Rouen, A Beautiful Medieval City in Normandy
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Rouen, A Beautiful Medieval City in Normandy

Rouen Place du Vieux Marché

Rouen, A Beautiful Medieval City in Normandy

My passion for art and the Impressionists led my steps to Rouen, where I discovered the beautiful medieval quarter.
I had never been to Normandy before, and I was dreaming of visiting some of the main sights: Mont-Saint-Michel at low and high tide, a long reflection on the ravages of war at the WW1 battlefields, moments of bliss at one of the pretty towns along the coast, a walk on the cliffs of l’Etretat.
Rouen Half-Timbered Houses
I soon found out that I needed much more time than three stretched days and that I would have to hire a car to get around quicker and easier. I didn’t want to rush, though. In my imagination, Normandy was a region calling for slow travel, taking the time to savor the small things.
I studied the map, looking for a destination not too far from Paris and attractive enough. My passion for nature and outdoors is second only to my love for art and architecture, and that’s how I got to decide where to spend these few days: that would be Rouen. After all, Impressionism was born in Normandy, and with that in mind, I remembered Monet’s beautiful paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, captured at different times of the day and of the year.
And so Rouen it was.

The stunning medieval old town

As I always say about Milan, the city where I live, you haven’t seen it if you don’t visit the Duomo. The same applies to the Rouen Cathedral, the symbol of the city, though I soon found out that there are many others beautiful sights.
Despite the heavy bombings during WW2 which destroyed more than 45% of the city, Rouen medieval center is stunning.

Rouen Tour du Gros Horloge

Medieval Rouen

Magnificent gothic churches, charming alleys and lovely squares lined with the typical half-timbered houses, the beautiful arch with the Gros-Horloge, the keep where Joan of Arc was tried, threatened of torture, and sentenced to die, and the typical charm of French smaller cities. 

Although Flamboyant gothic is not my favorite architectural style, there’s no denying that Notre-Dame Cathedral is impressive. 

The Cathedral of Rouen fascinated Monet who, between 1892 and 1983, represented it in more than 30 paintings, and it is also renowned for its three imposing towers. One of them, called la Tour de Beurre (The Butter Tower), owes its name to the indulgences that were practiced in the Middle-Age. During Lent, the drastic religious rules forbid the consumption of butter, but people could escape the rule in exchange for a donation to the church and the offerings financed the construction of the tower which was thus named Butter Tower.

Rouen Cathedral Facade

Rouen Cathedral Sculptures

The gothic building that stole my heart was the abbey of Saint-Ouen.

More than the facade, overlooking a square where due to the city development it doesn’t fit well anymore, I thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful gardens surrounding the external aisles and the apse. Farther from the traffic noise, the abbey is at least partially returned to what it originally was: a place of prayer, silence, and meditation (this is probably a rather romantic and unrealistic idea of the time, but I like to think it used to be close to my imagination).

Rouen Saint-Ouen Abbey
It was, however, the half-timbered houses what made Rouen truly special to me, as it had already happened in Albi when I visited the city a few years ago. Italy is certainly not short of beautiful architectural examples, but the half-timbered buildings that became typical in Northern Europe during the Middle-Ages hold a Nordic charm which I find fascinating.
Among all these well-kept beautiful houses, the newly built church of Saint Joan of Arc in the center of the Place di Vieux Marché looked to me like a heresy. I don’t know how residents feel about it, and even though the church is meant to celebrate the Saint who was burned alive right there in 1431, I couldn’t help wondering why such an ugly building should spoil the view of an otherwise beautiful square.

Rouen Place du Vieux Marché

Rouen, not a city for tourists (almost)

I was surprised by how little tourists friendly is Rouen.
True that the medieval center of Rouen is not so big, but as I strolled in the pretty alleys I noticed that there are no signs pointing to the main attractions. I didn’t really care, since I like getting lost and wander randomly, halting whenever something interests me (meaning… quite often), going back to the same place at a different time of the day to see it under a different light. However, if you don’t have much time you can easily get confused, unable to distinguish the alleys and to name the magnificent gothic churches.
Visitors willing to explore Rouen medieval center can only partially rely on the Tourism Office to get a map and a little advice since it closes at lunchtime as well as on Sundays. Yep. You got it right.
But it’s at the railway station that I made the oddest discovery. Don’t even think of leaving your luggage, since there’s no deposit, nor are there lockers. Keep it in mind if you’re planning to make a stopover for a short visit along the way. Perhaps you can negotiate with the café at the station, or some others nearby, and they might agree to keep your stuff for a few euro. Start exercising to ask it in French (you might be more successful, if only for the effort).
Bonjour / Bonsoir
Pouvez-vous garder nos valises pour quelques heures, contre un paiement? 
{Good morning / Evening
Could you keep our luggage for a few hours, against a payment?}
If you’re used to eating at any time of the day, beware that most restaurants end their service around 2:00-2:30 pm. Also, many are closed on Sundays. Therefore, to avoid McDonalds or touristy places, it’s better to have a look before at the opening days and times of your chosen restaurant.

Practical Information:

Getting to Rouen

The nearest airport is Paris, where you can travel from all over Europe and from overseas.
It takes 90 minutes to reach Rouen from Paris St. Lazare station. Therefore, Rouen can also be visited as a day trip from Paris.

Accommodation in Rouen

I stayed at a lovely studio near the train station which I found on Airbnb, but there are also plenty of hotels and B&Bs.

If you’re in for a treat, you may consider to stay at the Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Autograph Collection. The building, an ancient mansion dating back to the 15th Century, is beautiful, and the hotel features also a SPA where you can pamper after a long walk in the alleys of Rouen Medieval Quarter. Even if it’s not your accommodation style, it is worth a visit if only for the stunning architecture.

 

Travel addict and passionate about photography, Simon Falvo started Wild About Travel back in 2009. Leveraging her strong PR background, she developed an extensive knowledge of Digital Communications and Social Media Marketing. Besides travel writing SImon holds workshops and trainings, she collaborated with tourism boards for digital marketing campaigns and participated as a speaker at several events.
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1Comment
  • Trees Rotteveel
    Posted at 16:43h, 27 April Reply

    Interesting place with the history of Joan of Arc and Monet!

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