The département of Seine Maritime comprises three distinct sections: Normandy’s dramatic northern coastline, home to major ports like Dieppe and Le Havre and such delightful resorts as Étretat; the meandering course of the River Seine, where unchanged villages stand both up- and downstream of Rouen; and the flat, chalky Caux plateau, which makes for pleasant cycling country but holds little to detain visitors.

Dieppe in particular offers an appealing introduction to France, and with the impressive white cliffs of the Côte d’Albâtre (Alabaster Coast) stretching to either side it makes a good base for a long stay. The most direct route to Rouen from here is simply to head south, but it’s well worth tracing the shore west to Le Havre, then following the Seine inland.

Driving along the D982 on the northern bank of the Seine, you’ll often find your course paralleled by mighty container ships on the water. Potential stops en route include the medieval abbey of Jumièges, but Rouen itself is the prime destination, its association with the execution of Joan of Arc the most compelling episode in its fascinating history. Further upstream, Monet’s wonderful house and garden at Giverny and the English frontier stronghold of Château Gaillard at Les Andelys also justify taking the slow road to Paris.

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