Where to begin? Visualize the dramatic cliffs and delightful harbours along the lengthy coastline. Envision the authentic towns, cities and their cathedrals from the middle ages. Imagine the impressionist decor of the charming village of Giverny and countryside powdered with flowers and vibrant greens. Feel the electrifying sea breeze whipping over the beaches of Normandy just as it did on D-Day.
Normandy certainly isn’t lacking in worthwhile sights and experiences. To the contrary, you will probably have to choose only a few among all the marvellous features to enjoy. But never fear, here is a list of we’ve pulled together to help you decide. Have a read through our top reasons to visit Normandy and give in to the wonder and fascination it kindles.
We might as well start with the most visited site in Normandy. According to the legend, the Archangel Saint Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches and ordered him to build a sanctuary on the Mount. It eventually became an abbey, perched on a rocky tidal isle. You can reach it on foot at low tide but the sea surrounds it entirely when the tides change. This made it a valuable stronghold since the the abbey was naturally defended by the powerful sea, driving away or drowning potential attackers at every high tide. The beautiful and enchanting site could also be a lethal trap. In fact, King Louis XI started using it as a natural prison during the 15th century…
Even today, the danger is very real. Quicksand, unpredictable weather, mighty tides…
Although it may be tempting to cut through the salt marshes at low tide, you must not stray from the path that connects the Mount to the mainland. You will then be able to admire the mystical, gothic style abbey and the surrounding bay, both UNESCO world heritage sites.
In addition to the sights and the landmarks we will mention, a few words must be said about the delectable regional food and drink. Could you really go to Normandy without having a glass of real Norman cider? If there is one element of culture that unites and defines the people of Normandy today, it must be their love and devotion to local food and drink. Cider has travelled through the ages and remains one of the staples you can find pretty much anywhere!
In fact, apples are used to make several heavenly beverages, ranging from cider to calvados. Have a look at our article which will guide you through the world of Norman drinks! As for food, you cannot leave without trying a camembert, native to the region. The fact that Normandy is a coastal region means you can also indulge in delectable seafood. Go on a wine day tour from Paris to taste these local drinks!
Although men have built true gems in the region, Normandy has natural beauties which will take your breath away. The white chalk cliffs of the Albâtre coast host this singular formation. Why not take a walk and discover this solitary needle and neighbouring arch, cut out of the escarpments? Maybe you will find the secret pathway into the hollowed out needle, which conceals the royal treasure… The author Maurice Leblanc planted the seed of this myth in his series of Arsene Lupin books, contributing to the mysterious vibe of the imposing structure.
Jump back to the middle ages as you step into the city’s remarkable medieval streets. As you walk down the pedestrian streets in town centre, you will be overwhelmed by the gothic architecture and awe-inspiring constructions. Of course the most notable example of this is the Rouen cathedral. This beautiful edifice was painted several times by Claude Monet, and you can find the canvases in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The Cathedral square is also famous for having been where Jeanne d’Arc, a catholic saint, was burnt at the stake by the English…
The cathedral boasts an impressive tower built in the 15th century, called “Butter tower”. Why the strange nickname? It comes from a religious anecdote. Indeed, the townspeople financed the construction of the tower in exchange for the permission to have butter during lent… a compromise that left us with a delightful sight to behold! The curious will also enjoy the Gros Horloge, an astronomical clock from the 14h century.
This last must-see area of Normandy doesn’t need much explaining. The beaches were the bloody scene of the Allies’ landing on June 6th 1944, in a successful attempt to deliver France from German occupation. Many are familiar with the names of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. On Gold beach you can still see the remains of the huge artificial docks that were dragged over from England to enable a smooth unloading. You can learn all about this operation at the D-Day museum close by in Arromanches. Omaha beach, nicknamed “Bloody Omaha”, saw a great number of American casualties. To get an idea of the scale of the massacre, you could go by the American cemetery of Colleville. See for yourself the 9387 cold white crosses perfectly lined up row on row on this land granted by France to the USA.
If you’re interested in this aspect of Normandy’s history, you could also visit the Memorial museum of the battle of Normandy in Caen. The memorial takes you through the events thanks to original and diversified forms of media, and aims to convey the extreme fragility of peace.
While we’re on the subject of natural beauties, we must inevitably mention the beautiful gardens of Giverny. You can visit Monet’s house, surrounded by colourful gardens bursting with flowers. Perhaps you will even recognise the Jardin d’eau, the lily pond featured in his works. The Nympheas painted by Monet are on display et the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, a beautiful example of impressionist art.
There is something for everyone in this northern region of France. Beyond these 5 amazing sites, we could mention the vibrant harbour cities like Honfleur, the Bayeux tapestry, the proud castles and much more. Why not take a trip to some of these areas, and make sure to try the region’s acclaimed delicacies on the way?