Updated on 8 March 2021
Reading time: 7 minutes
Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l’Evêque and Neufchâtel – the four famous PDO-certified Normandy cheeses. You may have tasted them, but have you ever visited the towns and villages they were named after? Why not do it this year? To make life as cheesy as possible for you, we’ve put together a three-day itinerary complete with some (optional) walking trails to counteract all that delicious cheese you’ll be enjoying during your weekend in Normandy.
DAY 1: CAMEMBERT
Our first day of exploring the Normandy Cheese Route starts in Vimoutiers. This small Normandy town is two hours by car from Paris and just a few hundred metres from the border separating the départements of Orne and Calvados. We’re on the Orne side, and it’s from here that we’ll be setting off on our first walk to the pretty village of Camembert, home to… you guessed it!
It’s just turned 10am, and sporting decent walking shoes, with picnic and flasks and suncream packed, we head off from the Place Makau in Vimoutiers. We’ll be walking the Pays du Camembert trail, which will lead us to the eponymous village, where Marie Harel was said to have invented Camembert cheese with the help of an abbot from Brie, who gave Marie a recipe for a soft cheese with an edible rind. It went down well with locals, word spread, and the rest was history!
It is worth mentioning at this point that only Camembert produced in Normandy is worthy of the prestigious PDO certification (‘AOC’ in French), so make sure the cheese you’re buying is Camembert de Normandie AOC next time you buy it, and not an imitation!
The distance cross-country between Vimoutiers and Camembert is 18km, and is fairly challenging, so we were soon grateful that we had worn good shoes. By midday, after climbing some taxing hills, we find ourselves looking down on the pretty village of Camembert, with its quaint half-timbered houses and quaint church spire. It’s a sunny day and the view is beautiful. Before we continue with the walking trail, we take a few mandatory pictures of the village sign and have a walk around the Maison du Camembert, a small museum detailing the history of Camembert which culminates in a cheese tasting.
The walking trail takes us back out of Camembert and across to the other side of the valley before looping back towards where we came from. Once we arrive back in Vimoutiers, we visit the Musée du Camembert for good measure, where we admire the many different colourful Camembert labels that have adorned boxes of Camembert over the years. We also learn that the word ‘tyrosemiophile’ is used to describe someone who collects labels; in this case, camembert cheese wraparounds!
Evening is fast approaching, so we make for our home for the night, the Ferme Balder in Le Renouard. En route, we pass a village called Crouttes, which was where Marie Harel was born. We decide to stop there briefly and admire the sunset from its hilltop position. Arriving at the Ferme Balder, we are welcomed by our hosts Caroline and Emilie. This new B&B only opened in 2020, and our bedroom is both comfortable and beautifully decorated. We end our day with a delicious table d’hôtes, aka a homemade dinner prepared by our hosts, and finish our meal rather appropriately with a tasty slice of camembert before heading off to bed.
DAY 2: LIVAROT AND PONT-L’EVÊQUE
Feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep, we head out at 8am to a village 20 minutes away called Montviette. From here, well be embarking on our second walk of the weekend, this time along the Canteraine walking trail, again in the beautiful Pays d’Auge. The walk is easier this time around, and we amble past many a Normandy cow, with their distinctive spectacle markings, and pretty thatched cottages. Here, our everyday life feels very far away, and we fast feel our worries slip away amid the peace and quiet of the countryside.
Two hours into our walk, we decide to visit the E. Graindorge cheese dairy, where a lot of the Normandy cheese you see in independent cheesemongers around the world is produced, including the village’s eponymous cheese, Livarot. In particular, we’re keen to see how Pont l’Evêque and Livarot cheeses are made, and we’re not disappointed, for visitors to the dairy can watch the different stages of the cheese-making process through windows that look out onto the dairy. Particularly captivating is the care that goes into wrapping raffia around Livarot cheese before it is packaged. This cheese is actually nicknamed ‘The Colonel’ in France because of its five strips of raffia, whih are similar to the one worn on a French army colonel’s uniform. After we have toured the dairy, we opt for a cheese platter of all the cheese made here at the bar à fromages – the perfect lunch!
In the afternoon, we drive to Pont-l’Evêque to meet Emilie, a guide from the Terres d’Auge Tourist Office. In addition to tellng us all about the town and its history, Emilie takes us to the Fromagerie Annabelle, where we learn the importance of the PDO certification in Normandy and protecting PDO-certified cheeses like Pont-l’Evêque, all while supporting local producers. Naturally, we play our part by each buying some of the square-shaped cheese to take with us.
Tonight, we’ll be staying at the Villa des Arts hotel in nearby Lisieux. This hotel boasts bright, contemporary decor, with bold colours and eclectic art on the walls of both the hotel and restaurant. But before we eat dinner here, we just have to explore Lisieux and see its stunning Basilica of Sainte-Thérèse, which is the second religious pilgrimage site in France after Lourdes.
DAY 3: NEUFCHÂTEL
Getting up early, we drive over the River Seine and into the Seine-Maritime département of Normandy. Our final destination is Neufchâtel-en-Bray, home to oldest of the four PDO-certified Normandy cheeses and the only one not produced in the Pays d’Auge, heart-shaped Neufchâtel. To work up an appetite, we’ve decided to try out the 6km Marie Cloche walking trail, which will take us up into the hills around the town so we can admire sweeping panmoramic views of this part of Normandy known as the Pays de Bray.
After an hour and a half of walking, the clock strikes noon and it’s time for some lunch at Les Tables de la Gare. It’s an idyllic spot; a former railway station converted into a restaurant, where diners can enjoy delicious crêpes with views of the Avenue Verte, the cycle green way from Dieppe to Paris that runs through Neufchâtel. There’s also a shop adjacent to the restaurant where we pick up a few local specialties to take home.
Lunch break over, we’re back in the car and on our way to the Ferme des Fontaines in Nesle-Hodengen, where we’ll be learning about Neufchâtel cheese. According to legend, during the Hundred Years War, young Norman girls would give English soldiers a heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheese as a token of their affection, and the cheese has remained that shape ever since. Typically matured for 8-10 weeks, Neufchâtel has a much saltier, sharper taste than Camembert, Livarot and Pont-l’Evêque.
So there you have it – three days, four Normandy cheeses, and soon four walks! Because now that we’ve enjoyed all that cheese, we should probably get another bit of exercise in before we head home… We finish our weekend with one last slice of Neufchâtel and a ramble along the nearby Forêt du Hellet walking trail (10km/2h30), passing the majestic Château de Mesnières-en-Bray basking in the sunshine as we go. What better way to top off a weekend of wonderful cheese, weather and walking!
Local Tourist Offices
Office de Tourisme Terres de Richesses – Vallées d’Auge et du Merlerault
21 place de Mackau, 61120 Vimoutiers
Terre d’Auge Tourisme
16 bis place Jean Bureau, 14130 Pont-l’Evêque
Office de Tourisme Bray Eawy
6 place Notre Dame, 76270 Neufchâtel-en-Bray
Places to stay and eat
La Ferme Balder
Lieu-dit Le Moncel, 61120 Le Renouard
Prices start at €110/night
Table d’hôtes (dinner) starts at €28/person (minimum 4 people)
Villa des Arts (hotel and restaurant)
2 avenue Victor Hugo, 14100 Lisieux
Prices start at €109/night
Dinner and breakfast: €45/person
Les Tables de la Gare
Place de la Gare, 76270 Neufchâtel-en-Bray
Set menus start at €10/person