Normandy : from World War to Camembert
Not too far from Paris, this verdant, hilly region is teeming with history, from the Vikings' invasion and William the Conqueror through to the World War II beach landings. The D-day beaches, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword are a vibrant memoir of the 20th century history and visiting them is a must while touring France. Other important historical sites of the Battle of Normandy such as Sainte Mère Eglise, Pointe du Hoc, Caen Memorial or Military Cemeteries are places to honor and remember the sacrifice of the Allied troops.
One of Normandy's main selling points is its culture, a prime example of which being Giverny and its marvelous gardens and water lilies, home of Monet and a number of other Impressionist painters. Beautiful Honfleur port cannot be missed either, close to Deauville and its racecourse, its Grand Casino and luxurious hotels. Bayeux city, 5 miles inland behind Arromanches' artificial harbor, is the only big city that remained untouched by WWII and is perfect for strolling around, soaking up the atmosphere of Normandy. Be sure to take a look at the Bayeux tapestry while you're there, a magnificent 1070’s embroidered cloth, some 70 meters long, depicting William the Conqueror's invasion of England.
A day visiting Unesco World Heritage site Mont Saint Michel is a must as well. This 8th century abbey sitting atop a tidal island off the Normandy coast is a delight to behold and is definitly worth your time.
But Normandy is much more than that. the region is full of culinary wonders as well, including tasteful cheeses (Camembert, Pont l’Evêque or Livarot), cider and calvados (apple brandy) all of which can be found in the Normandy back country. Make sure you spend some time in the Pays d’Auge, admiring its picturesque villages, such as Beuvron-en-Auge with its beautiful half-timbered houses.
Normandy has everything you need for the perfect getaway.
Map of Normandy
The touristic region of Normandy spreads along the Channel coast from Rouen (1hr30 drive from Paris) at the Eastern end - all the way to Mont Saint Michel at the Western end. As one of the most visited region of France, Normandy has a lot to offer to independent travelers.
Click on the map to enlarge and read more about Normandy geography and sightseeing
How to get to Normandy
Normandy is very easy to reach from downtown Paris or Paris CDG Airport. Drive out of Paris or CDG Airport and you will reach Monet's house in Giverny in 1 hour, then Rouen in about 1h30. If you plan on staying in Caen or Bayeux (3hr drive from Paris), you can stop over for lunch in Honfleur or Deauville areas.
There are also direct trains from Paris to Normandy - however, hiring automatic rental car in Caen or Bayeux can be difficult.
If you come from the Loire Valley - or Castles' Country as it's known - Mont Saint Michel or the Landing Beaches are about 3 hour 30 drive. Most travelers drive from Paris to Normandy then to the Loire Valley...but there is also a lot to be said for doing tje journey in reverse : starting in the Loire Valley, then heading to Normandy. Also, if you want to avoid spending the last night of your trip to France in CDG Airport, you can consider staying in Giverny which is only 1 hour drive from CDG, and just heading to the airport the day you fly.
What to do in Normandy
Monet's House & Gardens in Giverny
Despite its international fame, especially in the US, it might surpise you to know that most French people aren't familiar with this place. To us - the Frenchies - Monet is synonym with the Orsay Museum - and it's where you will find most of his paintings.
Giverny Monet gardens are beautiful, especially from May til July, but can get very crowded.
Waterlilies in the Japanese garden in Giverny
The Battle of Normandy sites
Many of our travelers come to Normandy to learn the history of their father, uncle or grand-father who landed in Normandy on D-Day in 1944. This is always an emotional experience, regardless of whether you have relative who fought or not, and so we do our best to make sure our travelers get as much detailed information as possible about what happened to those brave soldiers. For those who have names, dates or places they want to learn about – we will be happy to craft the itinerary accordingly. Also, we have selected a few English speaking guides who will make the History to life and answer to all of your questions. To us, this is a must – at least if this is your first visit to Normandy.
For American travelers, Omaha or Utah Beach as well as Sainte Mere Eglise and Pointe du Hoc are a must see. The US Cemetery in Colleville – right above Omaha Beach - is also incredibly impressive and illustrates the enormity of the sacrifice the Allies made to free the French people. The German, British and Canadian cemeteries are equally awe-inspiring
Canadian travelers will get the chance to learn about the Canadian landing at Juno Beach Center, which is very interesting while the British people among us can visit Sword Beach, North of Caen to discover the history of their ancestors. It is also worth checking out the impressive remains of the Arromanches artificial bridge which was built in a night.
©Calvados Toursime - Arromanches Artificial Port
Mont Saint Michel Village
Mont Saint Michel, a small village built on a rock off the coast, is the most visited site in France and is likely to continue to be thanks to its beauty, history, architecture and the rhythm of the tide as it laps against its shore. The fascination we feel standing in front of it will never stop. Mont saint Michel, along with the bay became a UNESCO world heritage in 1979. Click here to read more about Mont Saint Michel.
©Ben Bard - Mont Saint Michel Village & Abbey
The Norman Hinterland
Thinking about Normandy might conjure up images of sandy beaches, but that's not all the spectacular region has to offer. Normandy’s hinterland is a beautiful part of the country and well worth taking the time to explore. Its rolling green hills, black and white cows and apple orchards give the area a unique character – combine that with some of the most beautiful villages in France featuring gorgeous half-timbered houses and you’re all set for the perfect day out!
©Dieter Basse - Half-Timbered Houses in Normandy
Along the Norman Coast, from Dieppe in the North of Rouen to Honfleur, Deauville and Cabourg, Normandy was - and still is - one of the main getaway destinations for the Parisians.
In the 19th century, famous painters such as Eugène Boudin immortalized these weekends in Deauville or Honfleur through the medium of their art. Later Monet and Manet – impressionist painters – also tried to reproduce the very special light that shines down on the Norman beaches in the morning, at dawn or on a stormy day.
Top tip : if you are planning on driving from Paris CDG airport to Normandy direct on the day of your arrival, make sure you have "moules frites" for lunch in Honfleur port, followed by a stroll along the Deauville boardwalk. This is the perfect way to unwind after your flight and get your first taste of French life!
Bathing Time in Deauville by Eugène Boudin in 1865
Normandy's Old Cities
Many historical sites where bombed during the Invasion of Normandy. However, many sites remain untouched (or were rebuilt after the war). For instance, Bayeux old city with its majestic cathedral and milenary old tapestry is a must see. Those passionate about impressionist painters or Joan of Arc history will also enjoy visiting Rouen.
©Ben Bard - Bayeux Old City
The Norman Gastronomy...if you like apples and dairy products...
The Normans know how to enjoy life. Reputed gastronomes, they love a good home-made meal with a drink. Normandy is affectionately called the "butter land of the gods" because of its important production of some of France’s finest dairy products. With its seafood, cheese and apples, Normandy cuisine one of the best in France.
Why to avoid Day Trips from Paris to Normandy
Normandy is famous worldwide for playing a vital role in the Second World War. The American invasion on Omaha and Utah beaches and the Canadian and British landings in Juno, Gold and Sword beach marked the beginning of the end of a terrible war. Today, thinking about Normandy, we all have these images in mind: military cemeteries, memorials and bombarded cities. A day tour from Paris is simply not enough to truly make the most of this fascinating part of France.
However, there is so much more to this authentic region which deserves a greater attention.
Of course, the history of Normandy is not just limited to the 20th century, first invaded by the Vikings, it was then bore witness to Joan of Arc’s bravery and William the Conqueror’s endless thirst for greatness, followed by the Hundred Year War (between France and Great Britain) and then the first World War.
The cuisine in Normandy is renowned for its mouth-watering taste, with a particular focus on dairy, alcohol and seafood. Butter and other dairy products can be found all over the region and are devilishly more-ish. Norman cider and calvados (apple brandy) are made from the local apple orchards that you will spot as you make your way through the Norman hinterland and seaside.
Perhaps one of the best things about Normandy is the people who live there. It’s always difficult to generalize on these matters - and neither of us: Guillaume or Emilie have Norman roots – but, objectively, the Normans are joyful, open people who are easy to talk to and eager to welcome you to their region.