Normandy

by Christine Cantera  

Normandy is located to the northeast of Paris, situated along the coast of France between Brittany and Picardy. Although the British presence in this region of France is no longer strong save for a few British-controlled Channel islands, the region was once ruled by the Normans and has been a part of France since “only” the 13th century.

A mostly agricultural region made up of boacages—a patchwork of fields divided by high hedges, like you see from your airplane—much of the country’s dairy is produced here, cattle breeding is an important industry and cider is produced from the apples grown in the region. Fishing is another important industry.

Normandy is generally sub-divided into Haute-Normandie (Upper Normandy) and Basee-Normandie (Lower Normandy).

Things to do in Normandy

Visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial—In addition to being a major center of industry and agriculture in France, the beaches of Normandy were also where Allied troops landed on D-Day. There is a WWII American cemetery and memorial located in Colleville-sur-Mer that honors American soldiers who died in Europe during WWII. The cemetery is located on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach (one of the main landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion).

Take a trip to Mont Saint Michel—This iconic village and monastery built on a islet, which becomes surrounded by water during especially high tides is one of the most visited attractions in France, and is located on the Normandy/Brittany border.

>>Read about how to get from Paris to Mont St-Michel.

Check out the Herring Festival in Dieppe—If you find yourself in Normandy in the late fall/early winter, head to this picturesque town on the Normandy coast for the herring festival.

Go to the beachNormandy is home to several great beaches. While they may not be al that warm save for a few months in the summer, these beaches vary between wide and sandy and are distinguished by large cliffs dropping into the ocean.

>>Read about the Best Beaches in France

Enjoy the local food and drinks—Normandy is known for its abundance of seafood and is also where much of the country’s hard cider is produced. As a major beef and dairy producing region as well, the local cheese and beef dishes are excellent here. Basically, you can’t go wrong when chowing down anywhere in Normandy.

Regional Cuisine of Normandy

Normandy is largely characterized by its rolling countryside with dairy and cattle pastures and apple orchards.

Cheese—As a major dairy producing region in France, some popular Norman cheese include Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, Boursin and Petit Suisse and more. My two favorite Norman cheeses are camembert (a milder, creamier brie) and Pont l’Eveque (another popular cheese characterized by it’s creamy center, brie-like crust and known for its especially aromatic scent).

Cider—Normandy is one of thr few areas in France where not much wine is produced. Instead, hard cider is the main beverage produced in this region, made from the apples that grow in the region. Apple brandy is also popular in this area. A Kir Normande is a cocktail made from crème de cassis (a black currant liquor) topped with cider.

Seafood—Norman cuisine is also largely influenced by its proximity to the sea. Normandy is the primary region of oyster, scallop and mussel raising and cultivating in France.

Apples—The Norman countryside is dotted with apple orchards, and apples rae used extensively in the cooking here. Moules à la normande are mussels cooked with apples and cream. You’ll also see apple tarts and pastries, hard apple cider and liquors and apples appearing in many other recipes.

PastriesNormandy is also known for its pastries. It’s the birthplaces of the brioche (a sweet egg bread). The region is also noted for its confections—apple sugar from Rouen, caramels from Isigny, mint chews from Bayeux andmarzipans from Le Havre.

Main Towns/Attractions in Normandy

Rouen—This is one of the main cities in Normandy and is also home to some interesting sites. Located near the center of town, visitors to Rouen will find Le Bouchon de Jeanne d’Arc (the place where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake), the magnificent cathedral painted by Monet as well as a series of quaint wooden buildings typical of Norman architecture. Rouen is also where famous French writer Corneille was born and lived.

Le Havre—Translated as “the harbour” in English, it is no wonder that this port city located at the mouth of the Seine River on La Manches (the English Channel) has always been the harbour for Paris and has served as a major port for goods coming to and from Paris via ocean-going vessles and barges. Le Havre is largely an industrial town, though as a major port city it is renowned for its shopping and great deals.

D-Day Beaches—Maybe you’re a history buff, maybe you had a relative participate in the D-Day invasion, but Normandy is home to the beaches Allied Troops landed on for the D-Day Operation on June 6, 1944. You can visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach.

Caen—This university town is not only home to one of the largest medieval castles in Europe (William the Conqueror’s castle), but it is also famous for the bars that stretch along Rue Saint Pierre.

DieppeThis is actually the nearest beach to Paris, meaning that it is usually lively year-round, but especially in the summer. It is a cute town with typical Norman architecture set in a backdrop of white cliffs dropping into the ocean, a big sand beach and large harbor, which serves as an important fishing port.

>>Read more about Visiting Dieppe

Hornfleur—This is a small town surrounding a beautiful 17th century port, which still serves as an active and important fishing port and marina. Located just over the Pont de Normandie from Le Havre, Hornfleur has preserved many historic and traditional buildings and houses some interesting museums, churches and monuments. It is known as one of the prettiest places in Normandy.

Weather in Normandy

Normandy has a maritime climate with warm summers and mild winters that is remarkably similar to the weather where I currently live in the Pacific Northwest. Rain is a part of the climate all year round—with winter seeing more rain than summer. The ongoing rain isn’t enough to spoil a vacation most of the time and it does have a benefit— the nature is incredibly lush and green. Winter does see the occasional snow and frost as well, but the climate is generally fairly mild even in the winter months. Summers here are slightly warmer than in southern Britain with especially long days near the summer solstice.

>>Find out more about the weather in France

How to get to Normandy

By Train

Trains from Paris leave from Gare Saint Lazare and go to Rouen, Caen, Lisieux and Cherbourg. From these main destinations in Normandy you can get to other destinations, like Mont Saint Michel, Bayeux, Le Havre and Deauville.

By Car
From Paris, take the A14 North towards Rouen, then take the A13 towards Le Havre and Caen. Read about renting a car and driving in France.

By Ferry

Ferries to and from Britain and the Channel islands depart from various port cities in Normandy, including Dieppe. If you decide to take the ferry as part of your transportation when getting from London to Paris, most ferries dock in Calais.

>>Check out all of your options when going from Paris to Normandy.


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