Top 10 Sites to See in Normandy, France
Top 10 Sites to See in Normandy, France
The Normandy region is a must see on a trip to France. Steeped in history with settlements of Celts, Romans and finally the Vikings in the 9th century, the Norman King William would launch his invasion from Normandy to conquer England in 1066. The Normandy region rich market towns continued to develop with Gothic and Romanesque towns in the 16th century and became the canvas for the painters of the Impressionist movement in the late 1800’s. The beautiful coastlines would again be witness to an invasion in World War II as the landing site of the Allies in 1944 on D-Day to gain a foothold into Europe, a pivotal moment in history to winning WWII.
Spending a good amount of time in Normandy, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface and look forward to a return visit to explore more. Here is my pick for the Top 10 sites to see:
Mont St. Michel
One of the most iconic images of France, Mont St. Michel is the most visited French monument outside Paris. On the coast of Lower Normandy perched on a small rocky island, this famous and spectacular Benedictine abbey is remarkable example of Gothic architecture. The Mont with the abbey, bay, fortifications, and tiny medieval village that surrounds it, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must see in Normandy.
The 54 miles of Atlantic coast north of Bayeux — stretching from Utah Beach on the west to Sword Beach on the east — are scattered with WWII museums, monuments, cemeteries, and battle remains left in tribute to the courage of the British, Canadian, and American armies that successfully carried out the largest military operation in history: D-Day. It was on these serene beaches, at the crack of dawn on June 6, 1944, that the Allies finally gained a foothold in France, the beginning of the end for the Nazi’s hold on Europe in World War II.
Bayeux, a small town in France, is the centerpiece for two famous trans-Channel invasions. The conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 started from Bayeux. The Allied D-Day invasion struck the beaches north of this town on June 6th, 1944 and Bayeux was the first French town liberated from Nazi occupation during World War II.
To visit Monet’s Giverny is to walk into an Impressionist painting. Stroll the gardens and you will see how Monet’s visions of water lilies, flowers gardens and the Japanese bridge became some of the most beautiful paintings in the world.
Rouen is considered the historical capital of Normandy known for its magnificent medieval architecture, museums, hometown of writer Gustave Flaubert and the place where Joan of Arc has been burned at the stake. Some of its major attractions include the magnificent Rouen Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen) painted by Monet; the iconic Gros Horloge (Great Clock); the Abbaye St-Ouen; the gorgeous Old Town with its paved streets lined with half-timbered houses, as well as the fantastic Musee des Beaux-Arts, one of the finest museums in France.
Now for the seaside towns. Another Impressionist painters favorite town, Honfleur is especially known for its old, beautiful picturesque port lined with tall narrow houses date back the 16th century. The seaside town also has lovely beaches, museums and galleries and The Church of Saint-Catherine (France’s largest wooden church).
Trouville sur Mer is best described as countryside by the sea and features a wonderful combination of art, beaches, and Belle Époque charm. The town is steeped in the fishing tradition dating back to its founder Thorulfr the Viking. The impressionists discovered this town and painted it frequently in their colorful paintings.
Deauville, the decadent neighbor Trouville, is known as the “queen of Norman beaches”. As the closest seaside resort to Paris, the city has long been home to French high society’s seaside homes and is referred to as the Parisian Riviera. Coco Chanel opened her first fashion boutique on rue Gontaut-Biron in Deauville in 1913 and was inspired by the fisherman’s attire of the Trouville residents. Visit during the American Film Festival, spend a night at the Grand Casino or enjoy a horserace at the Deauville-La Touques Racecourse.
Chateau de Balleroy
On the edge of the Cerisy Forest, is the small village of Balleroy and its 17th century chateau. The historic castle was built in the 17th century by a relative of Louis XIII, but is now owned by the Forbes Family (of Forbes Magazine) who has a ballooning obsession. Visiting the Chateau you can tour the castle and its extensive grounds, explore a hot air balloon museum, enjoy a tea room. Check to make sure the family is not staying there to avoid an abbreviated tour of the castle.
Apple Cider Route
Normandy is famous for its abundance of apple orchards and cider making, so no trip to the region would be complete without indulging in some of the local beverages. There is a clearly signed route called the “Route du Cidre” (complete with apples marking the signs!) that is about 20 miles long and passes by the producers of cider in the region.
Following the Route du Cidre will not only allow you to sample the local ciders, Calvados (an apple brandy form Normandy) and Pommeau (a traditional Normandy apéritif), but you’ll also be able see and explore some of Normandy’s small, quaint villages.
Top 10 Sights to See in Normandy
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