Normandy spreads over a sizeable chunk of northern France. And, with enough sights and activities to keep even the pickiest tourist happy for weeks, how do you choose what to see?
We asked Peter Perantonakis who lives in Normandy and runs tours for TripUSAFrance for his top Normandy must-sees.
Mont Saint Michel is easily my favourite place in France and possibly the most inspiring place I have ever visited. An island when the tides come in, Mont Saint-Michel was originally built in 709 AD after Saint Michael the Archangel appeared to a Bishop and commanded a church to be built. It was added to continuously from the 11th to the 15th centuries and has everything you could wish for in an abbey or a castle. The entire “island” is completely covered by small shops, cobbled streets, and breath-taking views, all winding up to the impressive Gothic monastery at its heart. The soaring spires and beautiful stonework make you feel as if you’ve stepped back to medieval times.
Claude Monet was one of the world’s most influential painters. Known for championing impressionism, he is perhaps most well-known for his massive and mesmerizing paintings of waterlilies. Luckily for us, the very water lilies he painted can be seen in person at Monet’s garden at Giverny. Attached to his home, which is now a museum, the gardens themselves are calm and beautiful and the destination is sure to inspire.
Bayeux is one of the best places to stay in Normandy. It is a charming town that retained its old architecture by closely escaping destruction as the Allied bombing of the city was called off at the last minute and it became the first liberated city of France during the D-Day invasions. It boasts historic buildings, streets littered with local shops and restaurants and a magnificent Cathedral. And you can’t miss the Bayeux tapestry. It’s 230 feet (70 M) long and is over 940 years old. There are 50 scenes hand embroidered on it and it is widely renowned as both an impressive piece of art and an important piece of history.
Etretat links Le Havre to Le Treport on the coast. Famous for its white limestone cliffs, a scene that captured the imagination of some of the great impressionist artists such as Claude Monet, Boudin and Courbet.
Cathedral of Rouen
The Rouen Cathedral is one of the best things to see in Normandy for anyone who loves Gothic architecture, or architecture in general. Built in the late 12th through early 16th centuries, the cathedral boasts the tallest church tower in France and some truly stunning stained glass. The intricate stonework and soaring ceilings are sure to inspire a sense of awe and send you home with some great pictures.
Seafood in Dieppe
Normandy is famous for its seafood and one of the best places to eat it is Dieppe, founded in 1030 and famous for its scallops. There’s also a fabulous market, voted favourite market of the French.
Visit a market
Normandy’s towns and villages host hundreds of markets. Two of the best are in Caen on Friday and Sunday mornings. And while you’re there, don’t miss a visit to the castle ruins, museums and memorials.
Remember the lost at the American Cemetery of D-Day Beach
The American storming of the beaches on D-Day toward the end of WWII played a major role in the outcome of the war. Over 9,000 service men and women, many of whom who died in the D-Day landings, are buried in the cemetery. An additional 1,557 names of missing service members are carved into a memorial. The cemetery is both beautiful and harrowing with row after row of white crosses showing the cost of war. Taking time to visit the cemetery is a profound way to honour those who died defending the cause of freedom.
Go to a Calvados tasting
While most of France is known for their wine, Normandy is known for Calvados. Calvados is a delicious brandy liquor made from apples which are grown in the region instead of grapes. There is a fondness throughout France for this special drink. Calvados distillation dates to the 1500’s and is a cultural staple of Normandy, along with cider. Arranging a tour with a family distillery will ensure you taste not only the fruity flavour of Calvados but also its rich history.
Go to a Cheese factory to taste some Camembert
Anyone who loves cheese has surely heard of Camembert, and then immediately began craving its creamy smooth texture and unique taste. Visit the birthplace of this amazing cheese and, if you really want to try it at its best, you owe it to yourself to go to a cheese tasting. Still not convinced? If you do a cheese tasting you’ll get to try not only Camembert but also a ton of other French cheese while in France.
Walk along the beach in Deauville
If you’re looking for a day in the sun or a romantic evening Deauville beach is sure to impress. With its colourful umbrellas and sparkling casino, the beach hosts everything from horse races to film festivals. Take a stroll along the iconic boardwalk or just sit and watch the waves. Either way, Deauville will make you feel like a million bucks.
All but destroyed during WWII, Le Havre built back in a modern and truly unique way. A major freight docks just across the mouth of the Seine, the architecture is astonishing.
Visit the Beaux Arts museum of Rouen
Housing an impressive renaissance collection and a beautiful sculpture garden, the Beaux Arts museum holds some truly stunning pieces. Boasting works from every school of art from the 15th to the 21st century, the collection is stunning and frequently loaned out to other museums. The vast range of styles means that whether your taste is medieval or modern, something will speak to you. Whether you’re looking to spend an afternoon or a whole day, the Beaux Arts museum will satisfy your inner artist.
Discover Normandy’s prettiest villages
Normandy has six recognised Plus Beaux Villages, officially the prettiest villages in France. Barfleur, Lyons-la-Foret, Beuvron-en-Auge, Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei, Veules-les-Roses and Le Bec-Hellouin.
Wander around the Honfleur Port and Downtown
Honfleur is a historic city with a picture-perfect port. The facades of the homes stacked along the harbour have been the inspiration for many famous painters including Monet. In fact, the play of light and colour on the water is so beautiful that it’s here that the Honfleur School helped launch the Impressionist movement. The city itself has several museums and a beautiful historic feel. Completing your trip to Honfleur with a dinner in a local cafe is the perfect conclusion to a relaxing day.
Take an 8 day tour of Normandy with TripUSAFrance to experience the very best of this exquisite region.