Two Budget friendly all rounder motorcycles tour Normandy
From Medieval towns, steeped in history to D-Day beaches. Normandy is full of twisty roads passing through a vast tapestry of Northern France
There is that little niggling feeling inside all of us bikers, that craves to disappear for the weekend, in search of adventure. If you’re looking to escape for the weekend but want to go further afield, then Normandy in Northern France has an irresistible appeal. It has a bounty of landscapes steeped in history. It has a beautiful coastline and countryside and some gorgeous cuisine and fine wines.
I met up with my mate Gary and set off on a Thursday night, getting on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth over to St. Malo at 8pm. Gary’s Honda CBR600F and my Suzuki GSX650F were strapped into place by the deckhands on-board. That just left us to decant our baggage into a very tiny 2 man cabin and then head down to the bar to seek out the very best in cheesy cabaret entertainment.
The next morning, the ferry had docked into a very sunny and historical looking St. Malo. After waiting for the rush of pushing tourists, we calmly loaded our bikes up and departed the ferry with ease. We headed straight from the ferry port into the cobbled streets of the ancient medieval city enclosure. Having parked the bikes up, breakfast was eaten at the Cafe de L’ouest, whilst marvelling at the 16th century castle and ramparts and the The cathedral of Saint-Vincent.
Whilst enjoying our first French breakfast, we sat and soaked up the fantastic position in the sun and the ambience of a typical french cafe scene. Whilst we were there, we drew up a loose plan of things that we wanted to see. I had previously mentioned to Gary, over a beer, that it was daft that France was so close, yet we don’t tend to nip over for the weekend. The plan was simple. We were going to head over to Normandy from Portsmouth for a couple of days to enjoy some of the finest twisty roads, Northern France had to offer. First on our list was visiting the ancient island abbey of Saint-Mont-Michelle.
We left St. Malo and headed out on the D776 and Route de la Baie. Straight away we were presented with fine views over fields and hedgerows with the twisty road snaking its way over the horizon. WIth the heat shimmering of the freshly laid tarmac, we made the most of this pristine playground. It wasn’t long until we were back riding through quaint little villages, with terrific views over the bay looking out towards the 8th century abbey.
The majestic abbey is located on its own tidal island in the bay, in fact the whole bay is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. That means parking on the mainland and then walking the 2 km to the abbey over the sand flats. We did this on a baking hot day at 24 degrees Celsius in full leathers. Overheated was an understatement and the cold glass of coke in the citadel was very welcome. We walked to the top of the North tower past all the quaint cafes and shops for views over the bay. We opted against getting the horse and cart back to the car park and sweated profusely in dire need of water when we returned to the bikes.
Back on our bikes we set off from Mont-saint-Michel, straight into the quiet twisty, newly laid tarmac. Upping the speed for what was a spirited ride in-between rows of corn fields, Only slowing down to marvel at the quaint little villages such as Bas Courtils on the D43. Chatting via our Sena intercom system we quickly discussed the next stop on our loose itinerary.
Our next destination was to head to Omaha Beach via Bayeux. We didn’t stop in Bayeux to marvel at the ancient tapestry, depicting the conquest of England by William the Conqueror. Instead we chose to ride around Bayeux a few times taking different roads. I had recently installed the Co-pilot app on the Samsung and it kept losing its connection with the Sena intercom. This was rather frustrating after the third pass of WInston Churchill boulevard.
We finally made it to Colleville-sur-Mer after managing to sort out my GPS issues. We were greeted with yet another small historic village with a stunning church and lots of memorial sites to the fallen hero’s of WWII. Turning off before the church takes you down a narrow lane towards Omaha beach. We parked up and took a walk to see the memorial and bunkers that line the cliff tops. We took a couple of moments to just take in, what had actually happened. It’s difficult to think that around 4,000 soldiers were killed or wounded here on D-day. We chatted about the scene the Germans faced when looking out over the channel from their bunkers and seeing all the allied forces parked on their doorstep. The tide was coming in when we visited so we missed seeing the remains of the rusted metal objects that disrupted the beach landing.
Leaving Omaha Beach was quite sombre and the time was now ticking on. It was already 4.30pm and our belly’s were starting to rumble. Heading out of Colleville-sur-Mer along the N13, we set our GPS for Caen.
We had initially made a rule to avoid all highways and toll roads, but as time was getting on, we wanted to get to the historic city quickly. Unfortunately we joined the rush hour commuters, but we didn’t have too much drama navigating the rush hour traffic. Both bikes with minimal luggage were able to filter through the traffic with ease. We found a cafe and had a well deserved blonde beer, whilst we perused where we should stay. After looking at one of our hotel apps, we found somewhere that was close to the bars and restaurants. We spent our first night soaking up the Friday nightlife of Caen.
On Day 2 of our trip, we left Caen and headed for Ouistreham and more importantly Pegasus Bridge. We navigated the early morning traffic and headed out on the D515, taking no time at all to arrive at the Caen Canal Bridge. We stopped at the famous Cafe Gondree for a coffee and pastry. The cafe is a living museum and memorial to those airborne soldiers who’s objective it was to liberate the bridge and cafe.
We left the cafe and made the short ride to Ouisterham, heading out towards the first beach of the day – Juno Beach. Juno was the landing zone for the Canadian and US forces. It is one of five designated beaches that were used during the D-Day landings in June 1944. Even though it’s six miles long, it is a quiet beach. Spending time reading the hundreds of names on the pillars makes you realise the absolute sacrifice the allied forces made to liberate France. The sandy beach dominated by concrete bunkers. When we left the museum, the joint noises of the Scorpion exhaust on the GSX650F and the Yokoshima on the CBR600 seemed a bit intrusive, whilst we pondered where to head next.
Leaving Juno we headed down the coastal road out to Arromanches-les-Bains. This was probably the best road of the trip. It had everything from small quaint villages to pristine tarmacked twists and turns. The two budget all rounders lapped up the bends, ensuring a thrilling ride. Arromanches was bustling with tourists, so we parked up and found a nice restaurant. Taking in the scenery of the surrounding beach, it seemed very surreal that in amongst the mulberry docks and memorials, were local tourists dipping their toes in the sea and making the most of the sun and sand. We took a moment to soak up all the atmosphere with our first glass of French wine and some well deserved moules mariniere, before taking to the road again and heading further towards our destination for the night – Rouen.
The road heading out from Arromanches to Rouen is fantastic. The tiny villages that run the length of the D765 are something out of a Dicken’s novel. The very tudoresque looking houses form the backbone of the Cidre Route, which runs through the region. We didn’t stop to taste the apples. Our only aim was to test our Michellin star rated Pilot Road 3’s as we explored the rolling hills and green valleys full of orchard farms.
It took roughly 3 hours to travel the scenic route to Rouen. I was a bit gutted that we never made it to Honfleur, but maybe that’s for another time. Again, we hit the city of Rouen at rush hour peak traffic and this was becoming a habit. Trying to listen to the Co-Pilot app, whilst negotiating, busy traffic and closed roads, was no mean feat and not as much fun as the previous empty roads. I could feel myself getting rather flustered with it all. It then dawned on me that I wasn’t commuting from my place of work, we were on holiday. Having discussed our plight over the Sena intercom, we pulled over to the nearest bar and parked up. We ordered two glasses of crisp cold lager and chilled out. As usual, we looked at our hotel app and booked a hotel to stay for the night, that was cheap and cheerful.
Rouen is a fantastic city and well worth a visit. The night was spent checking out the local taverns and the tasting the cidre that we had discovered on our epic 3 hour journey. We left Rouen in the morning and took the journey to Calais to meet the Channel Tunnel. The ride wasn’t the same as it had been over the last couple of days. It certainly wasn’t that thrilling. It seemed to be just a case of putting the two bikes through their paces and refuelling where necessary.It was a real shame, because it seemed that we had left the best of Normandy behind us.
Reflecting now, it would be better to do the trip in reverse. Start at Calais and then save the best until last. You could then get the ferry back from St Malo into Portsmouth. I honestly had no idea northern France has so much to offer. I didn’t imagine there to be half the towns, culture and adventure on offer that there is. Taking two budget bikes with minimal gear on tour is easy to do. It just goes to show that you don’t need the latest adventure bike with all mod cons to explore continental Europe. It took just 3 days to witness some fantastic scenery, great roads and more importantly to dip our toes into northern France. I’m definitely going to be doing it next year, but might even make my way to Provence!