Short break ideas in Northern France
Posted on 8 June 2017
Saint-Malo in Brittany was heavily bombed during the Second World War and subsequently rebuilt but the town’s historic architecture was carefully preserved. Within the city ramparts, the old town, known as the ville intra-muros is a maze of cobbled streets dominated by the towering Cathedrale Saint-Vincent. There are sandy beaches to sunbathe on and the Fort National, a formidable offshore fortress that protected the town.
Known as the Parisian Riviera, Deauville in Normandy has been a fashionable seaside resort since the 1860s, and it is easy to visit from the UK as it is less than an hour from both Le Havre and Caen ferry ports. Deauville has attractive villas, hotels, the grand Casino Barrière and elegant seafront promenade all built in the 19th century. Visit during the annual American Film Festival in September for and you might spot some Hollywood A-listers.
Only around 45 minutes from Paris by train, Reims is a great destination for a break away from busy Paris, especially because it is home to the headquarters of prestigious champagne houses Pommery, Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer and Champagne Ruinart. There is more than champagne to Reims though as the city has no less than three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Cathedral where France’s kings’ coronation took place, the Du Tau palace and the ancient Saint-Remi Abbey.
The subject of many postcards and paintings, the pretty port of Honfleur in Normandy will be familiar to many. The colourful Vieux Bassin is the heart of the port and many wealthy families built high, narrow timber-frame houses here. The port is now used more for yachts than fishing or commercial boats but you can learn about the town’s maritime past at the Musée de la Marine. For a beautiful view over the Seine and Honfleur, climb to the top of Mont-Joli and visit the 17th-century Notre-Dame-de-Grâce chapel on the way.
Conveniently located close to both the ferry ports on the Channel coast and Paris, Amiens is a very easy destination to get to for a short trip. Must-see sites include the spectacular Cathédrale Notre-Dame d’Amiens, a UNESCO World Heritage monument, Jules Verne’s home and the old district of Saint-Leu. Take a boat to see the peaceful floating gardens, stretching for 300 hectares and surrounded by arms of the rivers Somme and Avre. If you are in town in April then don’t miss the Réderie de Pintemps, a huge, open air jumble sale is the second biggest in France, after Lille’s Grande Braderie.
In the Alsace area of north-eastern France, Strasbourg is very different to other French cities with a distinct architecture and culture and only two hours from Paris by train. Strasbourg is the capital of the European Union and is therefore home to the European Parliament, Palace of Human Rights and Council of Europe. Explore the historic Petit France area of the city with its half-timbered houses and climb to the top of the 15th-century Notre-Dame cathedral in Strasbourg for a spectacular view. If you are lucky enough to visit Strasbourg near Christmas then take the time to visit the famous Strasbourg Christmas market.
Le Havre, Normandy
Almost completely destroyed during the Second World War and then rebuilt by Belgian architect Auguste Perret, Le Havre is distinctly different to its counterparts along the northern French coast. The town has been an UNESCO World Heritage since 2005. Visit the MuMa André Malraux Museum of Modern Art with its vast collection of Impressionist works and the Le Volcan arts centre, as well as the Notre-Dame cathedral, one of the few major historic buildings to survive the war