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Last updated : Nov 2009
Normandy - TravelPuppy.com
Normandy is a region dominated by farming, with mile upon mile of unbroken farmland, which eventually gives way in the west to the waters of the English Channel. Normandy contains five départements: Seine Maritime, Calvados, Manche, Eure and Orne, with all but the last two touching on the sea. On its southern border is the River Couesnon which has, over the years, shifted its course as it flows over almost flat country, gradually moving south of Mont-Saint-Michel, one of Europe’s best-known architectural curiosities. Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The tides are phenomenal and at their peak, there is a difference of about 15m (50ft) between the ebb and the flow, the height of a five-storey building. The sands in the bay are flat and, when the tides are at their highest, the sea runs in over a distance of some 24km (15 miles) forming a wave about 70cm (2ft) deep. The sandbank changes from tide to tide and, if the legend of the sea entering the bay at the speed of a galloping horse is perhaps a slight exaggeration, the danger of quicksand is real enough. The present Abbey of Saint-Michel was built in the 8th century by Bishop Aubert, his skull bears the mark of the finger of Saint Michel, the archangel Michael. Cabourg is the Balbec in Proust’s novels. Maupassant and Flaubert included Norman scenes in their novels and Monet, Sisley and Pissarro painted scenes of the coast and the countryside.

Deauville, with its beach, casino, golf course and race track, is the social capital of the area. Bayeux is worth a visit for the fantastic tapestry as there is nothing like it in the world. The landing beaches and World War II battlefields are remembered by excellent small museums in Arromanches (the landings) and Bayeux (battle of Normandy). There is also a peace museum in Caen, with its beautiful Romanesque church and ruins of an enormous castle, founded by William the Conqueror. Other monuments worth visiting include the 14th-century Church of St-Etienne, the Church of St-Pierre (Renaissance) and the Abbaye aux Dames. There is also a museum of local crafts from the Gallo-Roman period to the present.

The cross-Channel terminus and the port of Dieppe has attractive winding streets and a 15th-century castle, housing the Musée de Dieppe. There are some beautiful châteaux in Normandy, particularly along the route between Paris and Rouen. They include the Boury-en-Vexin, Bizy-Vernon, Gaillon, Gaillard-les-Andelys, Vascoeuil and Martinville. Along the same route are found a number of other sites classed monument historique; the Claude Monet House and garden in Giverny, the Abbey de Mortemer (Lisors) and the village of Lyon-la-Fôret. All of these merit a detour.

The ancient capital of Rouen features restored ancient streets and houses, including the Vieille Maison of 1466 and the place du Vieux-Marché, where Jeanne d’Arc was burnt in 1432. There is a magnificent 13th-century cathedral, as well as many fine museums and churches, including St Ouen and St Maclou. The cloister of St Maclou was a cemetery for victims of the Great Plague. The old port of Honfleur, with its well-preserved 18th-century waterfront houses, is also well worth a visit.

Normandy is a land of fishermen and farmers and is one of the finest gastronomic regions of France. Exquisite butter, thick fresh cream and excellent cheeses, including the world-famous camembert, pont l’evêque and liverot, are all produced in Normandy. Both crustaceans and saltwater fish abound, sole Normande is one of the greatest dishes known to the gastronomic world. There is also lobster from Barfleur, shrimp from Cherbourg and oysters from Dive-sur-Mur. Inland one finds duck from Rouen and Nantes, lamb from the salt meadows near Mont-Saint-Michel, cream from Isigny, chicken and veal from the Cotentin, and cider and calvados (apple brandy) from the Pays d’Auge.