Normandy

For Normandy, Mont St Michel and the D-Day sites are often the region’s biggest attractions.

Look further and you can be delighted by commanding chateaux, windswept golden beaches, the lush Seine Valley, William the Conqueror’s cathedrals and countryside of lazy grazing cattle and half-timbered buildings.

D-Day sites & museums

The D-Day invasion has gone down in history as the most successful and daring military operation. British, American and Canadian soldiers landed on five beaches after a successful paratroopers and rangers assault. What followed was a bloody and courageous battle that changed the outcome of World War II, and many think the future of Europe and the world.

Today, the D-Day sights evoke much emotion and are one of Normandy’s biggest attractions. Bayeux was the first French town to be liberated and its memorial museum showcases weapons, films, uniforms and more. The museum in Caen has a lovely Garden of Remembrance and a strong theme of peace that carries throughout the museum. Utah Beach at Cherbourg was the site of an epic battle that its museum tells in detail. Omaha Beach was once the site of a blood-red sea and today has a museum dedicated to the elite American Rangers.

The cemeteries are numerous and are separated by nationality. Nations represented include Britain, America, Germany, Poland and Canada. The German cemetery, La Cambre is the largest with 21,160 grave sites.


Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel is one of the most enchanting sites, and sights, in all of France. What was once a small island surrounded by water, is now one of the world’s most stunning abbeys reaching skywards atop the island’s centre rock. Cascading down from the abbey walls are a collection of watchtowers, fortified walls, churches and other buildings. Often shrouded in mist, Mont St Michel is as mysterious as it is miraculous.


Normandy sights and cities

Normandy is a fantastic region to explore by car. Often it is the smaller villages that are the most charming and unique, so be sure to schedule some time to just drive around and see the quieter side of France. The starting point for Mont St Michel is Avranches, also highly religious in nature. From its Jardin des Plantes is one of the best coastal views of the great Mont St Michel.

North in Coutances, is the brilliant Notre Dame is the Norman Gothic style. Continue north to the Cotentin Peninsula. Be sure to sample some of the local cider of the peninsula and take time to wander the windy beaches. At the point of the peninsula are Cherbourg and its great port. The market square is typically awash in the bright colour and heady fragrances of flowers. The Cite de Mer is an excellent aquarium and the Thomas Henry Museum has a lovely art collection.

Moving east along the coast brings the Cote de Nacre and the concentration of D-Day beaches, memorials, museums and cemeteries. Bayeux is an enchanting city along the coast that managed to go largely undamaged during the invasions. Its collection of 14th-19th Century buildings are quiet nice to explore. The crypt of Notre Dame in Bayeux has a very interesting tapestry collection.

Just inland is Caen, a wonderfully modern city with two simply amazing cathedrals. William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda lived here and much of its construction can be linked to the two rulers, including two stunning abbeys and their castle on the River Orne. Caen’s old quarter has been beautifully restored and is now a lovely pedestrian zone of cafes, boutiques and shops.

The Cote Fleurie, or Flowery Coast, has long been the area for posh beach resorts and lively beach activity. Head to Trouville, Deauville or Cabourg and you’ll be amidst casinos, beachside promenades, racecourses, thousands of colourful parasols and all that any trendy beach resort can offer.

Honfleur has always been one of France’s important harbours. Now it is classed as one of its most picturesque. Vieux Bassin, the old dock, is the thriving heart of the port. Discover the old port’s charms in the Musee de la Marine. Honfleur is an artistic city, attracting artists and exhibitions alike. The Musee Eugene-Boudin houses a wonderful body of artwork.

Roam the wild stretches of the Cote d’Albarte (Alabaster Coast) and its chalky white cliffs. The Falaise d’Aval is particularly pretty. Inland, the Basse Seine is lush and pure with Rouen as its capital. Rouen is a prosperous city, but its past is marred by not only World War II, but also the Hundred Years War. It was in Rouen that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431 in Place du Vieux-Marche.

Notre Dame was painted by Monet and the Palais de Justice and Hotel de Ville are impressive. Also visit the Musee Flaubert (old medical equipment), Musee le Secq des Tournelles and the Musee de la Ceramique.


Normandy leisure & sports

One of the nicest ways to explore the Basse and Haute Seine is by riverboat. The Seine Valley has long been enchanting travellers. The English Channel is a fabulous place for fishing excursions, most launching from every city of size. The resorts on the Cote Fleurie are known for windsurfing and now kitesurfing also.

Cycling through Normandy is a massive industry. All through the Cotentin Peninsula, the coastal areas, D-Day sites and the Suisse Normande, biking is newest and greatest in holiday trends. Hiking and horseback riding through the national parks is also a fabulous and eco-friendly way to spend the days.


Normandy golfing

Normandy is home to around 40 different golf courses. Deauville is the centre of Normandy golfing. Near Dieppe to the east is the wonderful Saint Saens Golf Club. The Champ de Bataille is an excellent championship course with demanding greens. Etretat Golf Club is stunning atop the alabaster cliffs, but mind the winds.