The Top 10 Sights in Normandy

March 6, 2018

Normandy’s heritage is immeasurable, from Mesolithic remnants dating back to 7000BC to the region’s vital role in both World Wars. Taking a tour of Normandy is akin to stepping back in time, with each city, seaside or landscape depicting a narrative of a bygone time. Although the sights to see in Normandy are countless, here are our top 10.

 

Mont St Michel

Resting in solitude atop a lonely, weather worn crag is the piercing Mont St Michel, an ancient monastery with roots that date back to the 8th century. The remarkable Gothic silhouette of it as it stands alone in the grey blue waters of the English Channel is captivating, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. Although originally a pilgrimage site, the island now offers bars, restaurants and tourists shops, all nestled within centuries old buildings. Admire it from the beach as the sun sets, creating an effusion of pinks, reds, oranges and purples that set fire to the surrounding sky. As night falls, too, the isle is illuminated, another spectacle not to be missed.

 

Mont Saint-Michel in twilight at dusk, Normandy, France

 

Etretat Cliffs

Another of Normandy’s coastal treasures, Etretat Cliffs are the French answer to the White Cliffs of Dover. An enormous, prehistoric-esque archway carved from the pearly cliffside stands beside a lonesome rock appearing almost as a tooth from the mouth of a Jurassic beast. On a cloudless day, sea and skyline merge into a turquoise blur, as the cliffs and sand coalesce into one smooth alabaster face. Captured by Monet a multitude of times throughout the 1880s, the painter took awe in the location’s singularity. Why not take your sketchpad down when you visit?

 

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Monet’s Garden at Giverny

While Monet took a great deal of inspiration from the Etretat Cliffs, much of what inspired the Impressionist painter were his gardens at Giverny, where he took habitation in 1883. Monet spent around 20 years capturing the essence of natural wonder in Giverny, his Water Lilies series one of the most famous examples. These gardens and even his house are now open to the public and remain practically untouched since Monet lived there. Tours are offered if you would like to delve deeper into the history of the area.

 

Giverny

 

Bayeux Tapestry

Residing in the eponymous medieval commune is this world-renowned artwork that was forged in the previous millennia. The Bayeux Tapestry makes the list on the Memory of the World register commissioned by UNESCO. At a jaw-dropping 68.8m in length, it commands just as much awe as it did when first created. The tapestry depicts the Norman conquest of England in an epic odyssey, beginning with Harold Godwinson’s journey to Normandy, and concluding with the Battle of Hastings in October 1066.  The tapestry is on permanent exhibition at the Bayeux Museum.

 

D-Day Beaches

Storming five beaches in the largest seaborne invasion in history, the allied forces launched the D-Day assault on 6 June 1944 across a 50 mile stretch of Norman coast. These beaches, now immortalised in history, still host some of the military paraphernalia from the attack, including a landing craft, now sunk deep into the sand, and bunkers overgrown with vegetation. There are number of touching memorials, cemeteries and museums nearby, including the Les Braves monument at Omaha Beach which symbolises freedom, hope and fraternity, and the Bayeux War Cemetery.

 

Rouen Old Town and Cathedral

Rouen holds the title as Normandy’s capital, with a historical legacy spanning as far back as the Roman occupation of France. The city’s old town, with architecture from almost every century, from timbered medieval establishments, to the postmodern Church of St Joan of Arc. In fact, Rouen is where the young Joan of Arc was captured, tortured and executed. Used as a backdrop for the exciting, fast-paced chapters of Flaubert’s Madam Bovary and described by Victor Hugo as the city with ‘a hundred spires’, it has a cultural heritage coveted by neighbouring cities. The cathedral, once the tallest in the world, captivates visitors with its elaborate, ivory façade and soaring steeple. Its magnificence was illustrated in a series by Monet.

 

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Honfleur Harbour

Arriving in Honfleur you are almost guilty of time-travel. This quaint fishing town, where the loudest sound you’ll hear is the clink of a coffee cup as it is reintroduced to its companion, the saucer, conveys you to another era. The buildings surrounding the harbour are packed as tight as the sardines brought in by the fishermen, utilising the unending vertical space, rather than the particularly limited horizontal area. While on the topic of sardines, if you’re in Honfleur long enough to catch a bite to eat, opting for anything other than fruit de mer would be a crime.

 

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Château de Falaise

Birthplace of the legendary William the Conqueror, the Château de Falaise is yet another example of Normandy’s outstanding military prevalence in the preceding centuries. It sits high above on a precipice, looming down over the unassuming village below. This location made it almost impenetrable to enemy forces. Visiting provides a unique historical insight into the life and times of William the Conqueror with films, performances and events. Falaise town also houses a number of churches and a grandiose statue of the Gallic leader atop a rearing horse, weapon in hand.

 

La Suisse Normande

As the name suggests, this area of Normandy, often explored only by the French that know of it, offers Swiss-like landscapes that allows visitors to disappear into a rural wilderness. Completely dichotomous to Normandy’s busy cities, adventure-seekers will find gorge walking, kayaking and rock climbing, while others can simply revel in the serenity of the extraordinary views and blissful quietude.

 

Fécamp

Many of Normandy’s beaches became popular seaside resorts in the 19th century, with their gorgeous scenery, wide stretches of sand and warm weather. Fécamp, and old fishing port, was established in 1832 as one of the first of these holiday towns in the region. The stone beach seems intimately secluded, protected by the ancient chalky cliffs that guard visitors from the elements. These cliffs, at a staggering 300 feet, are the highest in Normandy and make up part of France’s 80 mile La Côte d’Albâtre. Famous not only for its fishing exports, Fécamp is home to Bénédictine liqueur. The liqueurs founder, Alexandre Le Grand, had an extravagant palace built as a unique brewing distillery which is open for tourists.

 

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