continue on to the Batterie deLongues where half a century later, mammoth German artillery still sit.

Monets Garden, Giverny

Claude Monet achieved fame for being the initiator, leader, and unswerving advocate of the Impressionist style. In his work he did not try to reproduce a scene exactly, but rather attempted to record on the spot the impression that a relaxed, momentary vision of the scene gave him. I was taken aback how much his beautiful gardens resemble his beautiful paintings and I am still dismayed at the beauty that my simple iphone captured. It is easy to see why Monet and so many impressionist painters were taken by this region!

The Water Garden –

In 1893, ten years after his arrival at Giverny, Monet bought the piece of land neighbouring his property on the other side of the railway. It was crossed by a small brook, the Ru, which is a diversion of the Epte, a tributary of the Seine River. With the support of the prefecture, Monet had the first small pond dug ; even though his peasant neighbours were opposed. They were afraid that his strange plants would poison the water.

Later on the pond would be enlarged to its present day size. The water garden is full of asymmetries and curves. It is inspired by the Japanese gardens that Monet knew from the prints he collected avidly.

The Japanese bridge

Monet had it built by a local craftsman. By the time the garden was restored the bridge was too damaged to be saved. It had to be rebuilt by a firm from Vernon. It is made of beech wood.

The wisterias have been planted by Monet.

When Monet and his family settled in Giverny in 1883 the piece of land sloping gently down from the house to the road was planted with an orchard and enclosed by high stone walls. A central alley bordered with pines separated it into two parts. Monet had the pines cut down, keeping only the two yews closest to the house to please Alice. From this Clos Normand of about one hectare, Monet made a garden full of perspectives, symmetries and colors.

Domaine de Primard, Relais & Chateaux

Domaine de Primard, is an elegant 18th century residence for a rare experience in a unique place. Located just an hour from Paris, its a wonderful escape from the city or a place to stay before or after heading to the Charles De Gaulle airport. The amazing former home of famous French actress Catherine Deneuve, Primard is a Relais & Chateaux property and part of the Domaine De Fontenille group. Domaine de Fontenille is a unique and rapidly expanding hotel group whose owners acquire and manage only spectacular private residences in very desirable locations where food and wine and relaxation are key!

At Primard, the cuisine exalts the authentic country atmosphere of the venue for a unique experience each time. The cuisine at Domaine de Primard is linked to the seasons and comes from the best local producers in an eco-responsible approach. The fruits and vegetables come in part from the organic vegetable garden. High gastronomy in the fine dining restaurant, a glass of wine in the cellar or by the river, or more casual fare in the beautiful Octave and terrace, or perhaps a private experience around the chefs table in the kitchen.

Château de Chantilly

France has so many stunning Royal Palaces to visit and while Versailles is on everyones bucket list, I can highly suggest Chantilly as a royal palace that is not to be missed!

This cast of illustrious families who have invested in the chateau allowing it to survive the ravages of time and war.The Château currently houses the Condé Museum, with 1000 paintings and 5000 drawings and engravings, as well as 3000 works in the Library. The names read like an anthology of European masters from the 15th to the 19th century: Raphaël, Delacroix, Ingres, Watteau, Poussin and spectacular objets d’art with Chantilly and Sèvres porcelain and royal furniture.

Grand Stables, hailed as the finest in the world, & living horse museum are open to the public and my visit was lucky enough to coincide with a royal horse show.
During the period of Louis XV, Frederick of Prussia and the future Tsar Paul, the Grand Stables at Chantilly could house 240 horses and the 500 hounds for the hunts organized on the estate.

Auberge de Jeu de Paume, Chantilly – Relais & Chateaux

Conveniently located with its back door opening to the Chateau, the lovely Relais & Chateaux – Auberge de Jeu de Paume is an outstanding place to stay while visiting Chantilly. Comfortable rooms, many with terraces overlooking the gardens.

As a Relais & Chateaux property, of course gastronomy is critical and the kitchen and service team provide a delectable and delightful experience to luck guests.

We enjoyed a very special meal in the gastronomic restaurant and in the winter garden with spectacular seafood, meats, game and vegetables. And desert piled high with the irresitible whipped CHANTILLY cream that is the namesake treat when in Chantilly!

Winter or Summer visits, the spa and relaxation pool are a treat and a wonderful way to rest after a day of touring and indulging. The hotel is also perfectly located for a first night after landing in France or for your last night before leaving the country, with just a short drive to Charles de Gaulle Airport.

While I realize my blog did not review hotels and areas exclusively in Normandy, I hope it gives you and idea of all there is to do in Normandy, in Hauts-de-France and the lovely surrounds outside of Paris. It is definitely not a day trip and worthy of at least a week. A bien tot!

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