Normandy is located in the north-western coast of France, facing England to the north across the English Channel. It was originally the Duchy of Normandy, and is now one of the 18 French provinces since the new french administrative divisions of 2016 were revised. Five areas comprise the Normandy region: La Manche, La Seine Maritime, Le Calvados, L’Orne and L’Eure.
Normandy is rich with sites of historical, religious, and cultural interest:
- Mont Saint Michel with its abbey and grandiose Bay.
- Etretat and its spectacular cliffs.
- The D-Day landing Beaches.
- Rouen with its cathedral and the history of Joan of Arc.
- Giverny with Claude Monet’s house and gardens.
- The enormous Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts events leading up to the victory by William, Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror) over the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
- The Haras du Pin, a French National stud farm, and Deauville, with its casino, golf courses and glamorous visitors.
Normandy is the perfect destination for cyclers, with cycling trails covering more than 450 scenic miles. Golfers will also be very pleased with the selection of courses, some built by such world-renown architects as D. Robinson, H. Colt, H. Cotton or B. Baker. Family vacations can take advantage of the great choice of entertainment attractions for all ages available inland or along the coast in so many beach resorts.
With its many historical sites and dedicated museums, Normandy is a virtual history book of World War II. D-Day, on June 6 1944, and the long hot summer of 1944 which followed, brought men from all over the world to free France and Europe from the yoke of Nazism. Not only will you gain an understanding of the war strategy of the Allied and German forces in 1944 and 1945, but you will also begin to understand how it impacted the restructuring of post-WWII European.
Normandy was the birthplace of Impressionism and has been a source of inspiration for artists and art scholars since. It all started when avant-garde English painters such as Turner and Cotman met in Normandy with their French contemporaries like Gericault and Delacroix at the same time as the French School of Nature was represented by Corot and Millet. A new painting movement led by Monet, Courbet, Daubigny, and Boudin Bazille gathered in 1860 at the Ferme Saint Simeon in Honfleur. Simultaneously Degas was painting his first horse races at the National Stud du Pin, Manet was in Cherbourg doing marine paintings, Courbet and Whistler were in Deauville, Trouville painting seascapes, and Berte Morisot was choosing the English Channel coast to paint landscapes. It is Monet’s painting “Impression Sunrise” made at Le Havre in 1872 which gave the name to the movement. Monet painted more than half of his whole production in Normandy, as well as his most famous masterpieces: the Cliffs of Etretat, Rouen Cathedral, and the Water Lilies. After Monet, all his friends followed and came to paint on the Normandy Coast and along the Seine River: Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Gauguin, Sisley and Caillebotte. Foreign artists also settled in the region and new painting schools developed with emerging stars such as Seurat, Signac, Dufy, Braque, and Duchamps.
If you like visual art or art history, Normandy should definitely be on your Bucket List!
As you travel through Normandy you must sample the typical cuisine and local specialties. Among the basic ingredients used to cook, you will always come across the well known normand dairy products such as butter, fresh heavy cream and cheese. Meals will often be accompanied with apple cider instead of wine and will end with a “P’tit Calva”, a shot of apple brandy made in Normandy. During festive celebrations, which typically have multiple courses, you may be served a shot of Calvados Brandy between courses. This is called “Le Trou Normand”, meaning the Normand Hole, and you are supposed to drink it bottoms up. It is good for digestion, and is meant to give you a ‘break’ before proceeding with more food.
The four best known local cheeses are the square shaped Pont l’Eveque, the strong tasty Livarot, the Neuchatel (which could be compared to the American cream cheese), and the popular smooth and creamy Camembert. These cheeses bear the name of the village where they are produced. Specialties coming from the sea are the “Mussels a la Creme” and the “Marmite Dieppoise”, which originated in the harbor town of Dieppe. It is a fish stew cooked with mollusks and crustaceans in a broth made of cider, butter and cream. When visiting Mont Saint Michel it is a must to taste the famous fluffy omelette of La Mere Poulard, cooked in a chimney.
The Escalope ‘a la Normande’ is veal with a delicious creamy sauce. ‘Tripes a la Mode de Caen’ may not be appreciated by all but it is a worthwhile culinary adventure. It is made mostly from cow’s stomach, which is simmered in a special pot in the oven for at least 15 hours with root vegetables, garlic, peppercorns, a bottle of cider, and a glass of Calvados. Normans believe autumn is the best time to enjoy tripes when cattle eat the falling apples from the trees, adding to the dish’s flavour. Andouillette d’Alençon and andouille de Vire are both made from pork and chitterlings, and cooked with wine, pepper, onions and seasonings. A typical Normand desert is the “Teurgoule”, a rice pudding cooked in milk and sugar, powdered on top with nutmeg and cinnamon.