An easy long weekend from Paris, Normandy can be at its best in the fall, when the crowds have gone and the market towns are flush with the harvest. Rent a 1950’s Citroën from Vintage Roads (three-day rentals from $540), which will deliver your car anywhere in Paris for a $65 fee. Follow signs west for the Normandy-bound A13, and within an hour you’ll reach the exit for Vernon, a few miles from Giverny. Yes, it’s touristy, but how can you miss the chance to see the Claude Monet Foundation and its gardens? The grounds stay open till November 1 and are ablaze in autumn hues. Avoid the tour buses and break for a meal at the Ancien Hôtel Restaurant Baudy (lunch for two $59).
After lunch, drive an hour northwest to Rouen, most famous as the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Head to the medieval center and park in the underground garage below the Place du Vieux Marché; you’ll emerge right into the farmers’ market (open daily except Monday) and near the Joan of Arc memorial. Meander along the pedestrian-only cobblestoned streets to Notre-Dame Cathedral, the massive 14th-century clock known as the Gros-Horloge, and La Chocolatière—the local specialty is a layered praline paillardise. Get back on the road for an hour’s drive west to the 17th-century port of Honfleur and check in at the Hôtel des Loges (doubles from $143), made up of three fishermen’s houses. For dinner order the baked-Camembert salad at Au Bouillon Normand (three-course prix fixe dinner for two $68).
If the next day happens to be a Wednesday, check out the organic farmers’ market in the Place Ste.-Catherine and pick up some local cheeses and Calvados before heading out of town. Drive due west 10 miles toward Trouville-sur-Mer, immortalized in the 1958 film Gigi—it may not be as well known as its famous neighbor, Deauville, but it has much more down-to-earth charm. Order a bowl of moules frites at Le Galatée (lunch for two $42). Then do a Deauville drive-by, stopping for tea at the Normandy Barrière (tea for two $12) and cruising past the windows of all the high-end stores (this town is often referred to as Paris’s 21st Arrondissement). Continue west about 55 miles to Asnelles—a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village with a shop called Les Sablés d’Asnelles that specializes in butter biscuits. End the day in Port-en-Bessin, an unspoiled fishing town where you can score some of the best Breton striped shirts at Port Marine and savor a fruits de mer platter at Le Bistrot d’à Côté (dinner for two $94). Your hotel for the evening: Château La Chenevière (doubles from $265), an 18th-century former residence set in expansive gardens.
The following morning, head inland five miles to Bayeux and start the day with breakfast at the patisserie La Reine Mathilde (breakfast for two $15). Don’t miss the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry, a 230-foot-long feat of embroidery that depicts the Norman conquest of England. Back on the coast, Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery are deeply moving reminders of the Allied landing on D-Day during World War II. Five miles west of Omaha Beach, the cliff-top Pointe du Hoc was another important Allied landing site that is now one of the region’s most scenic lookouts.
Last stop: the Cotentin Peninsula, known for its lively fishing ports and picturesque villages. In Barfleur, a little more than an hour’s drive from Pointe du Hoc, you can indulge in yet another seafood platter during an early dinner at Le Moderne (dinner for two $50). Then cross to the western side of the peninsula, about 35 miles away, to the town of Carteret. Bed down for the night in the cheerful Hôtel des Ormes (doubles from $170), and let the sounds of the sea lull you to sleep.
Yolanda Edwards writes the family-travel blog Travels with Clara and is the cofounder of the online lifestyle guide Momfilter.