A Drive Along the Route des Abbayes
Beginning at Rouen, the Seine winds through black forests and lush green countryside along the Route des Abbayes, eventually ending at Le Havre. As you make your way past the ruins of monasteries and châteaux, you'll agree that this is one of the most memorable routes in France.
Ten minutes after leaving Rouen (on D982), you'll arrive at the 11th-century Abbaye St-George, in St-Martin de Boscherville. Continue along D982 and then on D65 around the Seine for 19km (12 miles) to Jumièges. One of France's most beautiful ruins, Abbaye de Jumièges was founded by St. Philbert in the 7th century and rebuilt in the 10th century. The archbishop of Rouen consecrated the abbey church in 1067 in the presence of William the Conqueror. The 30m-high (98-ft.) nave is complete, and two towers 45m (148 ft.) high surround the porch.
Another 16km (10 miles) along the right bank of the Seine is St-Wandrille, 53km (33 miles) northwest of Rouen (take D982 from Jumièges). Abbaye de St-Wandrille was founded in 649. Over the centuries, it suffered many attacks (by Vikings, among others). Hardly anything remains of the monastery, save for an 18th-century gate that frames the entrance, and inside cloisters that date from the 14th to the 16th centuries.
From St-Wandrille, continue for 3km (1 3/4 miles) to Caudebec-en-Caux, in an amphitheater along the Seine. Nearly destroyed in World War II, it has a Gothic church from the 15th century. Henri IV considered it the handsomest chapel in his kingdom. On its west side is a trio of Flamboyant Gothic doorways, crowned by a rose window.
Drive west around the north bank of the Seine to the tranquil village of Villequier. You can visit the Musée Victor-Hugo, quai Victor-Hugo (tel. 02-35-56-78-31). It has the manuscript of his poem "Contemplations" and excerpts from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Some 53km (33 miles) to the west, along D81 and N182, is Le Havre, France's major Atlantic port. The city was repeatedly bombed during World War II, but its recovery has been amazing. From here, you can take boat tours to the lovely resorts of Trouville and Deauville.