Normandy is a historical region in the north-western part of France, on the English Channel between Picardie and Brittany. It's the home of the famous Camembert cheese, and Parisians like to spend a weekend there to relax. Upper Normandy is praised for its apple orchards and cider, flooded meadows and amazing dairy products, secret provincial places, and fashionable resorts. Lower Normandy is famous for sunny Atlantic beaches and strong Calvados. Today we'll tell you about 10 cities in Normandy that we recommend visiting. The best place to start your trip is Paris.
» READ MORE - An independent car trip around Normandy
France's architectural miracle Mont Saint-Michel is an island-fortress that is home to a few dozen people. At its pinnacle sits a famous church with a gilded statue of Saint Michael on a bell tower. The spire reaching into the sky creates an amazing image on the background of the silvery waters. The three-story building to the left of the church is called La Merveille (Miracle). It was built in 1220. You'll realize why this abbey is called the 8th Wonder of the World when you see the monastery courtyard hanging between the earth and sky. You'll be led into a grand hall that hosts symposiums and banquets. There is plenty to entertain tourists including "living pictures," classical music, and various other exhibits. The city chefs make food according to 19th century recipes. During low tide, when the city is surrounded by sand, you might want to go for a nice walk. We don't recommend doing this alone, though, since there is a lot of quicksand around the abbey. You can see a tidal schedule at the city entrance. You can book an independent tour of Mont Saint-Michel and get tickets by following this link.
Deauville and Trouville
Deauville and Trouville-sur-Mer are towns that are separated by the Touques river. Deauville is an elite, expensive resort that's a two-hour drive from Paris. Hundreds of snow-white yachts and motorboats are docked next to the coast. Celebrities come here to relax and show off their wealth while sunbathing. Deauville has prestigious exhibitions, film festivals, motor rallies, car parades and horse races all year long. Vacationers play golf and tennis, test their luck in the casino and relax in the thalassotherapy centers. Trouville is an old port and former fishing village. It also has a beach with clean, golden sand, its own casino, and fish and goods markets. There are many hotels, cozy cafes, and relaxing horse rides. It's much like any Norman coastal town.
Honfleur is at the Seine estuary, 10 km from Deauville and 200 km from Paris. Many people love spending their weekends here. The amazing port is on the river and sea at the same time, and it's always attracted artists like a magnet. Honfleur has many modern art galleries and interesting architectural monuments. The Saint Catherine church is famous for being made entirely from wood. The Saint-Etienne cathedral is the oldest in the city, built during the Hundred Years' War.
Honfleur's medieval streets are riddled with naval themes, as befits a port town. The facades are painted with images of sailing ships, and you can find ceramic sculptures on the roofs. The old port is always lively. There are many good restaurants where you can eat fresh seafood. We recommend that tourists get tickets for a boat tour and enjoy the picturesque coasts and lighthouse and ride under the bridge. The suspension bridge "Pont de Normandie" that's 2.3 km long, connecting Honfleur to Le Havre. It's an unbelievable work of engineering that's worth seeing from the water.
Etretat was a fishing village until the 19th century. Impressionist artists discovered a picturesque spot among the sheer cliffs Cote d'Albatre, and the Albatre cliffs are still the resort's main tourist attraction. The natural masterpiece became the reason to build a great resort with extensive beaches, a 6-km field for golfing, good seafood restaurants and an old church.
Rouen, the capital of Northern Normandy, is 130 km from Paris. This wonderful ancient city's name is forever connected to the series of painting by Claude Monet that decorate the Rouen cathedral including, of course, the image of Joan of Arc.
In memory of the Maid of Orleans, a cross was installed where she was burned, along with an unusual cathedral that's reminiscent of both a sailboat and a spaceship. The old part of the city is built from neat half-timbered buildings. If you follow the footpath to the cathedral, you'll have to stop to look at the Gros Horloge astronomical clock on the 16th century arch. Just imagine that Gustave Flaubert and Claude Monet used to hang out here.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen is immortalized by the great impressionist and proudly towers above the ring of narrow medieval streets around it. The magnificent Catholic church has been standing for over a hundred years and has suffered from fires and bombings many times. Claude Monet blessed this wonderful building with a whole series of paintings that depict the cathedral in various ways depending on the weather and time of day. You can look at Rouen hotels by following this link.
If you love paintings, we recommend visiting Giverny. It's a small town near Rouen, right on the sloping banks of the Seine. The museum-home of Claude Monet is located in this little village. The artist spent the last 40 years of his life here. The building is surrounded by gardens which were lovingly planted and tended by Monet. The enchanting beauty is extremely alluring. Everything is set up to be the inspiration for a beautiful painting. The museum store has excellentreproductions and posters of Monet's paintings for reasonable prices. These copies are easily mistaken for originals and fly all over the world in tourists' suitcases. The purses are extremely popular and are "made by the master's hands."
Dieppe is a small coastal city 60 km from Rouen. It's a port city and has long been a popular place for Parisians to relax. They've been coming here since the 19th century to swim in the sea, freshen up and improve their health. Dieppe has a casino, a golf course, and a horse track. The city museum is in a 15th century castle called Chateau de Dieppe. You can go to a flea market on Saturdays. Just outside the city, you can visit the Miromesnil castle, which is surrounded by a fruit garden. Once every other year, usually in October, Dieppe has sa colorful kite balloon festival.
Le Havre is a large port city — the second largest in France after Marseilles. In the 20th century after the war, the city was in ruins. It was rebuilt by Auguste Perret. Along with the almost identical homes, the architect created a huge church, the Eglise Saint-Joseph, and the town hall building. The old Havre museum is in one of the few remaining pre-war buildings. The Malraux gallery (right at the harbor entrance) has a good painting collection. Le Havre's restaurants can offer fresh seafood, soft crepes, famous Norman cheeses and excellent cider.
Caen is the capital of Lower Normandy. It seriously suffered during WWII, but most of the monuments were later restored. Today, you can once again see the whole, undamaged Gothic church of Saint Peter, and we also recommend visiting the cathedral Saint-Etienne, a 12th-century Caen castle.
A trip to the city outskirts to visit the Caen Memorial Museum will give you a deep and somber impression of the effects of war. The exhibits are about preventing war, and the main symbol is a pistol with the barrel tied in a knot. You can raise your spirits after this sobering activity by walking through the botanical gardens and having a warm lunch in one of the restaurants. The city also has a famous historical museum, Memorial de Caen, that is dedicated to events here and all over France. You can get tickets here.
Cherbourg-Octeville is a picturesque port town on the coast of the English Channel. It's famous for the music of Michel Legrand and Catherine Deneuve's romantic role in the film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." After seeing the many monuments and museums in Cherbourg, find some time to try fresh oysters, scallops, and aromatic camembert cheese. The green areas in the area are worth your time as well. Go to the city botanical garden, the park on Roule mountain and the Montebello garden.
Normandy's cities are delightfully clean and well-kept You'll see flower-decorated balconies and walls covered in greenery. Tourists love the fantastic street cafes, are delighted by the really high-quality food, and are pleasantly surprised by the hard-working and hospitable Normans. Travel all over France, enjoy its beauty and get real enjoyment from it.
Have a great trip!