Churches and abbeys, castles and manor houses, towns steeped in history, Normandy is home to an exceptional heritage that is a must to discover during a weekend getaway or holiday. The region also evokes the D-Day landings and its beaches which experienced a turning point in history, historical events which are in themselves well recounted in museums. But Normandy is also its landscapes of great beauty, from the lush green countryside inland to its coast where the chalk cliffs give way to small renowned seaside resorts. There is so much to see and do in Normandy that one cannot be satisfied with just one stay and in any case, the region is a call to come back as often as possible. Here are the must-see places.
The Caen Memorial, on the traces of the Second World War
During a visit to the charming city of Caen, you should go for a walk in one of its main museums: the Caen Memorial. The tours plunge visitors into the heart of key moments in the history of the 20th century, from the origins of the Second World War to the Cold War. It is both a place that invites meditation, but also where you can learn more about the different stages of the terrible conflict, the rise of fascism, the Shoah and the inevitable landing on the beaches of Normandy. Numerous films are available for viewing and reading, and the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions
The Vieux Bassin de Honfleur, the architecture along the water
The Vieux Bassin de Honfleur was created by Duquesne by order of Colbert in 1681. Nestling in the Seine estuary, it is a good place to stroll around to see the charming slate-clad houses and hear the masts of pleasure boats waving in the waves. After strolling along the Quai Sainte-Catherine, the ideal place is to sit on a terrace and enjoy a drink in this majestic setting. The other key activity is to observe the reflection of the facades of the houses, some of which have up to seven stories, in the water. A natural and magical spectacle.
The Omaha Beach Memorial Museum, always history
The Omaha Beach Memorial Museum is located only 200 metres from the beach where the soldiers landed on June 6, 1944. It pays tribute to them with photos, documents and panels that allow visitors to better understand the German occupation in chronological order until the American landings on Omaha Beach. A collection of uniforms, weapons, personal effects of soldiers of the time, as well as military vehicles are also on display. Also not to be missed is the documentary film that unveils testimonials from American veterans
Deauville beach, a stroll along the water's edge
Along the Boulevard de la Mer, the large beach of Deauville offers a unique setting for almost two kilometres. You will find its mythical colourful parasols, renowned throughout the world, as well as the boards marked with the names of the directors who receive a tribute every year during the unmissable American Film Festival. Behind the boards stand 450 Art Deco booths. Visitors come to this unique beach for its enchanting and impressionistic setting. One then settles down on a deckchair and during the day one simply enjoys all the joys of the seaside: reading, swimming, lazing around and sporting activities.
Recollection at the Normandy American Cemetery
Located in Colleville-sur-Mer and overlooking Omaha beach, the American cemetery is another place in Normandy that allows us to pay tribute to the memory of the soldiers who participated in repelling the enemy during the Second World War. The site is recognizable by its large, well-tended lawns and the perfectly aligned white crosses of the graves of 9,387 fallen soldiers. Complementing this ensemble are the Garden of the Missing, the chapel and the memorial. Of the many graves on the 70-hectare site, 307 of the deceased are unknown.
Cultural moment at the Musée des Impressionnismes de Giverny
Normandy is a land of impressionists, and more particularly Giverny, since Claude Monet settled there in 1881. Many artists followed him at the time to apply the principles of Impressionism to the Normandy landscapes. Since 2009, the Musée des Impressionnistes de Giverny has endeavoured to present to the public the history of this exceptional artistic movement, but also of post-impressionism, as well as their influence on the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. The museum presents the artists who left their mark on Impressionism through its monographic but also thematic exhibitions. It also seeks to show visitors how the movement impacted the world and touched artists far beyond the borders of France
Notre-Dame du Bec-Hellouin Abbey, a religious monument of great beauty
Founded by the knight Herluin at the beginning of the 11th century on the banks of the river Bec, this abbey marks the spirits with its exceptional beauty. It first had an important intellectual influence thanks to Lanfranc and Saint Anselme before being used as a horse depot after the Revolution. Since 1948, the Olivetan Benedictines settled there and monastic life resumed. The best way to visit the place is to let yourself be guided by a brother, who does not fail to tell the history of the place. The two Maurist buildings of the dormitories and the refectory, which houses the tomb of Herluin, the tower of Saint-Nicolas, the cloister and the remains of the former abbey church are a must see
The Cité de la Mer in Cherbourg: aquarium and maritime museum
The Cité de la Mer is an unmissable theme park to visit with the family for the many experiences offered. Located in the heart of the last Art Deco Transatlantic Maritime Station, you can learn more about the history between man and the sea through experiences ranging from a visit to the largest submarine in the world to the contemplation of maritime species in no less than 17 basins, not forgetting the discovery of the Titanic and its last hours, which made a stopover in Cherbourg on 10 April 1912. Also not to be missed is the permanent exhibition "Cherbourg 1944... and freedom came from the sea", a journey that takes visitors through the 20 days between the Landing on 6 June 1944 and the liberation of the port of Cherbourg on 26 June.
Visit the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel
How can we cite the must-see places in Normandy without mentioning one of the places that attract the most visitors to France: Mont-Saint-Michel. This village, which is also an abbey, lies proudly in the middle of a beautiful seascape. Once there, you should take the time to visit the abbey church, the cloister, the monks' walk or the refectory. After strolling through the narrow streets, you should also go to the heights to enjoy a breathtaking view of the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. This site at the end of the world is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hiking in the Normandy-Maine Regional Nature Park
Normandy shines with the beauty of its maritime coast and its exceptional architectural heritage, but one should not miss to talk about the inland and rural landscapes. The Normandy-Maine Regional Nature Park reveals landscapes of forests, bocage, marshes, ponds, orchards and rivers. While strolling in harmony with nature, fauna and flora, you should not miss the Maison du Parc, located in Carrouges in the Orne region. It offers a green setting where you can picnic, serves as a tourist information point, offers a museographic discovery area devoted to the environment and its relationship with man and finally allows you to stock up on local produce.
A trip to the Haras National du Pin
Normandy has a long history with horses. One of the most beautiful places to understand it is the National Stud of Le Pin, built between 1715 and 1730, which was the first royal stud farm desired by Louis XIV to conceive the production of horses for his kingdom. The various buildings and the surrounding countryside form a remarkable 1,100-hectare complex. As a reference centre for horse-related professions, it welcomes visitors to discover horse-related professions through guided tours, but also provides workshops and organises shows. It is the third most visited site in Normandy
Gourmet getaway at Vergers du Chouquet
Normandy is also appreciated for its local products. We now head for the Pays d'Auge and the Chouquet orchards where the apple is king. We stop there for a guided tour of the farm followed by a pleasant tasting. Apple juice, carbonated apple juice, PDO cider, pommeau, Calvados, perry, cider vinegar, the family is proud to present its good products which can also be bought on the spot. Proof that this place is of high quality, the operator was awarded a gold medal in 2011 at the Salon de l'Agriculture for its AOC Pays d'Auge cider. It should also be noted that the farm is converting to organic farming
Marvel at the cliffs of Etretat
On the Alabaster Coast is a priceless jewel, the cliffs of Etretat. From the Manneporte to the Porte d'Aval, the chalk cliffs have inspired artists, as the natural passage offered is incredible. We must of course mention the impressionists, many of whom set up their easels there. A path runs along the beach along the cliffs at low tide and leads to another place that arouses all the curiosity: the Trou à l'Homme. Passing through Étretat, you must take advantage of the opportunity to go to the clos Arsène Lupin, the old market and the gardens to enjoy once again a breathtaking view of the cliffs
Going to see Notre-Dame de Rouen Cathedral
The Notre-Dame de Rouen Cathedral is a jewel of Gothic art. Begun in the 12th century on the foundations of an old basilica, it has undergone several periods of construction and reconstruction and almost didn't survive the bombings of the Second World War. Its present appearance dates from the last quarter of the 19th century. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cathedrals in France and marvels by its various architectural details as well as by the beauty of its high cast iron spire. Inside, it houses various tombs, including those of the Dukes of Normandy
Getting to the MuMA of Le Havre
The MuMA - Musée d'art moderne André Malraux, is located not far from the seaside in the amazing city of Le Havre. Its surprising and resplendent architecture is dedicated to light and space. Before entering the museum, one must take the time to immerse oneself in its architecture. Once inside, visitors discover works that span five centuries, from the 15th to the 20th century. It mainly features modern painting and a very large collection from the period 1850-1920 with artists such as Delacroix, Courbet and the impressionists Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley and Monet. Not forgetting some paintings by Matisse, Friesz and Marquet. In addition to the permanent collections, this unmissable cultural venue in Le Havre also hosts a good number of temporary exhibitions.