Train Escape to Normandy and Brittany

Millennia of history, extraordinary culture and hundreds of miles of sandy shoreline make these northwest regions of France very popular. But which one gets the nod?

In Bayeux, tour the world-famous tapestry that narrates two cross-channel invasions. At Mont St. Michel, savor the view and explore a site predating Stonehenge.

Train Travel

When you take a train escape to Normandy and Brittany, you’ll get more than a taste of France’s best shellfish, cider and butter. You’ll also find wilderness walks, pristine beaches, cosy cafés and towns steeped in proud culture and traditions. And that’s not all—these landscapes tell a story with every crash of the waves and gust of wind. This is a land that’s been ruled by Celts, Britons and the French, and it’s a place that will transport you.

Our trip starts in Caen, a city that William the Conqueror made his own. Here you’ll visit the poignant D-Day beaches, majestic Mont-St-Michel and discover the Bayeux tapestries. And you’ll see a different side of Normandy when you visit chateaux that exude history, from Chateau de Rochecotte—called “home” in the 1700s by Prince Tallyrand and the Duchess of Dino to the stately Chateau d’Angers.

Then it’s on to Bretagne, where you’ll discover a region that’s distinctly different from the rest of France. Here, the cities are smaller and less snazzy, and locals seem to have more of a San Francisco rhythm. You’ll see this for yourself as you walk along a famous coastline where houses are practically touching the water and submerged by high tides twice a year, explore a gully bordered with wooded hills, and stroll past artisan workshops.

You can choose to spend a day exploring Dinan’s medieval castles, the 14th-century keep of Eglise Saint-Malo and a view from the Clock Tower. Or you can venture a little farther out to St-Brieuc Bay and discover the picturesque fishing port of Saint-Thelo, a town that’s known for its fine linen canvas.

For those who want to go a step further back in time, you can follow Route 8 across the countryside from Lorient to Pontivy. It’s a beautiful drive, with the Blavet tow path running through a valley lined by beech and chestnut trees. You can even stop by the old mill where fine linen was once made, now converted into a museum. You’ll also find the oldest restaurant in France here and the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.


The region’s coastal towns and villages are awash in charm and sophistication. Inland regions are gentle and pastoral, dotted with small-scale farms producing dairy and early crops.

A wealth of cultural riches awaits, too, in cities such as Rouen and Deauville. And don’t miss the chance to see why Normandy inspired so many artists throughout the ages — from the Impressionists’ love of coastal Honfleur and Etretat, to Claude Monet’s Giverny home, which is now a world-class museum.

For those interested in the region’s 20th Century history, there are a wealth of military museums and memorials to visit, including the Bayeux Tapestry and 80km of beaches used by Allied troops on D-Day. Those looking to enjoy the region’s natural beauty can walk alongside rivers and canals, or take in the scenery on nine long-distance cycling routes that are marked by green signs.

Keen foodies can sample the fresh seafood on offer around Brittany’s coast, and discerning wine and spirits connoisseurs will find an abundance of top-notch producers in the region’s vineyards. Of course, the main reason to come here is to soak up that beautiful sunshine.

The most distinctive aspect of Brittany, however, is the landscape, which stretches out to the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It is dotted with dramatic coastline, and it is also a place of forests and lakes. In addition to its natural beauty, Brittany is a popular holiday destination with visitors seeking a taste of local culture. It is not uncommon to hear Breton being spoken, and there are numerous festivals to celebrate the region’s unique heritage. The region is divided into four “departments”: the Cotes d’Armor in the north, Finistère in the far west, Morbihan in the south, and Loire-Atlantique in the east (the area around Nantes used to be part of this department but is now no longer). Each of these has its own character and appeal. The northern coastline, for example, is open to the force of the North Atlantic and rocky with impressive coastal castles and beaches, while the southern coast of Morbihan is much flatter, more gently sloping, and graced with a series of pretty inlets.

Food & Drink

The northwest corner of France is full of charming towns with half-timbered houses, artisan workshops, and delicious cuisine. This tailor-made trip includes a good mix of guided tours and free time so you can experience the area at your own pace, from learning about WWII sites in Normandy to exploring UNESCO-listed villages and castles in Brittany.

Your first stop in Brittany is Dinan, a medieval town with well-preserved city walls, large towers, and a 14th-century keep. With a guide, explore the town’s architecture, from a cathedral with stained glass windows to an old market that was once one of the region’s busiest port cities. After walking the city’s streets and working up an appetite, head to a seafood restaurant where you can choose from a variety of fresh local dishes.

You’ll get a chance to sample some of the region’s famous food during your visit to Brittany. The local cuisine reflects its seaside location, with fresh fish and seafood often featured on menus next to locally-sourced cuts of meat. Adventurous eaters can try guemene andouille or Molene sausages, while sweet lovers should not leave without trying a buckwheat crepe or Europe’s most decadent pastry, the kouign-amann.

After a two-hour drive from Dinan, check into your hotel in the coastal town of Cancale, where you’ll stay for the next two nights of this trip. Relax on the beach or wander through the town’s historic streets to work up an appetite for a dinner of Breton specialties, such as creamy Camembert mousse and a hearty steak with potatoes and vegetables.

On the second day of this Normandy to Brittany rail escape, you’ll have a full day to explore Rouen, the capital of Lower Normandy, and the coastal D-Day battlefields. Walk around the Old Town and tour Monet’s garden at Giverny, then visit the American cemetery in Bayeux and Omaha Beach. You’ll also see Le Mémorial, a sculptural memorial that commemorates those who lost their lives during World War II. With an expert guide by your side, you’ll have all the answers to your questions and be able to better understand this momentous chapter of history.


The French countryside beckons you to explore the many facets of this magical region. From sandy beaches and quaint seaside villages to mystical island monasteries and towns that transport you back in time, this is a destination that is rich in history. From the Normandy D-Day Memorials to Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel, you’ll discover a country that will delight your senses.

The Loire Valley unfolds like a fairy tale, with evocative Renaissance castles and charming medieval villages. Visit Blois, crowned by the chateau once occupied by Louis XII; Amboise, home to Leonardo da Vinci’s final residence; and Nantes, a historic city with an awe-inspiring 15th-century chateau. The region’s vineyards produce world-class wines, and local breweries offer an array of flavorful options.

With its indented coastline, cliffs, rias and capes, Brittany is also home to a remarkable number of islands. The Gulf of Morbihan is a vast natural harbor, and around forty islands — the largest being Belle Ile — make up its closed sea.

Whether you want to take a cruise along the coast or visit a remote island in the bay, your guide will help you plan the perfect day.

If you’re an avid cyclist, you can take advantage of nine long-distance cycling routes in Brittany. These green paths run alongside rivers and canals, over old railway lines and on little roads, allowing you to discover the landscape of the region at your own pace.

During the 19th century, as economic troubles struck other parts of France, many Bretons migrated to Paris and other big cities. Even so, they retained their distinctive culture and in the 1960s a new cultural revival emerged. Bilingual schools opened, and singers began writing songs in the Breton language. Today, the region retains a strong sense of identity, with some 40,000 Bretons living in metropolitan France and others scattered across the globe.

Take a break from your train travel and spend a day exploring Caen on a two-hour segway tour. This is the best way to see the city’s main historical sites, including the River Orne, two abbeys and the castle. You’ll board your train again in the afternoon and continue on to Le Puy du Fou.

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