Situated in the north of France, the north coast of Normandy faces the English Channel and it is bordered to the east by Picardy, to the west by Brittany and by the Loire to the south. Boasting over 600 kilometres of dramatic coastline, contrasting from the wild granite coastline of the northern Cotentin to the long sandy beaches and white cliffs of the south, Normandy is an attractive destination. Inland the apple orchards of Calvados and the meandering valleys and wooded hillsides of the Suisse Normande can be found.
This northern coastal region is in fact officially divided into two regions “Haute et Basse Normandie” (High and Low). Famous for Camembert, Calvados, Cider, D-Day beaches and war memorials, Normandy offers an abundance of things to do. The seaside resorts, rivers and lakes offer plenty of water sporting activities including: windsurfing, water skiing, boating, canoeing, sailing and fresh water fishing.
While inland, 39 golf courses, 80 parks and gardens, 7,500kms of rambler’s paths, 200 museums and 50 abbeys and cathedrals, are just some of the activities that Normandy has to offer. Other popular activities include tennis, hot-air balloon flights, boules or even car racing at Le Mans. Normandy also welcomes international nautical, musical and movie events such as the American Film Festival held in the seaside resort of Deauville in September.
Upper Normandy is comprised of two departments: Seine-Maritime and Eure.
· Seine-Maritime stretches from the busy port and walled city of Le Havre, up to Le Treport, a popular seaside resort and takes its name from the Seine River. Dieppe, although a busy ferry port is also a famous fishing port and coastal resort, which boasts a pretty old town, busy markets and a fantastic Sea Life Centre, that children and adults alike will love. The medieval town of Rouen and capital of Upper Normandy with its hundred bell-towers and half-timbered houses is steeped in history and well worth a visit. Both William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc died in the town and it is home to the Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame, which was immortalized by French Impressionist Claude Monet. Just north of Rouen, children will particularly love to see animals roaming free around the wonderful wildlife park at Parc Zoologique de Cleres.
· Eure is a largely wooded plateau cut by the valleys of the many rivers that cross it and which eventually make up the River Seine. On the banks of the Seine, art lovers will not want to miss a wander through the exuberant gardens at Giverney, which were the inspiration for Monet’s famous water lily series. The gardens are open daily (except Mondays) from April 1st to October 31st.
Lower Normandy is made up of three departments: Calvados, Orne and Manche
· Calvados, just east of the Cherbourg peninsula, is named after the famous brandy made from apples. If cider and calvados are your thing, then take the ‘Route de Cidre’ a circular tour of the cider farms southeast of Caen. The tiny town of Bayeux is built around the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame, which houses the world famous 200-foot long Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Norman conquest of England. It is also home to the D-Day landing beaches and the monuments, museums, bunkers and cemeteries are a living commemoration to the largest military landing in history. The department’s capital of Caen is worth visiting for its two great 11th-century abbeys built by William the Conqueror and its most memorable landmark, the World War II museum.
· Situated in the southeast corner of Orne, walkers and outdoor enthusiasts will be captivated by the beautiful scenery of the Perche National Park region. It is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty and the characteristic dark rocks of the Orne Valley are ideal for climbers with the highest peak reaching 1197 ft. The regions passion for horses can also be experienced here and tourists are welcome to tour the famous horse breeding estate of Haras du Pin, or attend any of the numerous horse shows. The department capital Alencon is most famous for its lace. A major collection of French and European lace dating from the 17th-century can be seen at the Fine Arts and lace Museum in Alencon. Visitors can pick up pieces of their own at the many markets of the neighboring villages.
· Manche, which covers the western strip of Normandy, stretches from Cherbourg in the north along the Cherbourg Peninsular, to the famous Mont-St-Michel in the south. The second most visited place in France after the Eiffel Tower, Mont-St-Michel perches precariously on a 264-foot high rocky islet that is connected to mainland by a causeway. This dreamy ‘pyramid in the sea’ also marks the boundary with Brittany.
HOW TO GET THERE
By Air - Air France runs a daily service between Heathrow and Caen in Lower Normandy.
By Train - The TGV train also runs to Normandy via Le Havre, Cherbourg and Caen.
By Ferry - Normandy can also be accessed by ferry via Calais, Dieppe, Caen, Le Harve or Cherbourg.
Normandy has a variable ocean climate with average daily temperatures practically identical to those of southern England, ranging from around 6ºC (44ºF) in February to 22ºC (72ºF) in August.