John Brunton, The Guardian, March 02, 2012
Banc des Oiseaux
Only open since June last year, this is the dream Normandy location – a magnificent mansion in 1920s Anglo-Normande style, sitting right on the long Merville Franceville beach. Monique Derre bought the house a year ago specifically to turn it into a chic chambre d'hôte. She is passionate about interior design and has decorated her five rooms in distinctive styles, each reflecting a different city around the world, from Nairobi to Kuala Lumpur. For breakfast, Monique bakes her own bread and, when the weather is fine, it is served on the terrace, looking out over the sea. There is also a tennis court, and just nearby is the wonderfully grand, though a little faded, resort of Cabourg. Reserve a table at the brilliant bistro, Le Baligan for the freshest fish, prepared with surprising, creative recipes.
• 105 route de Cabourg, Merville Franceville, +33 2 5001 3237, bancdesoiseaux.com, double room from €70
This charming, old-fashioned hotel certainly lives up to its name, situated high above the beach of Villerville, with 22 out of 26 rooms offering sea views. The grandiose villa was built in 1878 as the summer residence of the director of Paris's Comic Opéra, and was only turned into an hotel in the 1920s. It's owned today by a French and Dutch couple, who have redesigned many of the rooms with a subtle Oriental design, and who run a popular seafood restaurant on the premises. Villerville is a delight – a quiet, sleepy Norman village, right between the much more upmarket resorts of Deauville and Honfleur. Don't miss the local bistrot, Le Cabaret Normand, a great place to meet the locals.
• 7 alleé du Jardin Madame, Villerville, +33 2 3187 2022, bellevue-hotel.fr, doubles from €97
Lion-sur-Mer on the Côte de Nacre, the "pearl coast", resembles an Edward Hopper landscape, with its long sandy beach marked by an archaic lifeguard's lookout. But this quaint resort is beginning to brighten up, with the grand Hôtel de la Plage now transformed into La Fabrique, a funky lounge bar and restaurant whose DJ gets guests dancing on the waterside terrace, while a year ago, the elegant Marie Collet, turned the top floor of her imposing house into a two-room B&B. Le Vivier is 10 minutes' walk from the beach, though if you stand on tiptoes you can see the sea. The bedrooms are tastefully decorated, but guests can also use the garden for picnics, and a spacious lounge furnished with comfy leather armchairs. Bicycles are provided free of charge.
• 27 rue Bertin, Lion-sur-Mer, +33 2 3123 9866, demeurelevivier.com, doubles from €90
La Villa Marine
La Villa Marine's rooms may be adequate rather than exciting, but the views are excellent and this quirky address has been recently renovated with a modern bistro specialising in local seafood. The hotel sits in a no-man's land, right next to the train station, but has a unique position – in one direction it looks out over the bustling fishing port of Le Tréport, in the other across the long pebble beach and brightly-painted bathing huts of Mer-les-Bains. Once the holiday home of the likes of Jules Verne and Gustave Eiffel, this resort has a long esplanade lined with colourful gingerbread villas that resemble the home of the Munsters or the Adam's Family, and ends dramatically in a wall of sheer chalk cliffs.
• 1 place Pierre Semard, +33 2 3586 0222, hotel-lavillamarine.com, doubles from €69
Young owner, Nicolas Chanu, bought this property six years ago and has completely modernised the 10-room hotel. There is a magnificent view over Port Racine, the smallest port in France, that looks the size of a postage stamp in the wide, sweeping bay. You can walk straight down from the hotel's garden to the water's edge, and there is a sea view breakfast room which also serves afternoon tea, but no restaurant. Rooms are simple but comfortable, many with great views. The decor is very nautical, with vintage posters of cruise ships such as the France and Queen Mary, which stopped off at nearby Cherbourg, along with a giant model of the Titanic. Nicolas is a local boy, and full of tips on where to go along this wild coast, which looks more like Ireland than France.
• Port Racine, Saint-Germain des Vaux, +33 2 3352 7531, hotel-lerguillere.com, doubles from €87
La Maison des Galets
Jean-Louis Couture dreamt of owning this seafront hotel ever since childhood, and three years ago he finally bought it for his daughter, Géraldine, who has transformed a fusty old property into a chic address. The 14 rooms, seven of which have panoramic seaviews, have been decorated with giant blow-ups of vintage seaside postcards from the belle époque, while the ground floor combines a seafood restaurant, comfy lounge with vast leather armchairs and sofas, and a long wooden bar that is a popular haunt of St-Valéry locals. At high tide the beach here is grey pebbles, but the water goes out to reveal a long stretch of sand. Walk round the corner to the port where fishermen sell their catch to passers-by.
• 6 rue des Remparts, Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, +33 2 3597 1122, lamaisondesgalets.com, doubles from €75
Hôtel des Iles
Rather than the typical Normandy half-timbered manor house, Hôtel des Iles resembles a house on the Hamptons, covered with grey wooden slats and a boardwalk terrace that looks right out on to the beach. This is the kind of hotel Ralph Lauren would feel at home in. Twice a year, the decor is changed around, so in winter you'll see pictures of reindeer and sledges, while in summer it is deckchairs and sailboats. Cross the road from the hotel and you are already on the beach, and during the Equinox tides, the sea can be as far as two kilometres away, a paradise for what the French call la pêche à pied. And the hotel has all the kit for guests who want to go shrimping. There is a smart restaurant specialising in oysters and seafood platters.
• 9 boulevard Maritime, Barneville-Carteret, +33 2 3304 9076, hoteldesisles.com, doubles from €99
Le Mas Normand
The famous D-Day coastline boasts some of Normandy's most splendid beaches, still known by their coded wartime names – Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno. Rather than checking in to one of the standard hotels right on the beach, there are some outstanding B&Bs in the small villages that are just a couple of minutes' walk from the sea. Mylène Gilles has beautifully renovated a stone Normandy farmhouse, with four rooms, and in the garden is what she calls her "gypsy caravan", but is more like a roomy fisherman's cabin. Breakfast is hearty, with homemade cakes, organic apple juice, and eggs from their own chickens. You can picnic in the garden, and the nearby Gold Beach has many memorials to the British troops who landed here.
• 8 impasse de la Rivière, Ver-sur-Mer, +33 2 3121 9 75, lemasnormand.com, doubles from €70
Étretat is probably the most famous beach in Normandy, its distinctive white cliffs immortalised by the paintings of Claude Monet and other impressionists. This genteel resort has numerous hotels, and while the Angleterre may not actually be right on the beach, it oozes charm, and the present owner, Danielle Magne, explains to guests that it has a history of always being run by women. Built as a hotel back in 1850, there are only 14 rooms, all of them recently renovated. Keen photographers should note that Madame Magne has launched a photo competition for guests, with the winner getting a free stay and exhibition in the hotel. Ask about her new designer B&B, La Luciole, up on the cliffs, with panoramic views, though double the price of the Angleterre.
• 35 avenue George V, Etretat, +33 2 3528 8497, etretat-hotel-angleterre.com, doubles from €69
The vast bay where the Somme river comes out into the sea is one of France's most bewitching wetlands, and overlooking this sandy horizon is the spectacular Tourelles hotel. Resembling an English architectural folly, this private mansion was converted into a hip hotel 15 years ago by a creative bunch of Belgians and has been pretty much fully booked ever since. While the rooms are quite basic, the lounge and bar are cool and comfortable, and the restaurant showcases local vegetables, seafood and pré-salé lamb. Down below the hotel, horse riders pass by along the beach in the early morning, and you may even catch a glimpse of the local seals.
• 2 rue Pierre Guerlain, Le Crotoy, +33 3 2227 1633, lestourelles.com, doubles from €72