The Secret For an Authentic French Experience

Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in Countries, France | 6 comments

Summary: Bernay is a place you should definitely visit if you love France and want to avoid other touristy places. This typical little Norman town is located only an hour and a half drive from Paris, and will transport you to the French atmosphere you’re looking for: old houses, monuments and a beautiful medieval abbey. This post will give you a good idea about the town—what you can see, do and eat, and why Bernay is so worth visiting.

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Bernay’s houses

Each country has its own specificities. France’s worldwide reputation for its cheeses is of course not to be questioned, but thank God France is not only about cheese! Located in the middle of the “old continent,” the country also abounds in museums, old churches, abbeys and historical sites. We had the chance to stay in Normandy in the town of Bernay, one of the few cities that wasn’t bombed during World War II. The town was built during the 10th century, and almost all of its houses are old—some of them dating back to the 16th century.

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Bernay’s houses

Two small rivers cross Bernay, which gives the town its very specific and charming appearance. All along the rivers the old washing houses have been preserved so that you can easily imagine how life looked in past centuries.

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An old washing House

In addition to the fact that the town itself and its small winding streets are really beautiful, you can visit the museum located in the small park (“jardin public”) in the middle of Bernay. It’s a very small museum where you can nevertheless see nice paintings and old collections.

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An old book at the museum

Note that the park is very relaxing as well.

The ticket for the museum includes a visit to the very old abbey (1010), which is considered to be a jewel of the Norman architecture and is a must-see in Bernay.

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Abbey of Bernay

You wouldn’t feel the old European atmosphere without the ongoing chiming (sound) of the churches’ bells. The “Sainte Croix” church (located downtown) and the cathedral of “La Couture” (a little bit further—10 minutes walking on the other side of the railway) can both be visited for free.

If you want a nice view of Bernay, you can climb up “Les Monts,” a small hill at the edge of the town.

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View of Bernay from “les Monts”

Shopping in Bernay

Though Bernay is a small town, in the main street (“rue Thiers”) you will find all kinds of shops: clothes, shoes, souvenirs, gastronomic products and plenty of supermarkets of all types and sizes.

Bernay Coffee Shops

So what else should you do in France beside visiting old monuments and eating cheese? Well, French coffee shops are another must-visit if you want to get a real feel for the country! From the morning “café-croissant” to the set lunch, the afternoon break, and the famous “aperitif/apero” until late at night during the weekends, coffee shops are part of the French way of life. You will find plenty of them in Bernay, just like anywhere else in France.

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Winding streets in Bernay

Our selection:

  • The PMU
  • The Café de la Gare
  • L’Agriculture

Where to eat in Bernay?

In Bernay you have a wide range of restaurants, from traditional cuisine to the very French crêperie, two pizzerias, oriental food (kebabs, Moroccan) and more recently a Thai restaurant. McDonald’s is also part of the list, but is a little further from the downtown area.

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Street in Bernay

Our selection:

  • Le Dattier
  • La Crêpe d’Or
  • L’Auberge Normande
  • Le Romantica
  • Le Paradizio
  • Le 49 Boulevard
  • Le Sawatdee
  • Le Bistrot

Bakeries, gastronomic

There are four bakeries on the main street that are all good—you’ll just have to taste something different from each of them! The specialties of the region are the “grillé aux pommes,” “tarte aux pommes” (apple pies) and apple based dessert.

There is a very good shop in the rue Thiers where you can buy Normand gastronomic products such as cider, jams, cheeses, cookies, candies and cooked meats.

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Houses along the river

And our favorite, which has nothing to do with Normandy but has to be mentioned: “Cacao Story” 

This shop—dedicated to chocolate products, as its name suggests—is a real cave of Ali Baba! You can spend hours there if you like chocolate—you might not want to leave! It’s the best shop to go if you are invited somewhere and don’t know what to bring.

Weekly Street Market

Don’t miss the Saturday morning market, where you will find different products of the region and where locals from Bernay and the villages around typically come.

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An old door

Where to Stay

In Bernay there are a few good hotels, and there is a camping site that opens only in summer. But as mentioned at the beginning of this post, Bernay is only one hour and twenty minutes from Paris by train (the ticket costs around 20€, one way), and though there are a lot of things to do in town, the place is very small and can be visited in one day.

We hope this post will inspire you to come and visit Bernay—a stop you won’t regret!

Have you been to France before? What did you like most?

6 Comments

  1. Must admit that I’ve never heard of Bernay. My loss, apparently, it looks so quaint and charming. Reminds me a little of an old English town, which is not surprising, I suppose, as it’s just across the water. Will make a point of stopping in Bernay next time I’m in Normandie.
    Sophie recently posted…Blue MountainsMy Profile

    • It’s quaint and charming indeed and surprisingly there are a lot of British tourists who come and sometime buy a small house here too.

  2. I was born in Bernay in 1959 (at home, the doctor came to the house). My mother Lucette was from Bernay and according to her, our family had been residing there for many generations. My father was from the US which is where I was raised. I truly enjoyed this site. Thank you 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! Our families probably knew each other, my grand parents (Mr and Mrs Lefebvre) came to Bernay before the world war II my mother was around 3 years old. I wasn’t born in Bernay but I consider it as my home town because it is where I stay when I go back to France and I love the place.

      • Hello folks-Sounds like you have had a wonderful summer in Bernay. Reading your post and seeing the photo’s is awesome. Thank you for sharing. It makes me proud to have been born there!

        Donna-Ann 🙂

        • Hi Donna-Ann,

          We are actually in Bernay since last May, but all the photos on the blog are from last summer. I hope I will have time to publish more about Normandy. I hope you’ll be able to come and visit some day, I will be happy to show you around and maybe find your family’s house!

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