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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?