Normandy is the perfect place for food-loving ramblers! Stretching from Dieppe and Rouen in the east across to Cherbourg and St-Lô in the west, Normandy encompasses the regions of Seine-Maritime, Eure, Calvados, Orne and Manche.
It is an enchanting region flanked to the north by its chalk cliffs and the English Channel, yet encompasses the beautiful Seine Valley, the famous horse country of Orne and the apple orchards of Calvados.
With countless small towns and villages of flint or half-timbered houses, multi-arched bridges over lazy rivers and fields of wild flowers, it is the perfect area to explore on foot, by bicycle or in an open-topped car!
With its strategic placement between the sea and the capital city of Paris, the area has a history of bloodshed and battles, not least the famous Normandy landings on D-Day. For history and WW2 buffs the small cemeteries, pristinely kept; the mile markers laid by the British liberators; the battle fields and the fields of red poppies combine to make a moving tribute to the fallen. Many visitors make a pilgrimage to these historic sites to pay their respects to fallen comrades and family members.
Normandy has more showers than the eastern and southern parts of France but generally summers are warmer and sunnier than in England, with 6-8 hours of sunshine on average. It has a Maritime climate with mild winters which are generally free of frost and snow.
The rugged coastline of Normandy is a series of harbours, fishing ports, marshes and nature reserves. Of course it is also a source of wonderful seafood for which it is famous. Lobsters from Granville and oysters from Barneville are considered the best and are staple ingredients for the local cuisine.
The magnificent port of Cherbourg is a major ferry port linking Normandy with England. Further along, the marshes are a sanctuary for herring gulls and seabirds making it an ornithologist’s delight.
One of the most famous landmarks is Mont Saint-Michel, a magnificent Benedictine Abbey and Church set on a rocky island at the mouth of the Couesnon River. It can be reached at low tide via a causeway and at the right time of year you may see some seals. The original church was completed in AD708 and appears on the historic Bayeaux Tapestry which commemorates the Norman conquest of England in 1066. This magnificent Abbey is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prepare for a steep climb up to the Abbey with over 900 steps, but it is definitely worth the effort! The Grand Rue narrow street leads to the medieval church of St Pierre. The interior is fabulous to see with tiers of arches, windows, a ribbed ceiling and a carved side chapel depicting St Michael slaying the dragon. The Abbey itself is a sprawling labyrinth of rooms, staircases, terraces and vaulted halls which can be seen on a guided tour.
The River Seine is well-known as it runs through the heart of Paris, meandering towards the sea past Vernon and Rouen. It has carved a path through the white chalk cliffs around Les Andelys and makes for some of the most pleasant walking areas. Shady footpaths, hilltop viewpoints, ancient churches and delightful rose-covered cottages line the banks. Visitors can stop in the main street of any of the small towns and purchase fresh baguettes, warm cheese quiches, flaky croissants and fruit tarts from the local boulangerie. Many villages are in a time warp where local housewives walk to the shops, baskets on their arm to buy daily provisions and chat with their neighbors. Here you will find the locals pleasant, friendly and helpful, especially if you can speak a few words of french.
Calvados is a pastoral area known for its horses and dairy cattle which graze the lush grass behind white fences. The local houses are picture-perfect with thatched straw roofs and half-timbered facades. From grand manor houses to pigeon-lofts, visitors will see the local flint, brick and cob which has been used as building materials for centuries.
Calvados is famous for its Camembert cheese production – a deliciously tasty soft cheese with a thick crust and a runny interior. It is the perfect accompaniment to the apples which grow here in profusion. The pink spring blossom of the apple trees is a beautiful sight. Apples, cider (which is sometimes known as ‘scrumpy’), and calvados, a sweet apple brandy, are the main products of this area. October is the time to visit and sample freshly made cider.
Things to see and do in Normandy
Bayeux - the Cathedral and the famous 11 th century Tapestry which recounts the victory of William the Conqueror over England in 1066.
Arromanches – the remains of the artificial harbour built in 1944 and the Museum of the Debarquement with many exhibits of D-Day.
Château de Carrouges – a wonderful historic château on the banks of the River Orne. Built in the 14 th century it remained in the same family until 1936. It is now open to the public, with its original furniture, huge kitchens and ancestral portraits hanging in the halls. Sitting in pretty woodland it is approached through wrought iron gates and over a moat.
Rouen – a splendid medieval town with a weekend market in the square beside the magnificent Gothic cathedral. Wander the old cobbled streets and dine in style here as it was voted “Gastronomic city of the Region”.
Monet’s Garden – One of the most lovely places to visit in Normandy is the home and gardens of French impressionist painter, Claude Monet at Giverny. The sizeable house he lived in is furnished just as he left it, and visitors can also see his art studio. He created beautiful gardens and borders, rose arcades and beds with every type and color of flower imaginable which is beautiful from spring to late autumn.
Across the road is his lily pond, which famously featured in many of his paintings. It is a stunningly beautiful and peaceful place to visit, along with the quaint village of Giverny and the Museum of American Art.
Food and Drink
Normandy produces some wonderful cheeses including Camembert, Livarot and Pont-l’Eveque. It is also known for its tasty andouille sausages, and its local Morel mushrooms, along with the sweet cider or the more rough-tasting “scrumpy”. Normandy cuisine is hearty, tasty and satisfying. It is farmer’s food but for all that it is delicious, rich and satisfying. Chicken chasseur, lamb dishes and duck are all served in rich, tasty sauces made of red wine, onions and mushrooms.
Along the coast the superb seafood creates the basis for dishes such as moules mariniere which are mussels served with tiny onions in white wine sauce, and Sole Normande which is a gently poached flat fish served with a rich sauce made of butter, eggs and cream. Trout and crayfish are caught in the local rivers, particularly further inland in Orne. Calvados apple brandy is often served to accompany to the rich cream dishes of this area.
Whatever you enjoy seeing and doing, Normandy has something for everyone, and you will certainly not go hungry!