Normandy is probably at the same time the best and the least known place on the Continent to Englishmen.
It was here that William the Conqueror landed, and it is through him that our line of kings is derived; but the average Englishman knows little or nothing about Normandy.
Some people have passed through the country, guide-book in hand, studied its style, and seen its great cathedrals; but they come back again without having once felt that shadowy thing which is the character of Normandy.
The History of Normandy
Normandy is a French region that stretches across mainland France and the Channel Islands. It is a historic homeland for the Norman language, and it is home to several large cities including Rouen, Caen, Le Havre and Cherbourg.
The history of Normandy spans over a millennium and a half, from the early days of Roman settlement to Viking raids in the 9th century and the rise of the Anglo-Norman dynasty. You can still see remnants of that era in the region, and it’s a fascinating place to explore.
When you’re exploring the region, don’t miss the 230-foot Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts events from the medieval period. It’s a must-see for any visitor, and you can even take part in a tour to learn about it.
You can also find archaeological sites throughout the area, such as cave paintings, that prove humans have been here since prehistoric times. These include sites in Eure and Calvados, as well as Gouy and Orival.
The region was invaded by the Romans in the first century BC and integrated into the Gallo-Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis. After the fall of Rome, the Franks became a dominant ethnic group in the area and built monasteries.
During the Middle Ages, Normandy was one of the main trade hubs of Europe, especially for wine. The region is known for its famous cheeses, and many of them are made in the Pays d’Auge, a region that has a long history of producing fine dairy products.
There’s also plenty to do for the culture buff, with a wide variety of museums and galleries. You can also visit the stunning Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you’re a history buff, there are also many monuments to pay homage to those who lost their lives during the war. During the Hundred Years’ War, the region was devastated, with strong English forces occupying Rouen and other Norman towns.
Afterwards, prosperity returned to Normandy until the Wars of Religion. During this time, many Norman towns (Alencon, Rouen, Caen, Coutances and Bayeux) joined the Protestant Reformation. Battles raged throughout the region, and it lost three-quarters of its population.
The Culture of Normandy
Normandy is a region that maintains its own culture and traditions, which is evident in many aspects of everyday life. A strong part of these traditions is the cuisine, which has been influenced by the rich history of the region.
The Norman people are proud of their heritage and love the country. This patriotic spirit is expressed through their innate sense of superiority over those born in other parts of the world, which is why they do not like to speak English with those who are not native to the region.
In the medieval period, the inhabitants of Normandy intermarried with the Gallo-Romance language and culture, adopted Christianity, and developed a strong Scandinavian heritage that still persists to this day. The names of Norman places and families display a combination of Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, and Frankish influence, and the Norman patois still incorporates a number of words of Norse origin, though its use is declining.
Although most Normans today are Roman Catholic, there are still some Protestant enclaves in Rouen, Caen and other cities. The Roman Catholic Church is a significant part of the traditional lifestyle of the people in Normandy, and they often take part in historic fairs and festivals.
A strong element of this culture can be seen in the architecture of the region. Much of the vernacular architecture in upper Normandy resembles half-timbered cottages that are built from locally available materials, and many farms are built with timbered architecture that is typical of the area.
There are also many farms that produce apples and cider, both of which are very common ingredients in the culinary traditions of Normandy. Apples have a rich and sweet flavor that adds to the flavor of recipes such as apple tart, cider bread, and ice cream.
Several of the leading drinks in the region are made from apples, including Calvados and Pommeau. The region is a major producer of these beverages, and a day tour along the Cider Route in the Pays d’Auge is an ideal way to experience these flavors.
The region also has a rich seafood heritage, including oysters that have their own protected AOP designation. Sole, mussels, lobster, and scallops are also common ingredients of the region’s cuisine, with 620km of coastline providing a plethora of fresh seafood to enjoy.
The Cuisine of Normandy
Normandy is one of France’s most renowned food regions. It’s famous for its apples, dairy products, ciders, and seafood, but that’s not all it has to offer.
Cheese is a national past-time in France, and the milk from the cows that make the region’s famous Camembert, Livarot, Neufchatel, and Pont L’Eveque is also used to create some delicious artisanal dairy products like butter. The cows that produce the milk in Normandy are a special breed that roam the fields and marshlands for nutrient-rich forage.
The resulting milk produces a butter that’s much creamier than other types of butter, and it’s perfect for topping bread or eating with cheese. You’ll find this sweet butter on almost every plate in the region, from rustic fruit-topped galettes to brioche.
Another gastronomic treasure of the region is its apple-based cider, which has been made since the 11th century and is still one of the region’s most popular beverages. The cold and volatile temperatures of Normandy’s apple terroir makes it ideal for growing apples, which are then fermented into cider that is enjoyed around the world.
Whether you’re looking for the ultimate Normandy comfort food or a delicious dish to impress your guests, there’s something for everyone in this beautiful and historic region. Try a chicken casserole from the Pays d’Auge – sauteed chicken pieces and mushrooms are braised in a rich sauce of cider, Calvados, and cream, making for an unforgettable meal.
For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the tarte normande – an apple pie filled with sliced apples and almonds that is usually topped with a creamy egg custard and baked until caramelized. You can buy this classic in patisseries throughout the area or ask for it at a restaurant.
Seafood is also a huge part of the culture in Normandy, and oysters and mussels are often on the menus as well. They’re a major staple of the diet along this coast, and around one in three of the oysters consumed in France are grown in this area.
If you want to taste everything this region has to offer, consider a tour with our experts in Rouen, Caen, or Paris – we’ll take you on a culinary adventure through the best of Normandy. From a traditional Benedictine liqueur distillery to a Michelin-starred meal, we’ll guide you through the best of this beautiful and historic region.
The Sights of Normandy
The sights and attractions in Normandy range from breathtaking coastline to historic cities, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, picturesque fishing ports, chic seaside resorts or quaint country villages. The great diversity of landscapes in the region is the perfect backdrop for a wide range of outdoor activities, from hiking and cycling to sailing and skydiving.
The iconic Mont St-Michel, a floating abbey known as the Wonder of the Western World is a must see for visitors. You can also visit the quaint town of Rouen, where you’ll find a marvellous medieval centre full of soaring spires and half-timbered houses leaning this way and that.
You can also explore the beautiful, historical city of Caen by taking a guided tour. The city has an array of religious buildings from different times in history, beautiful family homes and the ruins of Chateau Gaillard.
If you’re a history buff, you should definitely check out Jumieges Abbey, which was built in the 7th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the most important Benedictine monasteries in Normandy and France.
Honfleur, an ancient port town in the Pays d’Auge, is another fantastic place to visit in Normandy. The port was a major trading post for the French during the Ancien Regime. The town is also home to some excellent museums.
There’s so much to do in Normandy, it’s hard to know where to start! Aside from its stunning coastal and countryside scenery, the region is also home to a number of scrumptious food options.
From creamy cheese, Calvados (apple brandy) to fresh oysters and mussels, Normandy’s cuisine is rich in variety and flavour. It’s no wonder that it has become such a popular destination for tourists looking to sample the local delicacies.
The region is home to some of the most famous cliffs in France, including the White Cliffs of Etretat. The cliffs are a spectacular backdrop to the area’s natural beauty and there are many opportunities for walking, climbing and hiking.
If you’re a cyclist, you can choose from a range of scenic cycle routes that take you through the stunning landscapes of Normandy. There’s even a 300-mile-long route that starts in Mont-Saint-Michel and winds through the region.