French Heritage

Follow the French Heritage Trail

France’s northern region of Normandy has stood as a centre of culture for over 1000 years. Initially founded in 911 A.D by the Vikings, it’s extensive, and often saddening, heritage covers everything from medieval kings and international wars to artistic movements and awe-inspiring architecture.

Weave your way through Normandy’s history with a road trip through the region and use this easily digestible, week-long itinerary as your guide.

Day 1 - Dieppe

The journey begins in Dieppe, one of Normandy’s main port towns. The town is an imperative stop on your adventure as it epitomises Normandy’s coastal importance, boasting one of the busiest ports in the region. Explore this small yet pertinent fishing commune with a trip to the castle. Founded in 1188, it was destroyed only 7 years later and restored in the 14th century. It’s medieval, impenetrable structure is incredibly imposing. Paired with a walk through the charming gardens, it’s a must when in the area. The views of the coastline from here are also amazing.

Fast forward several hundred years and Dieppe was also the location of an intense raid by the allied forces in August 1942. Dieppe was under German occupation and the failed raid took the lives of several thousand soldiers. The town’s 19th century theatre houses a memorial for the raid. Documents, photographs, artefacts, as well as testimonies and film allow you to get an understanding of the event.

Day 2 - Rouen

Normandy’s capital, Rouen is a medieval commune full of quaint establishments, local eateries and museums. The half-timbered buildings, paired with the medieval Gros Horloge, demonstrate Rouen’s prosperity during the Middle Ages.

The famous Notre Dame, with its extravagant exterior and soaring height (the tallest spire in France), attracts international visitors every year. It was even depicted in a series by Impressionist artist, Monet in the 19th century.

The city itself was established in the 10th century as Normandy’s capital and was second to Paris in size during the Middle Ages. It was also an important town during the Hundred Years War as it was used as a base by the English. It is in Rouen where Joan of Arc was captured, held and burned at the stake. The grounds of the execution is now the residence of the Church of Saint Joan of Arc. The Tower of Joan of Arc, where the French soldier was kept after her arrest by the English still exists and is open to visit.

Day 3 - Giverny

The Home of Impressionism, Giverny is where Claude Monet made his home. You can still visit the residence today, and it remains the incredible amalgam of colours and scenes that it was when Monet first moved in 1883, with a vast number of plant species in the gardens. The artist’s garden clearly served as an influence for the movement and is where Monet took his inspiration for painting natural landscapes, his delicate, fluid brushstrokes and his depiction of light and reflection.

The Museum of Impressionism, also in Giverny, opened in 1992 and has continued to explore Impressionism with exhibitions, conferences and more. It is home to a massive collection of Impressionist artwork ranging from the beginning of the movement in the 19th century, to art work from the modern day.

Day 4 - Lisieux

Lisieux is France’s second most famous pilgrimage site, with 700,000 people making the visit every year. This is mainly because of the town’s affiliation with the 19th century nun, Thérèse Martin. Martin lived in Lisieux, writing and practising a lot of spiritual work during her teens and twenties before she died in 1897, aged just 24. She was made a saint in the 1920s and in 1997 Pope John Paul II named her the 33rd Doctor of the Catholic Church.

A beautiful basilica was built in the 20th century to honour the Saint which Pope John Paul II visited in 1980. The basilica is no less impressive inside. Artwork and mosaics cover the interior, with stained glass windows adding even more colour.

However, Lisieux’s religious heritage dates back well before Saint Thérèse. The town also boasts several medieval churches, as well as the cathedral which was built during the 12th and 13th century.

Day 5 - Falaise

Falaise Castle saw the birth of William the Conqueror in 1027. The castle is placed intentionally atop a crag, allowing the residents to anticipate raids and attacks from warring armies.

The castle as it stands now is altered from the castle that William the Conqueror inhabited, though the grand statue of the king on the castle grounds acts as a reminder of his presence there. You can take a guided tour of the château, or simply take a look around yourself.

Make sure to venture into the town below, too, which also offers a lot of historical heritage. The town sustained a great deal of damage during the two World Wars of the 20th century, though several of the medieval churches still stand.

Day 6 - Mont St Michel

On your way to Bayeux from Falaise, stop off at Mont St Michel for a morning of meandering the monastery.

With origins in the 8th century, this lonely island is an icon of Gallic history. Quietly residing on Normandy’s west coast, Mont St Michel attracts around 3 million tourists annually.

It originally serviced as a monastery, in the beautiful, secluded abbey that still stands to this day. The rest of the isle is now busy with adorable shops, cafés and restaurants that line the cobbled pathways. In 1874 Mont St Michel was named a national monument and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Day 6 Cont. - Bayeux

Again harking back to France’s medieval past, Bayeux is a town immersed in a thousand years of history. The cathedral was originally erected in the 11th century, though the majority of it, especially the Gothic features, were constructed in the 13th to 15th centuries.

The old town, with the gentle river running through, is made up of ancient stone buildings, including the charming old watermill. There is even a Viking ship at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.

The famous tapestry, spanning a massive 70m by 50cm, is housed in the Tapestry Museum in Bayeux and is the town’s favourite attraction. The tale of the tapestry begins in 1064, ending with the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It is, in itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

More recent history can be found at the Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy which looks at the Second World War in Normandy from June to August 1944.

Colleville -Sur-Mer

No one would suspect that the peaceful, coastal town of Colleville-Sur-Mer was once the site of fierce battle between the allies and the Germans. Yet, whether in the numerous monuments or museums, one can uncover the role of Colleville-Sur-Mer in the D-Day landings.

The American Cemetery is a stunning yet harrowing memorial for the Americans lost in France during the D-Day landings. The respectful white crosses, identical and unmarked, that fill the fields here demonstrate the unity among the soldiers, as well as the scale of loss suffered during the landings.

Day 7 Cont. - D-Day Beaches

Only a short drive from Colleville Sur Mer are the 5 D-Day Beaches that were used by the allies to access occupied France in 1944. The first, Omaha Beach, is actually on Colleville-Sur-Mer’s coastline. Visit the memorial museum, as well as the beach itself.

Gold, Juno, Sword and Utah beaches are also nearby and, again, bear the scars of the war.

Remnants of the war that remain on the beaches include German bunkers and artillery guns, which you can still visit today. There are also a number of museums and memorials on your route that will provide an educational and emotional understanding of the event including the Landing Museum and the Museum of the Atlantic Wall.

Day 7 Cont. - Caen

End your tour with a visit to Caen’s Memorial Museum. This comprehensive and interactive museum offers excellent D-Day and WWII exhibitions. It also recognises the post-war impact on society, with information on the Cold War and the Berlin Wall. The museum also offers events and competitions, all of which are in dialogue with social and often topical discussions.

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