Intro to the Normandy Region of France
The Normandy region of France combines a 360-mile coastline, including the dramatically evocative World War II landing beaches, with a verdant interior of lush farmland, bustling market towns, and historic landmarks such as the cities of Caen, Bayeux and Rouen. Gastronomic delights abound, from fine cheeses to cider and Calvados. Welcome to Normandy!
A few fun quick facts about Normandy: That pat of butter on your plate in a Paris restaurant? It is almost certainly from Normandy. The port of Le Havre is France’s largest international shipping port, though in the 19th century, European immigrants to America always sailed out of Cherbourg. 300,000 troops landed on June 6, 1944 for the Normandy invasion which marked the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
Below are some highlights of this dynamic and historic region.
The D-Day Landing Beaches: The largest military landing in history took place in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Monuments, museums, bunkers and cemeteries are a living commemoration to the Battle of Normandy. The first town liberated by the Allies was the historic town of Bayeux. It offers a perfect base from which to tour the landing beaches.
The town was built around the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame, it is home to the 200-foot long Bayeux Tapestry, a world famous masterpiece of embroidery whose vivid scenes depict the epic tale of William the Conqueror’s expedition to England in the 11th century.
We offer four ways to visit Normandy from Paris
- American Normandy D-Day Tour from Paris
- D-Day Tour with Overnight in Bayeux and Mont St. Michel
- Custom and Private Normandy D-Day Tours
- Mont Saint Michel day trip
Caen War Memorial: The Caen Memorial offers visitors a journey through the mid-20th century from the second World War through the Cold War era. Exhibits offer thoughtful commentary about peace and the future of war. The museum is a good starting point for Normandy D-Day touring, reminding the visitor of the complicated and extensive political origins of the second World War.
Towns in Normandy
Giverny: During a fateful train ride to western France, Claude Monet spotted this small village along the Seine, about 50 miles from Paris, and vowed to live there. By 1890 he had bought the land and home that he memorialized in so many of his paintings. Particularly in his magnificent water lily series. Today, art lovers take the train to Vernon and a short bus ride to see the house and gardens which are open from April to October. Also locally, visitors can see the colony of houses that were once occupied by American Impressionist painters in the mid 19th century and an excellent local museum featuring rare impressionist works.
Rouen: A thriving industrial and commercial center, Rouen is steeped in history. Both William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc died in the town which writer Victor Hugo called “the city of a hundred spires”. Rouen is home to many museums as well as the Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame, which was immortalized by French Impressionist Claude Monet.
Bayeux Tapestry: The Tapisserie de Bayeux (Bayeux Tapestry) is a world-famous Medieval masterpiece that dates back to 1060 a.d. The tapestry depicts the epic story of William the Conqueror’s conquest of England.
The small towns of Dieppe, Fecamp, and /Etretat: Dieppe is the oldest seaside resort in France. Its history is retold in the local castle museum. The Benedictine Palace & Museum, home of the famous Benedictine liqueur, is Fécamp’s main claim to fame. Also, don’t miss the towns picturesque marina. A short drive down the coast lies the village of Etretat, nestled between beautiful striking white cliffs.
Deauville, Honfleur, and Trouville: Driving along the “Flowered Coast” of Normandy, three picture perfect towns stand out: the glamorous resort town of Deauville, home to the rich and famous (and a noted film festival), its twin city of Trouville, and the harbor town of Honfleur.
Deauville is a thriving vacation spot of luxury hotels, casinos, race tracks, golf courses and polo grounds. Its twin city, Trouville, separated from Deauville by the Touques river, is a more sedate fishing village. Both towns boast wide sandy beaches.
Further along the coast you’ll find Honfleur, considered the birthplace of impressionist painting. This charming harbor village, with narrow timbered houses dates from the 11th century, and has attracted many artists, among them Monet and the poet Baudelaire.
Alencon, Haras du Pin, and Bagnole de L’Orne: A discovery of Normandy would be incomplete without a mention of the region’s passion for horse breeding. Tourists are welcome to attend any of the numerous horse shows and competitions and visit the many horse breeding estates, of which the Haras du Pin, or the “Versailles of horses”, is the most exceptional. Alencon’s Fine Arts and Lace Museum presents a major collection of French and European lace from the 17th through the 20th century. The nearby town of Bagnoles de l’Orne is a world class premier spa center.
Mont Saint Michel: The enchanting abbey of Mont St. Michel is perched precariously on a 264-foot high rocky islet connected to mainland France by a causeway. Surrounded by over half a mile of massive walls and reached by a steep climb up winding streets, it remains one of the greatest sightseeing attractions in the world and is the second most visited place in France after the Eiffel Tower. Mont St. Michel is also known for its dramatic tides, the highest on the continent, which race towards the isle at the speed of “galloping horses”. Visit Mont St. Michel with a one day trip from Paris.
Getting to Normandy
Direct connections from Paris to all of the main cities in Normandy. From St Lazare train station there are direct trains to Rouen, Le Havre, Caen, Deauville and Cherbourg. Trains run from the Montparnasse train station to Alençon and Mont Saint Michel (with connection).
From London, flights to Caen (Brit’Air, Flandre Air), Rouen (Flandre Air.Regional Airlines), Le Havre (Regional Airlines, Flandre Air, Brit’Air) and Deauville (BritAir).
From England, direct connections to Caen and Ouistreham (Brittany Ferries), Cherbourg (P&O European Ferries, Brittany Ferries), and Le Havre (P&O European Ferries).
Roissy CDG airport is only 2 hours drive from Normandy
Gastronomy in Normandy
Tarte tatin, anyone? The incredible slow-cooked apple dessert served all over France is from Normandy, home of centuries-old apple orchards. Talk about heirloom fruit. Likewise the Normande cattle, said to be descended from Viking cows brought over in the 9th century. The high fat milk means the prized butter is sought-after in Paris by chefs and diners alike. The marbled meat is gamey and delicious. Cheeses like Camembert, Livarot, and Pont l’Eveque are local, and for some an acquired, pungent, taste.
With a 300 mile coastline, Normandy seafood is a natural, especially oysters. A typical 2 or 3 course prix fixe lunch generally offers a first course of a half dozen oysters. At 12 to 15 euros for the whole meal, Normandy lunches are quite the deal.
Inland, salt grass sheep are raised for their distinctively-flavored flesh; picturesque flocks are viewed for miles as you drive toward Mont St. Michel and the marsh lands surrounding the monastery. Unlike just about anywhere else in France, Normandy does not grow grapes. It’s just too cold. Bu the apple orchards yield a different prize: Calvados, or what we Americans call apple jack or apple brandy. Hard cider is also local. Many an enthusiastic visitor has tried some of the refreshing coif and found themselves in a pleasant afternoon nap from the delicious high alcohol “juice.”
Michelin-starred restaurants can be found in Caen, Deauville, Honfleur and even the tiny medieval canal town of Bayeux. The famous film festival at Deauville and the fancy race horse business brings jet setters with a refined appetite, but chefs gravitate to the wonderful local ingredients and culinary lifestyle which is less Paris, more earthy.
Speaking of Paris, the next time you order an oyster opener, a steak with frites, a Camembert cheese course and a tarte tatin to finish, you now know you ate a typical Normandy meal, with ingredients from the rolling green hills and rocky, dramatic coast northwest of Paris.
Sports and Leisure in Normandy
Sea and river pleasures: Normandy is known as a port of call for many cruise lines. Stops at Le Havre are very common. From Le Havre, trips to the D-Day landing beaches, Mont St. Michel, or even Paris are possible (contact us for more details).
River cruises and fishing excursions are also available throughout the region. Sailing and windsurfing are also available at Deauville, Trouville, Fécamp and Granville among others.
Biking, Hiking and the great outdoors: Cycling is popular in Normandy especially along the coast, which is not too hilly; in the Cotentin Peninsula, with little traffic; in the rolling hills of Suisse Normande dotted with villages and picnic spots; or the Seine Valley. The Suisse Normande is also a great area for canoeing, rock climbing, and hiking.
Hikers will love the Parc Regional de Normandie-Maine, Parc Regional de Brotonne, Parc Regional du Perche, or the Parc des Marais du Cotentin etdu Bessin. Normandy has ten long-distance walking itineraries and 7500 km of paths with signposts as well as lots of footpaths for shorter walks.
Horseback riding is available throughout the region. Rural trails will delight and relax the avid and novice rider alike. Or, take in the horse races at the prestigious Deauville racetrack. Le Pin national Stud at Haras du Pin is also worth a visit.
Golf: There are 37 golf courses in Normandy, of which 25 have 18-hole courses, including a scenic course atop a cliff near Etretat. The resort town of Deauville has four individual courses. At Le Vaudreuil, set in a park between two branches of the river Eure sits one of Normandy’s most beautiful golf courses. Other sites include the Château du Champs de Bataille and Bellême.