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Normandy France

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Normandy is divided into Haute (upper) Normandie and Basse (lower) Normandie. The River Seine flows from Paris and through Basse Normandie before reaching the channel. Normandy comprises the départements of Calvados (14), Eure (27), Manche (50), Orne (61) and Seine Maritime (76).

There are a number of significant ports in the region. Rouen is the nearest port to Paris, and the towns of Le Havre and Cherbourg are both transatlantic ports. Passenger ferries from the UK land at Cherbourg, Dieppe, Le Havre and Ouistreham (near Caen).

There are many trains into Normandy from Paris and it is a fairly inexpensive way to travel a single to Bayeux costs around €30 and it takes 2.5 hours to get there from St Lazare station.

Once you get to Normandy, the hardest thing will be deciding what to do first. You could visit Monet's gardens at Giverney, or the jardin des plantes in Coutances. There is plenty of art to see in Normandy ranging from the Bayeux tapestry, which depicts William the Conqueror's victory at Hastings, to the Musée Américan in Giverney, which contains numerous works by American Impressionist painters. There is also an impressive collection of Impressionist paintings in Le Havre.

If you fancy a day at the seaside, the coast line in Normandy is very varied. You could choose to visit the windswept D day landing beaches near Bayeux or the overdeveloped seaside resorts of Trouville and Deauville, or Fécamp. More appealing are the pretty towns of Honfleur and Barfleur, and the villages along the banks of the Seine. The Côte d'Albâtre has chalk cliffs and pebble beaches.

In the 11th and 12th centuries many abbeys and churches were built in the Romanesque style and there are many fine examples of such architecture in Normandy. Later the Gothic style became popular and the cathedral at Rouen is a fine Gothic structure. In fact, Rouen is the only town to have had its medieval centre fully restored after WWII. Most other towns just have the odd medieval building in amongst the post war architecture. Other great cathedrals can be found at Bayeux and Coutances. There are monasteries at Jumièges and Caen, and Richard the Lionheart's castle is to be found at Les Andelys.

Local fare tends to be made with a lot of cream and butter: Normandy is not really the place to come for nouvelle cuisine. Camembert, seafood, cider and Calvados should all be on your list of taste sensations for this region.

The Normandy Landings

Today, the undulating Norman countryside is only trodden by a few cows, and gives way to the occasional town with its vernacular architecture of half timbered farmhouses mixed with post war structures. Looking at the peaceful and pastoral landscape of Normandy, with its fields and hedgerows, you would be forgiven for thinking that nothing bad has ever happened there.

However, Normandy has seen its fair share of battles, landings and invasions. In the 9th century, Normandy was subject to numerous invasions from Scandinavian Viking pirates. The region took its name from these Norsemen ('Normans') who were allowed to settle around Rouen in 911 AD by the French king Charles the Simple. Having established themselves in the Rouen area, the Vikings adopted Christianity.

In 1066 William Duke of Normandy famously set out for England to claim his title to the English throne. He won the Battle of Hastings, killing King Harold on 14 October 1066, and became King of England and William the Conqueror. This famous episode in Norman history is recorded in the Bayeux tapestry.

During the Hundred Years' War (1337 1453), Normandy changed hands several times, with England ruling the region (except the Mont St Michel) for 30 years until France finally won it back off England in 1450. The Catholics and Huguenots fought it out on Norman soil during the 16th century as Normandy was a Protestant stronghold.

The region's greatest battle began on 6 June 1944, commonly known as D day, when 45,000 allied troops landed on the beaches near Bayeux. The very hedgerows that are such a feature of Normandy countryside were responsible for making it difficult for soldiers to fight during the Battle of Normandy. Several months and 100,000 deaths later, the German opposition fell. Normandy thus has an abundance of war memorials, museums and cemeteries, especially around the Bayeux area and the beaches just north of there.