Why choose Normandy?
Why choose Normandy? If you’re travelling from the UK, you could start with…because it’s there…a delightfully bucolic and rural region right on the doorstep.
And in 2020 Normandy is celebrating once again – with its great Normandy Impressionist Festival. On the theme of Everyday Colour (La couleur au jour le jour), enjoy 20 Impressionist exhibitions, 30 contemporary art exhibitions, performing arts, street theatre, and multiple events. It takes place over the glorious Normandy region down the coastline and inland from April 3 to September 6. A great festival to enjoy.
But what about its fabulous beaches; its sombre history associated with those fabulous beaches, and its food?
Or you might say: the Impressionists painters of Normandy; Monet’s garden at Giverny; Rouen with its Joan of Arc connections, or go back a bit further and look for William the Bastard. Fast forward to today, and it’s the D-Day Landing Beaches that pull so many to Normandy’s shores.
In fact, I find it hard to pin down a reasonably short list. But that doesn’t stop me trying.
Getting to Normandy is easy
Let’s start with because it’s easy to get there.
How and where you travel from depends on where you’re making for. If it’s the Normandy D-Day Landing beaches, then take Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth or Poole to Cherbourg in the summer months and from Portsmouth to Caen or Le Havre all year round.
I prefer the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Caen; you get on board, have your first glass of Calvados and hopefully get a good night’s sleep in a cabin. The only downside is that you do arrive at 6.30am in Caen (5.30am English time) which for many of us is painful.
Take DFDS from Newhaven and you arrive in charming Dieppe, perfect for a trip to Rouen or down the coast to pretty Etretat.
Check out more details on travelling to Normandy here.
Slow Travel…very slow travel
Forget a 6 cities in 6 day tour and take to the slow pace of Normandy life as the locals do.
Normandy’s rolling countryside and small lanes offer views of a rural life that seems straight out of Cider with Rosie. Green fields stretching into the distance are full of contented cows and horses; cider-apple orchards blossom in spring and are weighed down with fruit in late summer; half-timbered farmhouses appear anchored into the landscape, and small villages spring into life on market days.
It’s a pastoral scene that is unforgettable.
But Normandy is also famous for…its glorious abbeys
Of those self-sufficient communities full of busy abbots and monks that provided spiritual inspiration as well as the more worldly pleasures of cheese and liqueurs, 60 survive from the original 120 built over 15 centuries.
OK, you should visit Mont St-Michel reached by a causeway over the pounding sea below.
But my favourite has to be Jumièges on the Seine near Rouen. I visited it at dusk when my only companions were the rooks crowing in the tall trees and I found its white stone ruins, peace and sense of well-being one of the most romantic places I had ever visited.
…Normandy’s Impressionist painters…
Normandy is known as the ‘Cradle of Impressionism’. Paintings of fishing ports like Honfleur and Le Havre, of the gently flowing Seine, of Rouen cathedral and Monet’s garden at Giverny are now so familiar that it seems impossible to imagine them dismissed in the 19th century.
Camille Pissarro, August Renoir, Georges Braque, Claude Monet and more not only created a new modern art movement; they also captured what has become our idea of idyllic France. See them at Rouen’s Fine Arts Museum, the André Malraux Museum of Modern Art in Le Havre, and the Eugene Boudin museum in Honfleur.
During the summer months, Rouen’s cathedral comes alive with a light show that dances across the façade that Monet painted so often.
Caen was extensively bombed after World War II but walk around the Abbaye aux Hommes (and see William the Conqueror’s tomb), and the Abbaye aux Dames (where his wife Mathilda is buried) for a glimpse of Caen’s past.
Bayeux may be small, but it packs a pretty large punch with the Bayeux Tapestry which is one of the world’s great treasures.
…Normandy’s unfamiliar pleasures and hidden treasures
Christian Dior is one of fashion’s great figures, inventor of the New Look just after World War II and founder of the great fashion house.
But the villa where he spent much of his childhood holidays is relatively modest, standing overlooking the sea at Granville. It’s now a museum with top annual exhibitions that introduce the world of haute couture.
Go back a few centuries to the Château de Crevecoeur-en-Auge where an astonishingly well preserved, moated, fortified castle offers an idea of medieval life.
What astonishes is how close, and small, the buildings are. You didn’t get much privacy in the Middle Ages.
If you’re a fan of swashbuckling (I have never quite understood what that means though it seems to involve swords), buxom wenches and the alarming sport of jousting, time your visit during the medieval events, from May to mid August.
And of course, food and drink
You won’t get thin in Normandy though you might try by sticking to the harvest from the sea. Fish markets bring the best of the catch to many of the small seaside villages and towns like Courselles-sur-Mer, the medieval indoor market at Dives-sum-Mer, Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, Trouville-sur-Mer and Dieppe.
Think Normandy food and you have to include cheeses. Start with Camembert (made with raw milk and a totally different taste from the pasteurised versions you get in UK supermarkets, even those optimistically wrapped with red gingham).
And try stinking Livarot to impress or just drive the unwanted out of your house.
Don’t forget Pont-l’Evêque, made by those cunning Cistercian monks near Caen since the 12th century.
One of the best cheese shops in a region stuffed with them is the Graindorge Fromargerie in Livarot where you can taste before spending a small fortune on your cheese board.
You’ll have your own reasons for a visit, so please do let us know what you love about Normandy.
More about Normandy
More about Normandy on the official Normandy Tourism website