Rouen Old Town, Magical Medieval City in Normandy

Rouen Place du Vieux Marché

Rouen Old Town, Magical Medieval City in Normandy

My passion for art and the Impressionists led me to visit Rouen, where I discovered the beautiful medieval quarter of Rouen old town. 

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, the capital of Normandy. After all, Normandy is where Impressionism was born, 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.

Discovering Rouen old town, amid stunning medieval houses

As I always say about Milan, the Italian 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 old town is very well kept and it took my breath way..

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. The old town of Rouen is an endless discovery.

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, the father of Impressionism, who, between 1892 and 1983, represented it in more than 30 paintings. Its architecture is also renowned for the 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

Much as I like the Cathedral, the gothic building in Rouen old town that stole my heart was the abbey of Saint-Ouen.

Unfortunately, the facade overlooks a rather busy square which doesn’t fully valorize it. I moved away from the road and the card and headed towards the peaceful gardens surrounding the external aisles and the apse, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  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 of it that way).

Rouen Saint-Ouen Abbey

It was, however, the half-timbered houses what made Rouen old town truly special to me, as it had happened in Albi when I visited the city a few years ago. Italy is certainly not short of beautiful architectural medieval 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 du 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 of the old town 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 catches my attention (which happens a lot), 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 visit 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. That’s quite weird, especially as you can also visit Rouen as a day trip from Paris.

It’s at the railway station, though, that I made the oddest discovery. Don’t even think of leaving your luggage, since there’s no deposit, nor are there lockers. Keep that 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. I usually search CheapOair and Skyscanner to look for good deals on flights. 

From Paris, by train, it takes 90 minutes to reach Rouen from St. Lazare station. Therefore, you can also visit Rouen old city taking a day trip from Paris.

Accommodation in Rouen

Luxury:

If you’re in for a treat, you may consider staying 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.

4 Stars – Mid-range price

Centrally located near the Cathedral,  Mercure Rouen Centre Cathédrale offers all amenities and is perfectly situated to explore the old city.

Apartment

More and more often I prefer staying at an apartment rather than at a hotel. For solo travelers, apartments are often cheaper and I like being able to cook my own meals. For families, a flat is a good option so that the kids can have more space and greater freedom, compared to a hotel room.

This 50 sqm apartment in the heart of Rouen is cozy and modern.

Guided Tours:

If you’re visiting Paris and are short on time, a good solution is to take a day tour. This small group guided day-trip to Rouen will allow you to discover the best sights of the Normandy’s capital and enjoy the views of the countryside and the Loire Valley along the way.

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Rouen Medieval City
Rouen, France
Rouen, Normandy
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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.

** Discover Rouen Old Town, the breathtaking medieval heart of the Normandy's capital. **
You can visit Rouen as a day trip from Paris. However, Rouen old town is so beautiful that it's well worth spending a couple of days.
#france #traveltips #bucketlist #rouen #normandy
1 Comment
  • Trees Rotteveel
    Posted at 16:43h, 27 April Reply

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

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