Caen la mer | We tested vanlife in Normandy for a few days

Caen la mer | We tested vanlife in Normandy for a few days

It was in the heart of Normandy, in the Calvados department, that we came to experience Vanlife, in total autonomy. A look back at our experience


First time in Normandy and our first weekend away in a converted van. It was a new experience that we couldn’t wait to share with you. But first, a brief presentation of Caen la Mer, This surprising territory of 366 km2 is made up of 48 communes and 4 romantic seaside resorts: Lion-sur-mer, Hermanville-sur-mer, Colleville-Montgomery and Ouistreham Riva Bella. But it’s also 10 kilometers of sandy beach, 15 kilometers of canal between Caen and the sea, a thalassotherapy center, 277 kilometers of bike paths including the vélofrancette and vélomaritime routes, and 25% of the total surface area of the city of Caen dedicated to green spaces.

At Caen la Mer, you’ll find fresh air all year round and the chance to sample local produce from sustainable agriculture: local fruit and vegetables, legendary cheeses, seafood, fish caught that very morning, as well as some famous dishes whose names are bound to ring a bell: Caen tripe but also Teurgoule and brié bread.

But Caen la Mer is also the pride of a thousand-year-old heritage, with a unique and striking history on its beaches and under every stone of every building: from the Viking roots to the Allied landings in 1944, via William the Conqueror, you can’t miss the region’s historical milestones.


photo credit Caen la Mer Tourisme








Arrive by car, or train in Caen then pick up the van at Vanille Expérience. The team of Maxime, Marie, Alix and Florence will welcome you with a smile.

When you go on a van weekend in Normandy, your worst enemy is the weather! But don’t panic, even in the rain, there’s always something to do or see in this area. We took advantage of the Friday afternoon showers to get the hang of driving the van, buy some groceries and discover the famous Pegasus Bridge.


  • Pegasus Bridge

This first bridge was liberated by surprise by British paratroopers on the night of June 5-6, 1944, as part of the military operation Pégasus Bridge also known as « Operation Coup de Main » which led to the liberation of Caen from the Germans. This iconic bridge was made famous by the film “The Longest Day”. It is an identical reproduction of the original bridge, which you can visit in Pegasus Memorial Park. Located on the canal, you can cycle past the Pegasus Brige if you take the greenway. Just beside the bridge is the first house liberated during the landings, now a café run by Arlette.

→ A guided tour of the bridge is also available if you’re interested in history and anecdotes.



  • La Biscuiterie Jeannette

Snack break and discovery of the biscuiterie Jeannette. Since 1850, this local cookie factory, which has been awarded the the EPV label ( entreprise du Patrimoine vivant) offers high-quality, pure-butter artisanal madeleines with no artificial preservatives. You can buy them individually or in attractive gift boxes. Whether plain or flavored with almond, lemon, chocolate, financier or apple, there’s something for everyone. Having tasted them, they are really soft and tasty.

For the record, it’s thanks to the premises that this business is still in operation, as it almost disappeared in 2013 when the company was placed into receivership. Like the Phoenix rising from its ashes, Biscuiterie Jeannette has found a new lease of life thanks to the workers known as the jeannettes, thanks to their fight not to lose their jobs, thanks to their work tools, but also thanks to their determination to keep alive over 150 years of know-how. Biscuiterie Jeannette is all about local production and entrepreneurship.

→ Factory outlet in Colombelles and 2 outlets in downtown Caen. Open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visit the factory by appointment for €1/person.



Overnight at the Ouistreham lighthouse in front of the CANO (Centre nautique de Ouistreham, Paul-Emile Victor jetty).. For practical reasons, we slept at the foot of this 38-meter-high lighthouse, as we wanted to make an early morning visit to the small Ouistreham market just opposite.

If you’re motivated and brave enough to visit the lighthouse, simply climb the 171 spiral steps to admire the breathtaking 360° view over the town, the mouth of the Orne, the Pointe du Siège, the canal, the marina and the seaside resort. Cost of visit: less than €5/p and free visits on Saturdays and Sundays in high season.

1st night in our van, warmly enjoying our welcome aperitif offered by Vanille Expérience.





  • Ouistreham fish market

After a good night’s sleep in the van, the day begins quietly and gently with the fish market. This market takes place every morning all year round on Ouistreham harbor. It’s an opportunity to buy fresh, seasonal seafood (mackerel, whelks, mussels, scallops, sea bass, shellfish…) caught the day before or received the same morning. It’s not very big, but there are a few stalls run by fishing families, each with their own trawler and quite proud of their catch. We picked up a few shrimps and 2 skate fillets to cook that evening in our van. From October to mid-December, the Calvados coastline comes alive to welcome the shell party. During the scallop festival in Ouistreham, you can buy scallops and visit the lighthouse, which is exceptionally open.


It’s easy to get there: just walk through the pedestrian lock next to the SNSM building. You can also get there by van, either by crossing the very narrow locks or by taking the long way around via the Pegasus Bridge.



  • Windsurfing

Caen La Mer’s long sandy beaches and good weather offer ideal conditions for water sports. It’s Ouistreham Riva Bella that we went to try out sand yachting. Thrills and speed guaranteed. After a few explanations on the sand, Antoine let himself be carried by the wind and his chariot on a prepared circuit. Allow a good 2 hours of fun.

→ In summer, the sand yacht is fully booked so remember to book in advance at the Ouistreham Riva Bella sailboat. Expect to pay around €42/adult, €38 for teenagers aged 12 to 18 and €34/children under 12.



  • Ouistreham Riva Bella beach cabins

A must-see, the 168 beach cabins are the pride of Ouistreham Riva Bella. It was the first time I’d ever seen one. They are undeniably beautiful, photogenic and run along part of the coast. Take advantage of the sea spray to stroll along the seafront and through the small sand dunes to reach Lion-sur-mer on foot.



  • Bike rides

I wasn’t able to explore the area by bike because I was a few months pregnant and couldn’t pedal. Caen is linked to the sea by a 15 km canal. A greenway has been laid out and can be used by bike, on foot or on rollerblades. So think about explore the greenway along the canal from Ouistreham to Caen or the vélomaritime between Ouistreham and Courseulles. You will find Click here for more information.

Do you know the vélo francette ? This cycle route was voted best cycle route in Europe in 2017 and links Ouistreham Riva-Bella to La Rochelle. For the Normandy section, the route runs through Calvados from the seaside resort of Ouistreham Riva-Bela, passing through Caen before skirting the Orne valley in Suisse Normande.


| Where to eat in Ouistreham


→ Mamma Mia: 63 avenue de la mer, Ouistreham


  • Lion-sur-mer, la falaise des confessionnaux and Sword beach

From Lion-sur-mer to Hermanville-sur-mer, the elegant villas built by wealthy families in the 19th century offer an impressive diversity of styles. A stroll along the seafront in these seaside resorts is a must, if only to get a breath of fresh air! But this area also holds some lovely surprises created by nature.

Located between Lion-sur-mer and Luc-sur-mer, la Falaise des confessionnaux is an unusual, unique and wild space. They are a succession of caves over several meters in length, dating back millions of years and formed by the tides. It is also a geological and paleontological site of international renown. Apparently, you have to admire them from a distance (but there are no signs indicating this at Lion-sur-mer), as the risk of rockfall prohibits approaching closer than 10 meters.

To get there, either plan a long walk of a few hours on the sand from Lion-sur-mer to Luc-sur-mer, or park in the parking lot just outside Lion-sur-mer. You can also plan a simple bike ride between Ouistreham and Lion sur mer (10 km round trip) along the sea and beautiful villas. Very pleasant and rather easy.



  • Sword beach

Sword Beach is the easternmost point of the D-Day landings, 15 kilometers from Caen and the Memorial. This is the only one of the five landing beaches where 177 French commandos landed. It stretches 8 km from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer.


| Where to eat in Lion-sur-mer

→ La Taverne : 15 place Georges Clémenceau, Lion-sur-Mer

→ La ferme Saint Hubert : 3 rue de la mer, Colleville Montgomery



  • Ferme de Billy

Billy’s farm, is an atypical place run by two brothers: one a cider apple grower and harvester who took over the family business, and the other an artist and restaurateur.

They’re well known in the region for their cider mill, their Calvados distillery and their incredible brunch, held in a verdant country setting at the heart of the cider farm. In addition to a warm welcome, you can buy their products directly, including their cider and delicious no-sugar-added apple juice in a variety of flavors: raspberry, rhubarb, basil and mint.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to try their brunch because of the COVID, but if you get the chance, make sure you do, as the setting inside and out is magnificent and apparently in very high demand (expect to wait months to get there).

The visit is free and includes a tour of the orchards and woods, as well as a visit to the 13th-century chapel.

Overnight in the orchard at Billy’s farm. We were lucky enough to be able to sleep in the van, one night in the orchard. It’s something brand new for the farm, a project they’ll be trying to develop over the coming weeks. If you buy products in return, I think you’ll be able to stay there without any worries. The easiest way is to contact them and ask for authorization via their website.






  • Thaon

Thaon’s old church, dedicated to Saint-Pierre and dating from the 6th and 7th centuries, is nestled in a green setting in the hollow of the Mue valley. This Norman Romanesque edifice is a listed monument and the starting point for a pleasant stroll through the countryside just outside Caen. Visits are free on Sundays. Ideally, park in front of the château or nearby and walk along the path that runs alongside the château to reach the church and the Mue stream in a few minutes.



  • Arromanches and its artificial harbour

We continued our journey with a quick stop at Arromanches. Yet another beach from the D-Day landings of June 1944, known for the remains of the artificial harbour created to supply the landed troops with weapons and ammunition. The images are quite stunning and immerse us in history. If you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, I’d also recommend a stop at Gold beach, not far from Arromanches, at the end of the day.



  • La pointe du Hoc

Late afternoon at the Pointe du Hoc. Today, this site located between the two landing beaches, Utah Beach and Omaha Beach, evokes what an artillery battery was, with its fire direction post, casemates and shelters. It was one of the toughest battles of the D-Day landings, and the scars are still visible. Aside from the historical aspect, this spring-flowered spot is really beautiful, and the views over the cliffs are pretty cool. Points of interest can be reached by following the safe, well-maintained path. Admission is free, but picnics are not permitted on site.



  • Omaha beach

Omaha Beach in Saint-Laurent-sur-mer is famous for its American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-mer, where some 9387 soldiers who fell for freedom are buried. Omaha Beach, called “bloody Omaha” or “Omaha la Sanglante”is the name used by the Allies during the Second World War to designate one of the five beaches of the Normandy landings.

Just 200 meters from Omaha beach, you’ll find the Memorial Museum created to perpetuate and preserve the memory of all those young soldiers who died in 1944. Heading down to the beach, you can admire at low tide or high tide, the statue of the Brave which pays tribute to the courage of the soldiers who came to liberate France.





  • Omaha beach

This magnificent beach with its ochre-colored sand is 6 kilometers long. Following the recommendations of the owners of Billy’s Farm, we chose to spend the night there, near the sand dunes below the American cemetery, and we didn’t regret our choice. We woke up to the sound of the waves and in the early hours of the morning, we took advantage of the opportunity to take the short walk along the path up by the view from the American cemetery.

Good plan: I advise you to look at the park4night website, for the different possible stopping points for the night as some vans can’t fit and are limited in height. Ours was right on schedule, allowing us to settle down by the dunes and the water.



  • Caen

The city of Caen ranked in the Top 10 cities in France to live in and the greenest cities in France, is known for its gentle way of life but also for the treasures of its 1,000-year-old heritage. We didn’t have much time to survey the town, but we did stop in front of the beautiful Romanesque abbey of L’abbaye aux Dames, one of Normandy’s heritage gems. The cherry blossom trees all around, sublimated her under the blazing sun. Then on to Men’s Abbey, a marvel of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror and still home to his tomb. Normally, you can visit the cloister, gardens, monks’ refectory and wedding hall….

→ A guided tour costs €5.50/p. Tickets are available from Caen Tourist Office.

Good plan: The Abbayes pass is a practical way to take a guided tour of Caen’s three major sites: Abbaye d’Ardenne, Abbaye aux Hommes and Abbaye aux Dames.

If you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, consider doing a little market tour of the port of Caen at the weekend. It’s the biggest market in the region, and the place to go to discover local produce and meet the people of Caen.




Abbaye aux dames


| Excursions in Caen



For the discerning curious and those who enjoy obscure tours, La ville offers a unusual tour recounting chilling tales of haunted houses, urban legends and tragic events in Caen’s city center. Visits are not recommended for children under 10, and reservations must be made with the Caen la mer tourist office or on their website.

➡️ Check availability and make a reservation




There’s one visit we’d really have liked to make before heading off again, and that’s discover the city’s street art with the different techniques and codes employed by the artists who have made Caen their playground. Free for children under 6, booking required at Caen la mer Tourist Office or on their website.

➡️ Check availability and book




This is the kind of tour we love, discover the city in a different way with a local who will reveal his favorite places, anecdotes and favorites. A great experience based on exchange.

➡️ Check tour availability and book



| Where to eat and drink in Caen


Caen has no shortage of great places to have lunch, dinner or a drink! We recommend dining in the picturesque area between the marina and the castle. Rue Ecuyère, Le Vaugueux and Quai Vendeuvre are good places to stop for a drink. You will find below our gourmet addresses:


Table of contents : 15 quai François Mitterand. A meal-on-a-shelf concept.

Villa Al Taglio: 43 quai de juillet

La Taverne : 9 rue esplanade Léopold Sedar Senghor

What’s with the truck : a food truck that travels daily, so check their website for locations.

Restaurant bobun Sasesu : 156 Rue Saint-Jean

Waikiki Poké Bar : 9 Rue Ecuyere

La casinière : 10 Rue aux Namps. Healthy, authentic products in a relaxed, subdued atmosphere.


Moon & Sons : 20 Avenue de la Release. This pub is a wizards’ haunt offering generous pastries and the famous butterbeer in a setting dedicated to the famous wizard Harry Potter and his world.

La Mouette : 60 ter Rue de Bayeux. Did you know that beer was produced in Caen? This organic microbrewery, ranked among the best in France, opened in the heart of the city and produces white, blonde, amber and brown beers with unusual names: la mouette qui braille, la mouette qui dérouille….

La fromagerie Conquérant: 27 Rue Guillaume le Conquérant. For a gourmet aperitif with cider and cheese in a warm and friendly setting.


  • The tip of the seat

The tip of the seat is the largest protected natural area in Calvados, located in the Orne estuary, where freshwater from the River Orne and saltwater from the English Channel create a unique landscape. This natural, unspoilt site offers incomparable biodiversity, with over 280 migratory species. It’s a real bird sanctuary, a place where you can cross mudflats, dunes, a large beach, salt marshes and a wood. There’s also an observation tower where you can admire the birds on the lagoons. Sometimes, with a bit of luck, it’s possible to spot one or more seals, preferably early in the morning.

End-of-day and early-morning lights enhance the setting. Head for the Ouistreham lighthouse, park your car in the designated parking area and start your tour.





What a lovely name « Vanille Expérience » to discover the experience of the converted van as seen by Maxime and Marie, two passionate and very sympathetic lovers who have launched this family business. After a round-the-world trip, numerous trips as a couple and a few months in Vanlife, notably in New Zealand, this couple decided to give us an out-of-the-ordinary experience, by setting up real mobile guest rooms inspired by their desires and discoveries.

Everything is ultra-well thought-out for a first adventure. The idea is to simplify our lives and reassure us with the facilities. To achieve this, they have created several vehicles that combine van, comfort and cocooning. The gamble really paid off, and the concept particularly appealed to us, as the Vanlife is a real first for us!

Vanille Expérience vans are simply a little house on wheels, with all the comforts you could wish for. This is made in Caen and several months of thought went into making these vans practical and comfortable. And that’s what makes all the difference!



| Vehicle specifications


  • Linen from Normandy (sheets, towels, tea towels, comforters, pillows and plaids)
  • Grocery stock: coffee, tea, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, spices and washing-up liquid.
  • A loudspeaker, 1 outdoor table and chairs and a molki are also included in the rental price.
  • A small 65-litre refrigerator with freezer, two gas hobs with electronic ignition and the utensils needed for cooking (board, frying pan, saucepan, Italian coffee maker…).
  • USB sockets and ports for charging cameras, computers and laptops.
  • 1 external and internal shower (with shower curtain) and 100-liter water autonomy. (perfect for hot showers)
  • Stationary diesel heater (works without having to start the vehicle)
  • Water heater (gas) with 8-litre reserve
  • Dry toilets with privacy screen
  • 1 large bed for 2 people (long bed 2m30 and 1m20 wide)
  • Living room bed on first floor: 105 x 180
  • 2 gas bottles
  • 1 4G tablet with cable for recharging, which works without wifi, with all registered applications such as Whatsapp (for the emergency line), Park4 night, Waze…
  • Dashboard to check the percentage of water remaining.
  • The roof is made of fiberglass with solar panels. The sleeping bag is a classic fabric made in Germany.
  • Interior and exterior cleaning is included.
  • Transfer from Caen station and airport included in the price
  • Free, secure parking for your vehicle.


| Template and style


The van is 2 meters high (without the pop-up roof) and 5m40 long, so you can park anywhere, in town or out in the countryside. The vans pass under most of the gantries and, above all, cost no more than a car at the toll booth. The company offers 5 vans for hire and a mini caravan. Each name refers to a district of a major city visited by our dear adventurers during their travels:

  • Coyoacán

  • Manhattan

  • Monica

  • Ponsoby
  • Redfern

  • Soho

The brightly colored interiors were conceived and designed by Marie, an architect by trade. The tasteful decor immediately takes you on a journey. Every little space is well thought out and optimized to create these quality vans. I advise you not to bring too many things with you for a weekend. Finally, as novices, you should allow 24 to 48 hours to get your bearings and avoid stepping on each other’s toes.




| Price list


Van rental includes:

  • 300 kms/day
  • 600 km for a weekend
  • 1200 km for a midweek
  • 2100 km for one week

Prices are degressive from the third night onwards, then after 7 days, 14 days… Count on 350€ for 2 nights. 2000€ deposit to be left with a bank imprint.

Vans can be picked up in Caen, as they have no branches in France. But you can also travel all over France and Europe. The French have already tried their hand as far afield as Sweden!



Info: We used the Park 4 night app to find places to stay day and night. Everything is very well indicated and I recommend that you always read the comments of the people who came just before you, it’s very useful. The app is really comprehensive, and also gives you the locations for filling the van with drinking water and emptying it. Over a 3/4-day weekend, you won’t necessarily need them!


Practical info | Caen



These excursions are aimed at people who can’t come and explore the Caen la Mer area for a whole weekend, but who are either passionate about history or want a day trip from Paris.



  • Discovering the Normandy landing beaches : Enjoy a guided tour of the Caen Memorial, discover the Saint-Laurent American Cemetery, Pointe du Hoc, Omaha beach and other major sites.

➡️ Check availability and book


  • Guided tour of the Côte de Nacre in a vintage convertible car : Discover the Côte de Nacre in a different way, aboard this vintage car from the 70s, during this guided tour in a 1976 Citroën Dyane convertible. Tour from Ouistreham to Saint-Aubin-sur-mer with stops to discover architectural splendors, monuments and places of tourist interest. Back to the starting point.

➡️ Check availability and book


  • Half-day trip in a side car Normandy cider tasting : explore Normandy in style on a vintage motorcycle sidecar. Accompanied by a guide, you’ll tour the countryside to learn about the production of Normandy cider, known as “calvados”. Stop off for tastings, visit the village of Beuvron-En-Auge and admire the views of this French region north-west of Paris.

➡️ Check availability and book


  • Fly over the coast in this small plane : Discover the wonders of Normandy on this private sightseeing flight. In a microplane, admire the view of the coastline from the air and discover other highlights, including the D-Day landing beaches and the port of Ouistreham.

➡️ Check availability and book




Situated equidistant from Rouen and Mont Saint Michel, Caen la Mer is at the heart of Normandy. Several means of transport make it easy to get there:


  • By train

From Paris Saint-Lazare, you can reach Caen station in just 2 hours (Paris line). -> Cherbourg). Find your train ticket to Lyon at the best price !

Don’t forget to watch the trains with Ouigo because you can find very low prices! Find low-priced train tickets to Lyon.


  • By Bus

Two companies, Flixbus and Ouibus, serve Caen and Ouistreham Riva-Bella daily from Paris and other major French cities.


  • By Plane

Land at Caen-Carpiquet airport, then take the line 3 Twisto bus to Caen. Twisto is Caen la mer’s public transport network, enabling you to get around easily by streetcar, bus or bicycle throughout the urban community. Find your flight with Skyscanner


  • By ferry

Last but not least, ferries run between Ouistreham and the town. – > Portsmouth and transfer to London. More information on Brittany Ferries website.



I hope this article has inspired you to discover Calvados and also to try out Vanlife. This article is my impression and the fruit of a collaboration with Caen la Mer Tourisme and Vanille Expérience, whom I would like to thank for their invitation.





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