Why choose Normandy?

Normandy Countryside. Loic Durand/Calvados Attractivite

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.

The Impressionists brought the delights of Normandy to the British and American public. And there are plenty of places associated with the revolutionary painters like Monet’s garden at Giverny.

The Seine near Rouen by Monet. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Go back further in time for places associated with William the Bastard (the Conqueror to most of us) and Rouen with its Joan of Arc connections. 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

Peaceful roads and rolling green fields in Calvados CDT Calvados

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

Jumièges on a bend in the Seine River

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…

Cliffs at Etretat by Monet
Étretat cliffs by Monet. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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.

…Normandy’s cities

Sound and light show on Rouen Cathedral

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 Museum at Granville. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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

Luc Sermer CDT Calvados

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-sur-Mer, Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, Trouville-sur-Mer and Dieppe.

Stinking but delicious Livarot. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Cotentin Peninsula beside the sea, Normandy
Cotentin Peninsula. © E. Ursule CRT Normandie

You’ll have your own reasons for a visit, so please do let us know what you love about Normandy.

More about Normandy

Normandy and Impressionism
Getting to Normandy

Tour of the D-Day Landing Beaches from Utah to Sword
Where to stay near the D-Day Landing Beaches

More about Normandy on the official Normandy Tourism website

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