Explore the historic French city of Rouen on a budget
Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Joan of Arc may both have met dramatic ends after visits to Rouen, but Monet loved painting the cathedral and Gauguin, Pissarro et al congregated here – hence the array of art impressionist of the French city.
There are great value restaurants and an easy rail connection to Paris.
Where to stay
Hotel Le Vieux Carre
There are few nicer places in town than the small breakfast terrace of this old half-timbered building.
Artists such as Gauguin and Pissarro congregated in Rouen (pictured) – hence the city’s array of Impressionist art
There are just 13 rooms, with brightly painted walls and all sorts of quirky decorations, from Egyptian lamps to Moorish-style tables.
Ask for a room on the third floor if you want a view of the cathedral.
B&B doubles from £61 (hotel-vieux-carre.com).
The Bohemian Hotel de la Cathedrale, pictured, was once a favorite getaway for Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Tucked away on a tiny side street next to the cathedral, this former inn was once a favored getaway for Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.
You can see why: the bohemian bohemian vibe is perfect. Take room 24 for a true artist’s attic experience (with a view of the cathedral bell tower) and expect a warm welcome from Tigger, the hotel’s impressively built cat.
B&B doubles from £96 (hotel-de-la-cathedrale.fr).
Hotel Le Cardinal
Each of the 15 rooms in this small hotel located on a pedestrian street has a view of Rouen’s Gothic cathedral, which is about 12 steps from the front door. The trendy purple and white color scheme gives a slightly Scandi air of fast-paced efficiency to the place.
B&B doubles from £84 (cardinal-hotel.com).
Check in to the jewel Hotel Dandy, which is a stone’s throw from the Old Market Square (pictured)
This jewel place is located in a privileged location, a stone’s throw from the old market square. The hotel’s claim that it’s decorated “in an 18th-century style” stretches it a bit, but standard rooms are spacious with light wood floors, antique desks, and lovely views from upper levels .
Double (room only) from £57 (hotels-rouen.net).
Where to eat
The Little Food
How do they do? Four courses plus coffee for £17 every night except Sunday. Young locals pack this unassuming bistro, not only for the barely believable prices, but for outstanding local cuisine, like fillet of cod with Dieppoise sauce and a light-as-a-feather crisp (crispy pastry) stuffed with brie.
With ten choices for starters and main courses, you’d be hard-pressed to find better food at these prices anywhere in France. It is located at 1 Rue des Boucheries Saint-Ouen.
In the office
Feast on French-American comfort food at Au Bureau, a former shipping warehouse turned into a wildly popular restaurant
Colorful buildings in Rouen. Visit the city via an easy train connection to Paris
On the banks of the Seine, this former maritime warehouse is now an extremely popular space that offers comforting French-American cuisine. The portions are truly gargantuan, so be prepared for a serious afternoon carb crash if you try one of the ‘Croques’ filled to the brim with Cajun chicken (£11.50) and ricotta or pastrami, pickles and cheese gratin (£12.20) (aubureau-rouen.fr).
The pop culture boom of the 1980s was fully embraced here. Home-style dishes are served in a space where the walls are a vast montage of Transformers and Back To The Future ephemera.
But even if decor isn’t your bag, the food is always worth it – try the £12.15 two-course lunch menu, with retro classics such as the ‘butcher’s cut’ which changes every days with fries and salad, followed by tiramisu (lesfilsamaman.com/rouen).
Gout Shop to Eat
Just £15 will get you a three-course meal at Gout Boutique a Manger, a chic and contemporary spot near Rouen Cathedral (pictured)
Far more chic and contemporary than many of the places surrounding the cathedral, Gout (meaning ‘taste’) offers a jaw-dropping set of lunch options – for just £15 you get a three-course meal which could include a velouté of cauliflower and a wonderful fish and vegetable broth. . There’s also an in-store deli, selling extremely high-end olive oils and pots of rillettes. It is located at 72 rue Saint-Romain.
Epic salads and pancakes are the specialties of this unusual little address, with whitewashed rough stone walls and loyal customers who have long known that this address offers one of the best cheese platters in Rouen: a Camembert platter (from Normandy) as the star of the show costs just £5 (lacornaelle.eatbu.com).
What to see and do
Head to the illustrated Museum of Fine Arts to admire works of art from the Impressionist movement. Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Rouen is the cradle of the impressionist movement and the Museum of Fine Arts (mbarouen.frfree) features an outstanding selection of late 19th-century works, including one of Monet’s sultry Gothic cathedral portraits and beautiful provincial scenes by Camille Pissarro and Albert Fourie.
Meet the maid
This year marks the centenary of Joan of Arc declared secondary patroness of France, and the story of the life of the Maid of Orléans is told in a series of multimedia exhibitions at the Historial Jeanne d’Arc (historial-jeannedarc.fr, £8.80). It’s mostly dark stuff, but includes a poster of the many movies made on it.
Life beyond wine
Buy a few bottles of beer at St Wandrille (above), the only abbey in France where the monks brew beer on site
Of course, it is easy to find good wine in these regions, but Norman beer is also quite exceptional. 40 minutes from Rouen by bus, St Wandrille (st-wandrille.com, £4.15) is the only abbey in France where the monks brew beer on site. Buy a few bottles to take home after exploring the monastery and meeting the brewers.
No one in literary history has captured petty-bourgeois frustrations and doomed extramarital affairs quite like Rouen-born Gustave Flaubert. Head to the Flaubert Museum inside Chu Hospital (chu-rouen.fr£8.50) for a (self-guided) insight into the author’s life.
How to get there