The Normandy Pages:
| Normandy is quite a large area of north western France, my experiences of it are largely confined to Lower Normandy (Basse Normandie) which stretches along the coast from the mouth of the Seine at Honfleur via the D Day beaches and the Cotentin peninsula to Mont St. Michel and includes the Départements of Calvados, Manche and Orne. There are separate articles on Caen, Cherbourg and Saint Malo (which is in Brittany, but the article overlaps to include Mont St. Michel).|
For the English Normandy is synonymous with two things, the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the D Day landings in 1944, but there is obviously much more to the area. It is a largely rural area, with dairy farms predominating, famed for its cheeses, the most famous of which is Camembert, producing cider and Calvados (a spirit distilled from cider). In some ways the rural atmosphere is reminiscent of England 30 years ago, which isn't to say that it is old fashioned more that it feels less intensive.
Starting in the east, Honfleur is a very picturesque fishing port just across the mouth of the Seine from Le Havre, which is in Seine Maritime, Upper Normandy. Honfleur is one of those must visit, ultra attractive places, it does at times get quite crowded as a result but not normally excessively so. There are cobbled streets, the harbour is surrounded by old buildings as can be seen in the photo above, it does genuinely have so much atmosphere to it. A good time to visit is a Saturday morning when there is a market in the streets including some next to the harbour.
Going west along the coast there is a string of resorts between the Seine and Orne estuaries starting with Trouville and its neighbour, the chic Deauville and running on to Cabourg. There is more about this section of the coast and that beyond the Orne in my article on Caen, so here I'll just say that each of the many little resort towns along these sections of coast have their own characters so, if you can, visit them all, there'll be at least one that suits you !
The coast west of the Orne, from Ouistreham Riva Bella to Courseulles sur Mer formed Sword and Juno beaches on D Day, further on there was Gold beach and then Arromanches, site of the Mulberry Harbour, which formed the British and Canadian sector on D Day. Further west again is Port-en-Bessin which was where PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean) came ashore, then further on again you come to the American Omaha and Utah beaches. Though this all occurred back in 1944 it is still a major event in the areas history and there are many museums all along the coast and inland at Caen. The two I'd suggest seeing are the one at Arromanches and the Memorial at Caen. There are also military cemeteries with their long rows of uniform crosses which serve as a reminder of the cost of liberating France. As many museums have tanks or other military hardware as roadside advertising you are rarely far from some reminder of that phase in Normandy's history.
Turning inland for a while, the other main event in Normandy's history as far as the English are concerned was the Norman Conquest in 1066, and the most famous record of which is the Bayeux tapestry which is on display along with a large number of panels and models which help you to understand the tapestry itself when you get to it at the end of the tour. The modern Normans aren't averse to reminding us of the Conquest, there is an Hôtel Hastings next to Pegasus Bridge and the boat which runs trips on the Caen Canal is the "Hastings", on the other hand there is a plaque in Caen which reads "Those who were conquered returned to liberate".
I've given Caen an article of its own, so here I'll just say a bit more about Bayeux which has much more to offer than just the tapestry. Bayeux was virtually unscathed by the D Day landings as it was liberated on the first day before the Germans had "dug in" and so it still has its old town centre with a long main street running from the market square (the Saturday market alone is worth a visit) down to the bridge over the river Aure. Views of all these can be seen in the Bayeux and Suisse Normande photo album.
Heading back east, across the mouth of the Seine is Le Havre. The two are linked by the Pont de Normandie, which is an attraction in its own right. much of Le Havre is oil refineries, docks and industry but there is a nice side to the town, some aspects of the town and the pont can be seen on Le Havre. It is, of course, a ferry port with services to Portsmouth operated by LD Lines.
The Normandy Pages:
|All photos not otherwise credited are Copyright © S Huddy 2001-2011|
This site was last updated 05-01-2012