What characterizes the Normandy region are beautiful beaches, small villages, port cities, cheese, seafood, and cider. The region has many picturesque towns and fishing villages. Normandy is where Impressionism first began and also this region is a historic site that serves as a memorial to the battles of World War II. Normandy is a favorite place for gastronomy enthusiasts and is full of seafood, meat and apple cider which is known as Calvados and French cheese, including Camembert.
We did our trip to Normandy as part of a long, relaxing weekend outside the city of Paris.
We chose Caen as our accommodation for this three-day trip in Normandy as this city was located close enough to the points of interest. Take a look at the map above and find a place that would be in the middle of the attraction you are planning on visiting.
We booked the Adagio Aparthotel Caen center which was excellent, especially if your traveling with kids.
Located in the center of Caen on the banks of the River Orne it offers its guests a fitness center, air-conditioned apartments with modern décor, a lounge and free Wi-Fi in all areas. All the apartments have a flat-screen TV and a fully equipped kitchen with fridge and microwave. It also provides private parking in the hotel.
How to travel in Normandy?
We traveled by a rented car. In our opinion, this is the best option because some of the attractions are far from one another. Also, you are not dependent on public transportation and you can be free to explore the lovely villages on the way. We left Paris in the morning in the direction of Giverny, about an hour and a half drive from the capital, and started the trip in Normandy.
You can check out car rental prices here.
The Fondation Claude Monet, Giverny
The village of Giverny is a small French village in the Normandy region, on the banks of the Seine. This is the village where Claude Monet lived and worked for almost 40 years. The main attraction in Giverny is the home and gardens of Claude Monet, one of the most famous Impressionist artists. Some of Monet’s most famous paintings, including his magnificent water lilies, were painted right there.
In the gardens and home of the famous painter, you can see the Japanese bridge from Monet’s paintings, beautiful lakes with water lilies, trees, colorful flower beds and more.
The village was discovered by Monet while he was on the train and happened to see it from the window. He was so impressed by its beauty that he decided to go and live there. He bought a house and a piece of land on which he decided to plant a garden. He was careful about balance, harmony, peace, and order when creating the garden. Later on, he painted and was inspired by this garden in many of his works.
As part of the tour, a fascinating opportunity is given to enter the house where he lived. There is Something exciting about going into his house to see how this great artist lived his life.
Rouen became famous because of Joan of Arc, Gustave Flaubert (author of the book “Madame Bovary”) and Claude Monet. The city, located on the Seine River, is a port city. Maritime trade has been one of the pillars of the city’s economy in the past centuries.
The city is divided by the river Seine and like any other respectable city in Europe, life here was also revolved around the market square, Place du Vieux Marche, the square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.
Twice a week there is a food market here. The route from this square to the Notre Dame Cathedral passes through Gross Horloge (a clock on the Bell Tower in from 1527) and the Palais du Justice. Notre Dame Cathedral (most of whose fame is because its front starred in Claude Monet’s paintings) suffered heavy bombardments during World War II but was renovated at the end of the war.
The square where the cathedral is located is much larger than the old market square and around it, you can find many restaurants and cafés.
The city of Caen was almost completely destroyed during World War II. However, it is possible to see the historical importance of the city at first sight. A ring of batteries surrounds what used to be the castle and the also Renaissance architecture stands out in many buildings in the city. There are two important museums in the city: the first, Musee des Beaux-Arts that focuses in Norman art and the other Musee de Normandie specializes in Norman history of the period.
To the south, there is the 14th-century Saint-Pierre church, whose facade was restored after the war. At the western end of the city center are two impressive Romanesque monasteries: the Abbaye aux Hommes with the St-Etienne Church adjacent to it and the Abbaye aux Dames with the Church of La Trinite. To the north, you can find a new museum called Caen Memorial located on a hill below which the Nazi Germans placed their headquarters in June 1944. One wing of the museum deals with the rise of Fascism in Germany, and another focuses on opponents and collaborators in France. The third part of the museum describes the major battles of World War II.
Mont Saint Michel
One of the must-see places on a trip to Normandy is the small island of Mont Saint Michel on the western end of the region. Mont Saint Michel has been recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The tides on the island are spectacular, and the difference between them can get to about 14 meters.
On the island, you’ll find a beautiful Gothic monastery that attracts about three million tourists every year. This impressive monastery can already be seen from the shoreline – but as one gets closer it becomes more and more impressive. The monastery was built at the beginning of the eighth century on a rocky summit overlooking the coast and considered one of the greatest architectural achievements of the Middle Ages.
In 1020 King Richard II began to build the chapel. You’ll arrive at the monastery after climbing the “Grande Rue”. It is a narrow, busy alley with houses and shops on either side of which leads from the entrance gate to the fortified island to the many steps that lead to a 50-meter monastery. The alley is filled with souvenir shops and fast food shops. At the same time, you can walk along the wall that touches the waterline where there are several observation towers.
In 1874 the French government took responsibility for the restoration and preservation of the monastery. Mont-Saint-Michel unites history and romance, from ancient stones to spectacular sunsets. Its convenient location attracts many visitors.
It is recommended to park the car off the island and walk on foot, which is very enjoyable in itself.
The Bayeux Tapestry
The city of Bayeux represents one of the region’s most important historical assets. Apart from its charming cathedral, it contains a famous tapestry; The Bayeux Tapestry. This tapestry depicting the English invasion of France through the Normandy coast, held in 1066 by William the Conqueror. The visit begins with a slide show and from there continues to a full copy of the original piece accompanied by detailed explanations and photographs. On the top floor you can watch a nice film and at the end is the carpet itself – a 70-meter stretch of linen on which the plot was woven in colored wool threads nine hundred years ago. The carpet depicts scenes from the Norman occupation as well as scenes from daily life in the area.
If you have time you can also visit the memorial museum for the Battle of Normandy where you can find original documents from the period, life-size models, equipment and video clips commemorating the most important parts of this battle, bringing peace back to Europe.
On this day, our trip focused mainly on locations that were linked to the Allied landing operation during the Second World War. More than 70 years have passed since that amazing military operation, but it is still difficult to digest the planning and daring that accompanied it. The operation was widely documented both in books and in films.
The landing on the Normandy coast eventually led to the fall of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II. Normandy’s special place in the history of the twentieth century finds expression in the fact that many of the sites in this region are a reminder of that glorious military operation. There are not many areas in the world that have been so directly linked to a massive military operation that has changed the history of the modern world.
The landing in Normandy began on 6 June 1944 and is also known as D-Day. It was the largest amphibious operation of all time and included crossing the canal with a fleet of more than 5,000 ships and landing more than 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops and 1,500 tanks on a 50-mile stretch of coastline. The operation also included 12,000 aircraft that engaged in landing airborne forces and massive bombardments that prevented the German army from organizing a counterattack.
This cost line was divided into 5 landing areas: Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, and Omaha. The landing forces were assigned to the landing areas in advance, and the ports of departure were determined on the British island. The British and Canadian forces were assigned to the first three landing areas, while the first Army, based on American troops, landed on the coasts of Omaha and Utah. Later, after the conquest of the bridgehead was completed, the Third Army entered the area near Avranches. The first day of the fighting took a heavy toll on the Allies (2,500 dead).
The bloody scene was in Omaha Beach, in which more than 4,600 soldiers were killed defending the bridgehead. The reason for this was that in this area the German army was properly fortified in an array that was part of the Atlantic Wall, and also, German forces had a significant topographical advantage against the landing forces. Moreover, the Americans who landed here suffered several mishaps that only worsened their situation. In the first hours the situation of the Allies was very bad and only after the destroyers attacked the German positions, and in addition to the forces that came behind the line of German fortifications destroyed the firing positions of the Germans, the turning point began.
Omaha Beach Memorial Museum
A great museum located very close to Omaha beach and provides a lot of detail about the American invasion, including a great short informative movie.
The American Cemetery
About 10 minutes drive from Omaha Beach was the American cemetery where around 9,400 soldiers are buried in. In the cemetery, there are 9,385 marble crosses and also some Stars of David. On one of the walls in the main building are the movements of the Allied forces during the fighting that took place in the area. The site, which reaches almost to the waterline, is maintained in a most dignified manner. To the west and east of the site are additional memorials commemorating the operation and its participants. This is the largest cemetery where Allied soldiers have been buried (other cemeteries are scattered throughout the region, some of which are located around the city of Caen).
A half-hour drive east you’ll arrive at Arromanches-Les-Bains. The town is located on the shores of the ocean and played an important role during the landing in 1944. This is the place chosen for the floating port so that it will serve as a bridge between the forces that landed and the logistical on the other side of the canal. The Allies understood that the possibility of logistical assistance for the landing forces should be created as soon as an alternative to the conquest of La Havre was postponed.
The port, which was one of the most spectacular engineering operations of the Second World War, was 13 km long and was set up within a week, enabling the unloading of 12,000 tons of merchandise and 2,500 cars a day.
Now, back to Paris to continue our lovely vacation. This was definitely one of the highlights of our vacation and a very educational experience too.