Normandy (French: Normandie, Norman: Normaundie) is a region of northern France, bordering the English Channel. Once the centre of a powerful medieval empire that controlled a significant area of continental Europe, and most of England and Wales, Normandy has an incredibly rich heritage to draw from. Many visitors come to be enchanted by historical attractions such as the triple peaks of Rouen cathedral, the Bayeux Tapestry's engrossing tale of vengeance and conquest, and the fantastical abbey atop Mont Saint-Michel. Normandy is also famed for the D-Day Allied invasion on 6 June, 1944, and the brutal inland fighting that ensued, but which eventually resulted in the liberation of France from Nazi rule.
However, Normandy is more than just a history museum; this is a region of natural beauty too, from the chalky cliffs of the Alabaster Coast, to the rocky hills of the Suisse Normande, and the Cotentin marshlands. And where better to savour the twin pillars of Norman cuisine, milk and apples?
On 1 January 2016, the administrative regions of Upper Normandy and Lower Normandy were reunited into a single entity once more. This was an extremely popular move among local regionalists. However, for travel purposes, Wikivoyage maintains that the two smaller regions are handy ways of understanding the destination as a whole.
|Lower Normandy |
The more rural west of Normandy is on and around the Cotentin peninsula, which thrusts into the English Channel. Lower Normandy was the location of the D-Day landings and much of the subsequent fighting. Other standouts include the towns of Bayeux and Honfleur.
|Upper Normandy |
The more urban east of Normandy is where the river Seine flows to meet the sea. Upper Normandy hosts the cities of Rouen and Le Havre, picturesque landscapes on the Alabaster Coast, and the home of impressionist painter Claude Monet.
Cities and towns
- 1 Rouen — Normandy's smart capital city has abundant medieval heritage, with several notable Gothic monuments and many half-timber houses. Joan of Arc met her gruesome fate here in 1431, when she was burnt at the stake as a heretic.
- 2 Bayeux — Pretty cathedral town that serves as a good base for visiting the eastern D-Day beaches (Gold, Juno and Sword). The most well-known attraction in Bayeux itself is the eponymous tapestry which chronicles the Norman invasion of England, culminating in William's victory over Harold in 1066.
- 3 Caen — In contrast to so much of olde worlde Normandy, Caen is a modern city, due to its near complete destruction in 1944, a tragic outcome meticulously recorded by the city's Memorial museum. There are fortunately still some surviving relics of old Caen, including two abbeys and several churches.
- 4 Cherbourg — A maritime town and ferry port with two museums of national importance - the Musée de la Libération and the Cité de la Mer. Cherbourg also serves as a base for exploring the wider Cotentin peninsula and the western D-Day beaches (Omaha and Utah).
- 5 Dieppe — A lively seaside resort with the closest beach to Paris, popular with weekenders and daytrippers. In 1942, it was the location of a catastrophic raid by Canadian and other Allied troops that resulted in a Nazi victory; in 1944, the Canadians returned with a vengeance and liberated the town.
- 6 Honfleur — A 17th-century harbour town with oodles of charm and character; the old port is lined with higgledy-piggledy buildings of comical width and height. Still an active fishing port, Honfleur is a renowned location for seafood restaurants.
- 7 Le Havre — At the mouth of the Seine sits one of Europe's principal seaports, known for its art and natural history museums. Le Havre's concrete modernist city centre is the chef d'œuvre of Auguste Perret and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- 1 D-Day beaches — On 6 June 1944, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops disembarked on French sand across five named beaches - Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword - stretching from near Cherbourg in the west to Ouistreham in the east. The ensuing Battle of Normandy and ultimate victory on the western front is commemorated at hundreds of cemeteries, memorials, services and events across the area.
- 2 Giverny — The country home of the best-known painter of the Impressionist movement, Claude Monet. Visit the gardens which inspired Monet's work, and enjoy the bucolic village surroundings of rural Normandy.
- 3 Mont Saint-Michel — Perhaps the most recognisable French landmark outside Paris, this real life Minas Tirith is a rocky pinnacle of an island capped with a benedictine monastery and flanked by a steep and winding town.
Normandy is the land of the Normans, the then partially French-acculturated Norsemen who first arrived in 820. The Duchy of Normandy grew out of a treaty signed in 911 between the Viking leader Rollo and Frankish king Charles III. Rollo is widely recognised as the founder of the Norman civilisation, and his descendants became the Dukes of Normandy, one of whom - William the Conqueror (Guillaume le Conquérant) - invaded England in 1066 and crowned himself King William I. Thus followed a long period of Anglo-Norman domination on both sides of the Channel, and Normandy was for several centuries a part of the Kingdom of England. During this time, many defensive castles and Romanesque and Gothic churches were constructed, and the famous Bayeux tapestry was woven by now-unknown hands.
This state of affairs was only altered by the Hundred Years War (1337 - 1453), as the Kingdom of France took back more and more of its territory. During this time, French national heroine Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) was infamously executed by the English at Rouen. Despite this blow, the French were ultimately victorious and the only part of Normandy left under English - now British - control today is the Channel Islands.
Part of German-occupied France between 1940 and 1944, Normandy was also the subject of a much more recent cross-Channel invasion, the crucial Operation Overlord conducted by Allied forces during World War II. After the beach landings on 6 June 1944, the Battle of Normandy raged until the end of August and resulted in the destruction of whole cities such as Caen and Le Havre. Normandy thus became the first part of western Europe to be freed from fascism, and the toehold the Allies gained in western Europe was essential for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.
Today, Normandy is a peaceful land that is an integral part of France. The Norman people have not forgotten the sacrifices of their liberators, and all over the region you will see French Tricolores, American Stars and Stripes, Canadian Maple Leaves and British Union Flags proudly flying. The countless war cemeteries and memorials, though each owned by their respective countries' war grave commission, are lovingly tended primarily by locals, and are thus kept in immaculate condition. Normandy remains very accessible from Britain and is also a favoured day or weekend trip for people from Paris and the Île-de-France, due to its beautiful coast and fascinating history.
When to visit
The climate in Normandy is very similar to that of southern England, with mild winters and warm, sometimes hot, summers. The weather can be unpredictable and is rainy by French standards, but is also often very nice. Most people visit during the summer, from June when the annual D-Day commemorations take place, through to the end of August. While it is perfectly possible to escape the crowds in much of Normandy even in the high season, the most well-known destinations are usually thronged with international tourists in summer, often bussed in on rushed and exhausting-looking day trips from Paris. Therefore, the best time to visit the big-ticket attractions (including the Bayeux Tapestry, the D-Day beaches and cemeteries, Giverny and Mont Saint-Michel) is late spring and early autumn, where you should hopefully achieve the right balance of reasonable weather and manageable crowds.
- See also: France#Talk
French is the main language spoken throughout Normandy, and visitors with a knowledge of French should have no problem communicating. The local language spoken by some is Norman, which is very closely related to French, though the two are not always mutually comprehensible. Like the other regional languages of France, Norman has suffered from persecution and a lack of support from central government, and mainly clings on in more rural parts of the region, such as the Cotentin Peninsula and the Pays de Caux (north of Le Havre). However, travellers hoping to encounter Norman speakers may be better visiting the Channel Islands, where the local Norman dialects are officially recognised and promoted.
Visitors with no knowledge of French should be able to get by in most cases just using English, especially when dealing with professionals in the tourist industry. However, it is customary politeness to learn at the very least a few basic phrases, and many French people take a lack of effort (not ability) with the language as a sign of bad faith.
Ferry routes from the Channel Islands
Manche îles express from Jersey (Gorey) to:
Manche îles express from Jersey (Saint Helier) to:
Ferry routes from England
Brittany Ferries from Poole to:
Travellers from London and South East England may find it quicker and more flexible to use the shorter (1 hr 30 mins) and much more frequent services between Dover and Calais, with DFDS or P&O Ferries. From Calais, follow the driving directions in By car.
Ferry routes from Ireland
from Rosslare to:
From Paris, take the A13 autoroute (motorway) in the direction of Rouen, which takes about 2 hrs. Caen is around 2 hrs 45 mins from the capital, while Cherbourg is about 4 hrs. The A28 links traffic from the south, i.e. Le Mans and Tours, for the A10 from Bordeaux and ultimately Spain. Those coming in from Rennes and the rest of Brittany should find the A84 helpful. If driving from the north (Hauts-de-France and the Benelux), the A28 branches off the A16 at Abbeville and heads down into Upper Normandy. Driving times from the Calais ferry port and Channel Tunnel terminal are around 2 hrs to Rouen using the A16 and A28 motorways.
Normandy is not currently connected to any high speed rail (TGV) lines, so services to and around the region are rather slow by French standards.
From within France
SNCF Intercités trains depart from Paris Saint-Lazare to Rouen Rive Droite (1 hr 30 mins), Le Havre (2 hrs), Caen (2 hrs), Cherbourg (3 hrs), among other places. You can catch trains from these cities to other destinations in the region.
For the south of the region, trains leave Paris from Gare Montparnasse to towns such as Argentan and Granville. For Mont Saint Michel, the best option is to take a high-speed train from Gare Montparnasse to Rennes, then a bus.
Rail services from other parts of France are not so great, but still doable. For instance, direct services from Tours to Caen take around 3 hours, while those travelling from Nantes to Caen should expect a 4 hour journey, changing trains in Le Mans. When coming from Lille, which is a hub for high speed trains from the Benelux and Germany, a direct 2 hrs 45 min journey to Rouen is possible.
From the United Kingdom
Eurostar links London to Paris Gare du Nord in 2 hrs 15 mins. From Gare du Nord, it is just one stop to Haussmann Saint-Lazare on Line E of the RER (express metro), from where you should follow the instructions above.
Alternatively, you may wish to take it slow, by combining the train with a ferry crossing. On the British side, Portsmouth Harbour and Newhaven Harbour both receive regular trains from London and many other places. Three ferry ports in Normandy (Cherbourg, Le Havre and Dieppe) have railway stations served by regional trains.
If you have a seagoing vessel at your disposal, why not make the journey across the English Channel yourself? It's not that far, only 120 km (65 nautical miles) at its furthest between West Sussex and the D-Day beaches, and Normandy has many attractive harbour towns to moor in when you arrive, with the guarantee of some delicious moules normandes in a local restaurant.
This being said, the majority of visitors who make a sea crossing will do so on board a ferry, and the blue infoboxes on the right (or above if you're on mobile) compile the various routes to Normandy and nearby ports from the British Isles. The length of each crossing varies widely, as do the facilities on board each vessel, ranging from a passenger seating area with just a drinks machine for refreshment, right up to "cruise ship-style" full board with cabins, restaurants and entertainment all provided. If you're bringing your vehicle, remember to drive on the right as soon as you disembark!
Normandy is not overly blessed with air links, and has only two small international airports:
- 1 Caen Carpiquet Airport (CFR IATA). summer Flybe services from Southend, and a small selection of year-round domestic services.
- 2 Deauville Normandie Airport (DOL IATA). a seasonal airport with summer Flybe services from Birmingham and summer Ryanair flights from London Stansted. Tui Fly Belgium fly from Marrakech and the Canary Islands
The international airports near Normandy are:
- Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG IATA): France's main hub receives hundreds of flights a day from all over the world. Driving times to Rouen are about 2 hrs, and to Caen around 3 hrs.
- "Paris" Beauvais Airport (BVA IATA): a hub of Ryanair and other low cost airlines which has direct links from many parts of Europe. Beauvais is probably closer to Rouen than Paris, at about 90 km distant.
- Rennes Saint-Jacques Airport (RNS IATA): flights from a selection of European cities including Amsterdam Schiphol, Barcelona El Prat, Cork, Dublin, Exeter, London (City and Gatwick), Madrid Barajas, Manchester Airport, Southampton, Southend. Also a fair few domestic flights from elsewhere in France. Close to Lower Normandy.
- Dinard Airport (DNR IATA), near Saint-Malo: flights from East Midlands, Guernsey, Leeds-Bradford and London Stansted.
See also: Driving in France
Unfortunately the best and quickest way to get around Normandy, particularly the rural areas, is by private car. The road network is well-developed, though Normandy and north-west France in general tends to have fewer motorways (autoroutes, with A-prefixed route numbers) and more national roads (routes nationales, with N-prefixed route numbers). This has the advantage of far fewer toll roads than in other parts of the country. The major roads of the region are:
- A13 / N13 (west - east): Cherbourg, D-Day beaches, N174, Bayeux, Caen (A84, N158), Deauville (A132), A29, Seine Valley, A28, Rouen, A154, Giverny, Île-de-France, towards Paris
- A28 (north - south): Hauts-de-France, from Abbeville, A29, Rouen, A13, Alençon, Pays de la Loire, towards Le Mans
- A29: Hauts-de-France, from Amiens, A28, A151, A150, Le Havre, Pont de Normandie, Honfleur, Deauville, A13
- A84: Caen (A13, N13, N158), N174 / Saint-Lô, Granville, Avranches, Mont Saint-Michel, Brittany, towards Rennes
- A88 / N158: Caen (A13, N13, A84), Falaise, Argentan, A28
- A150: Rouen, A151, A29
- A151 / N27: A150 from Rouen, A29, Dieppe
- A154 / N154: A13 from Rouen, Évreux, N12 towards Paris
- N31: Rouen (A28), to Beauvais and Reims
- N174 (marked as E3 on some maps): N13 / D-Day beaches, Saint-Lô, A84
See also: Rail travel in France
Normandy lacks high-speed rail, and its train network, while not bad, is best described as patchy. Upper Normandy, especially around Rouen and the Seine Valley, is part of the Paris commuter belt so has decent coverage. The more rural Lower Normandy has fewer lines, and fewer trains serving them. Rail travel is nonetheless an economical way to get around Normandy. Most trains are provided by TER Normandie, from whom you can purchase tickets and view a map of the region's network.
Both the 'ruined fortress' and 'fancy château' varieties are present in Normandy. A notable example of the former is Richard the Lionheart's Château Gaillard in Les Andelys, a seemingly-impregnable fortress commanding an impressive vantage point, but which lasted only a few years before being captured by the Spanish. An example of a castle that provided comfort as well as defence can be seen in the Dukes' Castle at Alençon. There are also some châteaux in the region with no defensive purpose which were built purely to show off their owners' wealth and prestige. Examples include the slightly worn-around-the-edges renaissance Château de Gaillon in the town of the same name, and the 17th century Château de Balleroy near Bayeux, which is now owned by the hot air balloon-obsessed Forbes family, of American business media fame.
Normandy has several named coasts, each with a different character. Furthest east is the iconic Alabaster Coast (Côte d'Albâtre), known for its white chalk cliffs, mirroring similar formations on the south coast of England. Étretat has the most well-known of the cliffs, while Dieppe is more of a beach town with wartime history to boot. The good-looking resorts of the Flowery Coast (Côte Fleurie), including Deauville and Honfleur, are rather posh; this area is popular with second homeowners from Paris, with good reason. Continuing west are the beaches of the lesser-known Mother of Pearl Coast (Côte de Nacre) around Ouistreham, then the infamous D-Day landing beaches (plages du débarquement), which stretch for many miles right up the Cotentin Peninsula. At the top of Cotentin (near Cherbourg) are the lively harbours of Barfleur and Saint-Vaast, along with wild and rugged landscapes around La Hague. The west coast of the peninsula offers a long stretch of sandy beaches that lead south past Granville all the way to Mont Saint-Michel and the Breton border.
There are literally hundreds of medieval churches, abbeys and cathedrals scattered around Normandy, primarily in the Gothic and Romanesque styles. Romanesque architecture, characterised by rounded arches and lots of pillars, is often known to the British as "Norman", as it was they who introduced the style to many parts of Europe. Significant examples of this style include the Church of Saint-Étienne and its abbeys in Caen, Fécamp's Benedictine abbey, and Bayeux Cathedral. Gothic architecture developed from Romanesque in neighbouring Picardy, but is more than fairly represented in Normandy too. Gothic churches tend to be more elaborately designed than Romanesque ones, with pointed arches, flying buttresses, complex stained-glass windows and gargoyles. Important examples include Notre Dame de l'Assomption Cathedral and Saint-Ouen church, both in Rouen. The abbey at Mont Saint-Michel is notable for its Gothic style, but with several older elements retaining the Romanesque.
The Avenue Verte cycle path links Paris and London. In Normandy, you can follow the route from Dieppe inland through the countryside of Seine-Maritime to Beauvais over the Picard border. This section is 122 km in total, and is fully signposted with distinctive green signs.
Grandes Randonnées (GRs) are long-distance footpaths. They are usually well-maintained, and waymarked by horizontal red and white bands, which are painted on fence posts, trees and at the bases of pylons. You can choose to go the whole way if you have lots of time on your hands! Otherwise, select day trips or an itinerary for a few days walking along the most interesting parts. Normandy has two coastal GRs of note:
- The GR21 is a coastal footpath that tracks north-east from Le Havre to Le Tréport on the Norman / Picard border. This 186 km route takes in the entire Alabaster Coast, and its glorious chalk cliffs and snug harbour towns. Like other long-distance paths, the GR21 lends itself to much shorter walks, with highlights around Étretat and Dieppe being especially favoured.
- The GR223 (Sentier des Douaniers / Custom Officers' Way) is a mostly coastal footpath that goes all the way from Honfleur in the east along the coast of Calvados, around Cotentin to Mont Saint Michel, on the Breton border in the west. The entire walk takes a month, but most prefer to pick sections according to their interest. History fans often choose the D-Day beaches, while lovers of spectacular nature (cliffs and coves) prefer the walk around Cap de la Hague, west of Cherbourg, and others still opt to approach Mont Saint-Michel around its eponymous bay. Word has it that there are problems with cliff erosion over certain sections, so don't be surprised if you are diverted inland at some points.
- O ! Cher poète, je te fais don
- De ma recette : tripes à la mode
- Pour cuire de bonne façon
- Parfaitement selon le code
- - Opening stanza of the recipe for Caen tripe, given in the form of a poem by Jean Le Hir
Norman cuisine is pretty close to the standard French cuisine, though is based around the three main products of the region: seafood, apples and dairy. Its regional specialities are guaranteed to satisfy the most demanding gastronome.
Starters and snacks
- Foie Gras — Though much more associated with the south west of France, production of this goose / duck liver pâté has recently been introduced to Normandy. The birds are force fed to make them as fat as possible.
- Omelettes — A must-try when in Mont Saint-Michel; the local omelettes are creamy and light. The most famous omelette restaurant is easily La Mère Poulard, but long wait times and high prices may drive you elsewhere.
- Sausages — Popular local varieties include Andouille de Vire, a chitterling charcuterie that is often served as an apéritif with a glass of calvados, and boudin de Mortagne, black pudding from the far south of Orne, east of Alençon.
The trou normand (literally: "Norman hole") is a glass of calvados (see below), often accompanied by an apple sorbet, and served between courses during a long and heavy meal as a palate-cleanser, a digestion aid and a fortifier, to make sure the diner is ready to continue eating! It is most often served between the fish course and the main course, or in less elaborate meals as a bridge between the main dish and the dessert.
Normandy is renowned for its variety of meats:
- Agneau de pré-salé — Lamb raised on the salt marshes near Mont Saint-Michel. The meat has a very delicate flavour, and can be prepared in any number of ways classic to French butchery and gastronomy.
- Canard au sang or canard à la Rouennaise — Duck or duckling served with a sauce composed of the same duck's blood and bone marrow, extracted by a special press. Every part of the bird is used, so on the menu you might encounter magret (breast), foie (liver), patte (leg), or a little bit of everything. The thought of this may well make your stomach turn, but if you have good reason to trust your chef, give it a try. This speciality of Rouen is considered a delicacy.
- Poulet vallée d'Auge — Chicken from the Auge Valley, in the area around Lisieux. The bird is carved into large chunks and cooked in a sauce of calvados, mushrooms, butter and cream. Often served with a creamy chopped potatoes, bacon and cider mixture.
- Tripes à la mode de Caen — Beef tripe, hooves and bones, stewed in a whole bottle of cider and glass of calvados with carrots, onions, leeks, garlic, cloves, peppercorn and a bouquet garni. The autumn dish of choice for many Normans. Its official recipe, codified into poetry, is preserved by a guild of tripe butchers in Caen. While almost certainly dating from no earlier than the 14th century, local legend states that this was William the Conqueror's favourite meal.
Specialities from the sea include:
- Moules (mussels) — Of course you can find the ubiquitous moules marinières (mussels steamed in white wine and shallots) at pretty much any seafood restaurant, but the local version is also delicious. To the basic marinière sauce is added a(n un-)healthy portion of cream and, if you're really lucky, bacon lardons. Both varieties are usually served with plenty of frites.
- Oysters (huîtres) — Normandy produces some 25 % of the oysters grown in France, and Normans tend to enjoy them most at Christmas. The industry is concentrated on the Cotentin Peninsula, at two different crus: Côte Ouest around Deauville, and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, east of Cherbourg.
- Sole à la dieppoise — Sole cooked in the oven, basted with white wine and fish stock, and served with mussels, mushrooms and sometimes prawns. As the name suggests, this is a speciality of Dieppe.
Normandy is the home of several world-famous varieties, all soft, all made with cows' milk and all named after their town or village of supposed origin:
- Camembert — A lovely round and creamy cheese. Some prefer it chilled, and therefore fairly solid, while others prefer to eat at room temperature, when it oozes. Local legend attributes the cheese's creation to the French Revolution, when Marie Harel, a farmer's wife resident in the village of Camembert (department of Orne, 25 km north-east of Argentan), was advised on the recipe for a good brie by a priest, as thanks for sheltering him during the Reign of Terror, when the clergy were heavily persecuted. She gave the cheese her own spin, and thus camembert was born.
- Livarot — Soft and pungent, with a peach-coloured rind. It is also referred to as the "Colonel", due to its stripy packaging resembling a colonel's uniform. Livarot is a village some 20 km south-west of Lisieux.
- Neufchâtel — Soft, slightly crumbly and mould-ripened cheese with the aroma and taste of mushrooms. It is usually molded into the shape of a heart. It is made in the area around Neufchâtel-en-Bray, north-east of Rouen.
- Pont-L'Évêque — Pungent and creamy with a slightly yellowed appearance, made in the eponymous town inland from Deauville since at least as early as the 12th century.
Local desserts include:
- Bourdelots — an apple and calvados pastry, eaten hot, cold or flambéd with calvados.
- Omelette vallée d'Auge — a sugary omelette filled with buttery diced apple and crème fraîche, flambéd with calvados.
- Pain perdu à la normande — sweet French toast served with (you guessed it) apple jam and pommeau, which is an apple liqueur.
- Tarte aux pommes — available all over France, but since Normandy is the land of the apple, these tarts aren't hard to find.
- Teurgoule — a tasty local variant of rice pudding, cooked for many hours in a low-heat oven, it is surprisingly light and refreshing. Don't be surprised for it be accompanied by an apple compote, or caramel apple, or just fresh apples...
Move over, wine! There are no commercial vineyards in Normandy, and although wine from other regions and countries is readily available in shops and restaurants, the most popular local tipples are apple-based.
- Cider (cidre) — Like Brittany, Normandy is cider country. Much like wine, cider comes in different varieties that are intended for different purposes, so you should pay attention to the following words on the label. Doux indicates a sweet cider, with a strong apple flavour and low alcohol percentage (3% or below), that is best drunk with dessert or by itself. Demi-sec / brut is sharper and fresher, with an alcohol content of between three and five percent. This kind of cider is more common as an apéritif, or as an accompaniment to local cuisine, especially seafood. Unlike in certain other countries, notably the United States, cider in Normandy is always alcoholic and always sparkling (pétillant).
- Perry (poiré) — Similar to cider, but made from pears. Production is considerably limited compared to its apple-based counterpart.
- Calvados — A brandy made from distilled cider or perry, subject to an appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC), restricting production to a specific area with strict quality controls. Calvados is famously used for the trou normand drink between courses of a long meal.
- Pommeau — A 16-18% proof apéritif made from mixing calvados and non-fermented apples.
- Bénédictine — A herbal liqueur with its own creation myth (i.e. that the medieval benedictine monks of Fécamp, and not 19th century entrepreneur Alexandre Le Grand, invented it), but without a whiff of apple in it. Consumed as a digestif, at 40% proof, bénédictine will be known to anyone from Burnley in Lancashire.
Normandy has lots of tourist accommodation. Most large towns and cities have numerous hotels and guest houses (chambres d'hôte), and this is especially true on the seaside. In the countryside, there are usually self-catering cottages (gîtes) and campsites; many small towns and villages provide overnight parking areas for campervans and caravans, often with electricity hookups and other facilities such as drinking water taps or picnic tables.
Caen can be a useful base to explore Normandy as a whole, being roughly in the middle of the region, having lots of cheap accommodation and great access to several motorways in all directions. Rouen has plenty of overnight options too, but its far eastern position in Normandy makes it somewhat impractical for visiting many of the region's main sites.
Staying in France
- Brittany is Normandy's celtic neighbour, and shares this region's affinity with cider and seafood. The rugged Breton coastline, quaint fishing ports and historical cities such as the little-visited but surprisingly cosmopolitan Rennes and the walled port city of Saint-Malo tempt many travellers to combine Normandy and Brittany into one trip.
- Centre-Val de Loire was the heartland of the French Renaissance and has the extraordinary castles to prove it. Centred on the Loire Valley, this region combines fine wine and dining with splendid Gothic cathedrals at Chartres and Tours, while Orléans hosted Joan of Arc's greatest victory before her success turned to ashes in Rouen.
- Hauts-de-France is the land where much of the First World War was fought, barely 20 years before the events of the second. As well as a large number of memorials and cemeteries, the region has a picturesque coast, diverse cities such as Lille and Amiens and many fine Gothic churches and their belfries.
- Île-de-France can be reached by following the Seine inland. The Palace of Versailles and its glorious gardens are readily accessible by train from Rouen, and the glittering lights of Paris are just a bit further. Wealthy and sophisticated Île-de-France is a place where even a mouse can own a château.
- Pays de la Loire is the most downstream part of the Loire Valley and a section of Atlantic coastline. Close to Normandy is the Le Mans racing circuit, while further south is the Anjou homeland of the Plantagenets, the royal house which succeeded the thrones of Normandy and England.
Across the sea
Normandy has excellent maritime connections with the British Isles; see above for details. The following countries are not part of the Schengen Area, despite membership of / affiliation with the European Union. You will therefore need a passport and/or other travel documents to visit:
- The Channel Islands are part of Normandy, but very much not part of France. Jersey and Guernsey are in fact two mostly-autonomous dependencies of the British crown, and form an attractive archipelago of small and pretty islands.
- England lies on the other side of la Manche. Newhaven is a gateway to Sussex's chalk downland and cliffs, and the trendy resort city of Brighton. Portsmouth's naval dockyards are just one of many attractions in historical Hampshire. Poole is the watery playground of the wealthy and well-situated for exploring Dorset's prehistoric coastline.
- Ireland is an overnight ferry crossing, but is well worth the journey. Cork is an urban gateway to the Emerald Isle's mythical south west, while Rosslare has the beaches of County Wexford where Saving Private Ryan was filmed. Travellers daring the 20 hour crossing to Dublin will be rewarded with a hundred thousand welcomes and a stiff pint of Guinness.