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Normandy France Travel Guide

Updated on July 8, 2015

Normandy France Tips - The MUST See List

Exploring Normandy is truly an experience to behold. From the medieval town of Rouen to seaside villages like Honfluer to the magnificient abbey at Mont St. Michel, the sheer number of things to do and see in Normandy can be a bit overwhelming. That said, there are some things that must be seen and I've put this lens together to share them you.

When you plan your next or even first trip to France, be sure to allow some time to see some of the pastoral landscapes, seaside villages, and D-day beaches that reside in the northwest corner of France known as Normandy. You won't be disappointed!

Above is a photo of my husband and I at the marina in Honfleur.

Purple Star Award

This lens was awarded a purple star on May 22, 2009. The giant squid organizers here at Squidoo award purple stars each week to their favorite lenses created by all-star Giant Squids. To learn more about the Purple Star Program, click here.

Maps of Normandy France

The above 2 maps show the large area that Normandy encompasses in the NW corner of France. To see these maps in more detail, visit the Western France Tourist Board or Wikipedia. The long stretch of coast offers spectacular panoramas including white cliffs as well as beautiful fishing villages and great seaside beaches (although keep in mind that most have large pebbles instead of soft sand).

As you can see from the map, a large portion of Normandy has beautiful beaches where many couples choose to get married. What could be better than an outdoor wedding in the heart of France. If you happen to be tying the knot, consider some of these amazing French favors!

Normandy Guide Books

Plan your French and Normandy vacation down to the last detail with the help of these excellent books found at Amazon.com

The Normandy Countryside

The picture doesn't do this area justice!

Driving through the rolling hills of Normandy feels like taking a step back in time to an easier time. Lovely villages dot the hills creating pastoral landscapes that could and have graced many a postcard. When we visited in the spring, the hills were covered with yellow fields of blooming flowers of rapeseed which is used to make things like canola oil. It was gorgeous!

My Tip - If you fly into Paris, rent a car to get out to the Normandy region. Many of the smaller towns and gorgeous vistas are impossible to reach via the train system. It is well worth paying the cash to be able to drive through this beautiful region of the country.

Mont St. Michel Video

Photos of Mont St. Michel can't really do it justice. This video is a bit better at capturing its essence, but nothing compares to seeing it for yourself!

Get a feel for the area in and around Mt. St. Michel

Mont St. Michel

A Highlight of any visit to France!

As you drive across the level Normandy countryside on your way to Mont St. Michel, you catch glimpses of the massive 264 tall rock where an abbey is precariously perched. However, it isn't until you get closer and closer that you can comprehend and process the sheer magnitude and size of this magnificent site.

Mont St. Michel sits approximately 1 kilometer off the Normandy coast. At high tide, it is completely surrounded by water, but at low tide the water recedes leaving mud flats. Beware of venturing too far out into the flats without a guide because quicksand abounds and when the 45 foot high fast-moving tide comes in, it can drown people in its path....it has in the past.

It is said that in the 8th century, Michael, the divine arch angel appeared to the bishop of Avranches (St. Auburt) and instructed him to build a church on top of the granite rock and so came the first monastic establishment. Of course, that early church was nothing like we see today, but it is where it all started. In the 11th and 12th century, the development of the abbey we see today was undertaken. It wasn't until the 17th and 18th centuries that the village buildings, towers and walls were added to fortify the complex.

For a more detailed look at Mont St. Michel including many more photographs, please go to my Visit Mont St. Michel lens.

Rouen

The city of Rouen is known for several things - most notably its cathedral which has been immortalized in paint by Claude Monet, its half-timbered buildings, and as the location where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.

The above photographs show plaques and statues that surround the area where Joan of Arc was burned alive as she was tied to a pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen on May 30th, 1431 There is also a modern church built upon the location.

In the background of the photos, you can see several of the medieval half-timbered houses that line the cobblestone streets of the Old Town. Most of the city was destroyed in WWII, but these building miraculously survived.

Unfortunately, the grand Rouen Cathedral has been overrun with modernization on all 4 sides with street lights, candy gift shops and signs reducing the charm that was so perfectly captured by Monet in his Cathedral series. That said, the west facade of the building is much the same as it was in those paintings. Most of the 12th century original cathedral was destroyed by fire (with the exception of the left hand spire). The rest of the cathedral was rebuilt by the 17th century. Tours of the interior are available.

My Tip - If you have time, stay for the 1 hours west facade illumination that takes place at nightfall during the summer season (especially if you are a Monet fan).

Monet's Rouen Cathedral Posters

Between 1892 and 1894, Claude Monet painted a series of paintings depicting Rouen's cathedral in various lighting conditions.

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Caen

There is so much history in Caen!

During the reign of William The Conquerer, many of the historical buildings and sites in Caen were built. Unfortunately though, much of Caen was destroyed in WWII during the month long battle for Caen.

One of the most famous buildings is the Abbaye aux Hommes which is shown in the photographs above. Abbaye aux Hommes (men's abbey) is one of two abbeys in Caen that were built by Wiliam to repent for marrying his cousin. The city's town hall is now built on the South transept of the original building. And as you can see from the photos, a beautiful formal garden stretches in front of the town hall. On the right of the building is the abbey church.

Another notable building in Caen is the castle that was built in 1060 by William the Conqueror. It is one of the largest medieval fortresses in France. Inside the castle walls, there are several museums to tour such as the Normandy Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. The ramparts afford great views of the city below.

My Tips - Even the Caen Castle is accessible to wheelchairs for those like myself that have limited mobility. The posted signs around town for the castle and men's abbey are confusing so just stop and ask for directions if you have difficulty finding stuff.

Honfleur

Walk in the steps of the Impressionists!

The town of Honfleur is a quaint fishing village featuring cobblestone streets and colorful slate covered houses that surround the picturesque marina. Taking a stroll around the old marina on a sunny day is sublime. Be sure to stop by the old wood Sainte-Catherine church - the largest wooden church in France.

My Tips - If you arrive an hour or two before lunch time, you should be able to find a good parking spot close to the marina/harbor. Take a leisurely stroll around the cobblestone streets making your way back to one of the many marina-side restaurants offering outdoor seating. Watching the sailboats in the harbor is oh so relaxing.

Bayeaux

You have to see the tapestry to understand its draw.

The real draw for tourists in the town of Bayeaux is its famous tapestry which depicts William the Conqueror's invasion of England in 1066. The tapestry is a hand-embroidered cloth which clearly depicts the scenes leading up to and during the invasion. It measures a full 230 feet (yes feet) long by 20" tall and is presented in a special exhibit in the town of Bayeaux. During your self-guided tour, you will be given a headset which described in detail each of the scenes embroidered on the tapestry.

My Tips - If you are like me, you are thinking 'how great could a tapestry be and is it worth wasting my valuable time in Normandy?'. Truly, the only reason we stopped to see the Bayeaux tapestry was because it was literally within one mile of our planned tour of the region so we thought what the heck. And boy, am I glad we did. You really can't comprehend the amount of time and effort that must have been put into this thing until you see it. The embroidered tapestry is truly amazing and well worth the effort to stop! Just be sure to get there bright and early in the morning or late in the afternoon because the lines can get quite long.

Animated Bayeaux Tapestry Video

D-Day Beaches in Normandy

During World War II, Normandy and the Channel Islands were held under Nazi control from 1940 through 1945 when they were fully liberated. The Normandy beaches are where the allied forces led the large scale invasion of France on D-Day (June 6, 1944). The amphibious landing operation conducted that day was and is the largest ever with 130,000 allied troops landing along the beaches of Normandy ( Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword).

The D-Day invasion was depicted in the movie Saving Private Ryan, but seeing the wide expanse of windswept beaches with their open areas as well as the cliff height at Pont Ad Hoc gave me a greater appreciation of why so many Americans and allied troops were lost that day in Normandy. And visiting the museums in the area gave me a great overview of how the operation was conducted.

The beaches of Normandy should be a must see on anyone's list - but especially if you are an American who should know where so many young men sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. To see more of my Normandy beach photographs and get more details about the area, be sure to visit my Visit D-Day Beaches in Normandy lens.

American WWII Cemetery

While I lived in Virginia, I went to Arlington National Cemetery countless times while taking family and friends on tours of Washington D.C. so I know what those countless rows of crosses look like. Still, nothing can prepare you for the emotions that arise when you walk on the hallowed grounds of the WWII American Cemetery in Normandy. The hilltop tribute to the fallen overlooking Omaha beach consists of a finely manicured lawn covered in over 9,000 marble crosses and jewish stars, a curved wall engraved with the names of the missing, and a chapel with memorial candles. It is a moving experience that shouldn't be missed so be sure to pay tribute to those fallen American soldiers when you visit Normandy.

Video From The American WWII Cemetery in Normandy

Giverny

Claude Monet, impressionest painting, and garden enthusiasts should be overjoyed at the prospect of visiting the famous Giverny gardens. Claude Monet famously said 'My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece' and once you visit Giverny, you'll agree. You'll see the famous waterlilies, Japanese bridge, purple irises, and weeping willows immortalized so brilliantly in all of his paintings. When you are done, be sure to stop in the gift shop for some great gardening baskets and other floral inspired gifts.

Exploring the flower gardens of Giverny was truly one of the best days of our entire trip to France. I might be a bit biased because I love gardening and have been a Monet fan for over 20 years. That said, it is well worth a side trip from Paris even if you can't venture farther out into the Normandy region. For more detailed information and tons of photographs from my visit to Giverny, go to my Claude Monet in Giverny lens. I give some tips on how to make the most of your visit on that lens as well!

My Biggest Normandy Regrets

Unfortunately when planning our trip to Normandy, I didn't allow enough time to see a few things and boy do I regret it. So if time allows, I would highly recommend visiting the large seaside village of Etretat complete with its pebble beach, beachside promenade and of course, those white cliffs captured in so many of Claude Monet's paintings (among many other artists).

I also regret not visiting Trouville which is supposed to be a lovely laid-back beachfront resort area just 10 miles from Honfleur. I traded time there for time in Honfluer which was absolutely fantastic, but I truly wish that I could have done both.

Share Your Comments about Normandy France!

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    • aaxiaa lm profile image

      aaxiaa lm 3 years ago

      thanks for the suggestions, I'll visit Honfleur when it gets a little warmer. Great lens!

    • terracroatia profile image

      terracroatia 3 years ago

      I really enjoyed your lens about this region of France. The Giverny garden is just beautiful and your other photos are also awesome! :) Thanks for sharing!

    • Celticep profile image

      Celticep 5 years ago

      Beautiful lens, I love holidaying in France but Normandy is my favourite region. So much to see and do, but with peace and quiet right round the corner. Thanks for sharing :)

    • profile image

      MyCTRestaurants 5 years ago

      Wow Mont St. Michel looks awesome!

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 6 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I would love to visit Normandy. I really appreciated the tips and the fantastic photos from your trip.

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 6 years ago

      A very comprehensive guide. Squid Angel Blessings to you

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 6 years ago

      We visited Normandy several times while living in London, and the WWII battlefields and museums were magnificent. Pointe-Du-Hoc was simply the most inspiring and amazing battlefield I ever have seen. the region is well worth a visit, even if you aren't interested in the WWII history.

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 6 years ago

      Wow, that looks magnificent! That must have been a very exciting trip, as always, your pictures are great! Wonderful lens.

    • profile image

      Susan_Moss_Art 6 years ago

      Enjoyed reading your lens thankyou for all the info

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 6 years ago

      Wonderful photos and info, another awesome lens.Lensrolled it too :)

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 7 years ago

      I love Monet. I didn't realize Normandy covered such a large area.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 7 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I love the photos! And very good information too. I've been to France, but it's been a long time. And my husband has never been there. So we're considering that as one destination for next year's vacation. I'd love to go back to Mont St. Michel. I remember the tide coming in like "galloping horses."

    • profile image

      biggly 7 years ago

      Great lens, I particularly like the way you've presented the photos. Lots of good info, too.

    • CoolFoto profile image

      CoolFoto 8 years ago

      Congrats on your Purple Star. My husband and I took a photographer's tour of the Loire Valley, France, and spent several days in Paris. Delightful!

    • juliannegentile profile image

      Julianne Gentile 8 years ago from Cleveland, Ohio, US

      This is such a lovely lens. Your purple star is well deserved. Congratulations!

    • Home Interior D profile image

      Home Interior D 8 years ago

      Normandy has so much rich history which is also connected to my own country of England. I always enjoy watching the Tour De France cycle race pass these wonderful monuments, buildings and scenery. You've made a fantastic lens. 5*

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 8 years ago from Royalton

      Congratulations on your well deserved Purple Star Award!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Congratulations on your Purple Star Award - Kathy

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Congratulations on your Purple Star Award. This lens is truly deserving of it. I am so pleased for you.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      This is a spectacular lens, 5***** deserved at least twice over! I love Normandy, have been 4 or 5 times. Mont St. Michel is a MUST, as are the Normandy Beaches. Get out into the countryside. The Michelin Green Guides are invaluable. They have oodles of information about places you might not have heard about, and driving tours for a day that are very scenic. If you have the time, like another week or more, don't pass up Brittany to the west. The old walled towns of St. Malo and Brest are fabulous. You can walk along the ramparts. Further west the rugged terrain of Ploumanache, to the south the stones at Carnac, and the beaches at La Baulle.

      Normandy has something for everyone, and being a WWII enthusiast I loved the beaches. Be prepared to shed a tear ot 100 at the memorials though. My favorite D-Day book is "Dawn Of D Day" which is the inspiration behind the movie "The Longest Day". It has many personal accounts of the invasion and is a great read.

    • raegal75 profile image

      raegal75 8 years ago

      Wow! What a beautiful and informative lens. I feel like I just went there myself! Breathtaking pictures and descriptions 5 *****s