Lower Normandy Attractions
Lower NormandyLower Normandy consists of the Cotentin peninsula, part of a massif of ancient rocks, with a much indented coastline, particularly in the northwest, but elsewhere flat and sandy.
Mont Saint Michel, France
Bayeux (pop. 14,961) lies in a fertile plain near the coast. In the center of the old town, surrounded by many old houses (15th-16th century), is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, one of the finest examples of Norman Gothic (11th and 13th centuries). The two west towers date from the 11th century, the 80m/260ft high tower over the crossing, in Flamboyant style, from the 15th. Notable features of the interior are the fine Baroque choir screen, the church treasury and an 11th century crypt.
Center Guillaume le Conquérant
The great attraction which draws visitors to Bayeux, however, is the famous Bayeux Tapestry (known in French as the Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde); it is to be found at the Center Guillaume le Conquérant. This is actually not a tapestry at all, but a work of embroidery: a band of linen 70 m/230ft long, which recounts the story of the conquest of England by Mathilde's husband William the Conqueror in 58 scenes with 623 figures, 759 animals and 37 buildings and ships, accompanied by a kind of running commentary in Latin, but with a headphone commentary in English. North of the cathedral is the former Bishop's Palace (12th-16th C), which now houses the Musée Baron Gérard and the Palais de Justice (Law Courts). The chapel has a fine ceiling painting. The Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) is 18th C.
Address: 13 Rue de Nesmond, F-14400 Bayeux, France
Musee des Ballons
Housed in the Chateau de Balleroy, this museum traces the history of hot-air ballooning from 1783 to the present day. An annual balloon meeting is regularly held at the chateau.
Address: Château de Balleroy, F-14490 Balleroy, France
Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie
The Battle of Normandy Museum traces the events of the Battle of Normandy in World War II.
Address: Boulevard Fabian-Ware, F-14400 Bayeux, France
Cherbourg (pop. 26,750), an important port for the transatlantic traffic, lies on the north coast of the Cotentin peninsula. In 1853 a 3.6km/2.25mi long breakwater with two piers was built to protect the harbor, and later two other piers were built, separating the larger from the smaller harbor. In 1944 Cherbourg became the Allies' main landing point for heavy military equipment. The advantages of the harbor had been recognized three centuries earlier by Vauban.There is a fine view of the town and the harbor from the Montagne du Roule (112 m/367ft), 3km/2mi southeast. On the hill are the Fort du Roule and the Musée de la Guerre et de la Libération. Notable features in the town itself are the Musée Thomas Henry (Italian and Dutch paintings), the church of La Trinité (1423-1504; fine interior) and the beautiful Parc Emmanuel Liais with its exotic plants and Natural History Museum. Foreigners are not admitted to the Arsenal and the naval harbor. There are regular car ferry services from Cherbourg to England and Ireland.Cherbourg is a good base for excursions to the castles and châteaux of the northern Cotentin, for example Tocqueville, St-Pierre-Eglise and Belvédère.
Jardins de la Roche Fauconnière
Over 3,000 types of plants can be found in this impressive private botanical garden. There are superb trees such as nothofagus and eucalyptus, outstanding and rare shrubs.
Musee des Troupes Aeroportees
The Airborne Museum is dedicated to the airborne troops of Operation Overlord, this museum houses an Aeronvale C-47 and examples of the gliders used in the assault. Exhibits include documents from World War 2, weapons and photos.
Address: 14, rue Eisenhower, F-50480 St Mere Eglise, France
Lisieux (pop. 24,080), chief town of the Pays d'Auge and once the see of a bishop, lies some 30km/20mi south of the Seine estuary at the junction of the rivers Orbiquet and Touques. Most of the town was destroyed in 1944. The Cathedral of St- Pierre was begun about 1170 and completed in the 13th C., apart from the south tower, which dates from 1579. The most notable feature of the interior is the 15th C. Lady Chapel in the apse. The former Bishop's Palace now houses the local court and a collection of pictures.Lisieux is also the town of Ste Thérèse. Born in Alençon in 1873, Thérèse Martin grew up in Lisieux and in 1888 became a nun in the Carmelite convent in the south of the town. She died in 1897 and was canonized in 1925. There are great pilgrimages to the Basilica of Ste-Thérèse (1954) and the chapel in the convent where her remains lie, and there are many places associated with the saint in the town.
The name of Suisse Normande ("Norman Switzerland") is given to the beautiful stretch of country in the Orne valley extending between Thury-Harcourt (south of Caen) in the north, Flers-de-l'Orne in the south and Falaise in the east. The windings of the river, the rocky bluffs along its banks and the isolated hills standing farther back combine with the intricate pattern of hedges to give the landscape a particular charm. The most striking features are the Rocher d'Oëtre, in the hilliest part of the area, above the gorges of the Rouvre (fine views), the Vère and Noireau valleys and the 27km/17mi long stretch of the Orne between Thury-Harcourt and Pont-d'Ouilly.
The Cotentin peninsula in western Normandy reaches far out into the Channel, with the Cap de la Hague, the Baie d'Ecalgrain, the Nez de Jobourg and the port of Cherbourg. The lonely interior with its patchwork of hedges is less visited than the coasts, though it offers scenery of great beauty. On the west coast are the Cap de Carteret and the popular seaside resort of Carteret, from which there is a ferry service to Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands.At the northeast corner of the peninsula is the Pointe de Barfleur, with a lighthouse from which there are panoramic views.
The old episcopal city of Coutances (pop. 9,628), which has given its name to the Cotentin peninsula, lies on a long hill above the surrounding plain. In the beautiful public park is the Musée Municipal (works by local artists).
Cathedral of Notre-Dame
The central feature of the town is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, built in 1251-1274 on the site of an earlier Romanesque church which was destroyed by fire. With its two towers flanking the west front it is one of the most magnificent churches in Normandy. Over the crossing is an octagonal tower from the top of which there are extensive views, extending to Jersey and St-Malo. Within the church the tower forms an impressive dome over the crossing.
The massive Gothic church of St-Pierre (begun 1494) has a bell-tower of 1550 and a tower over the crossing, which, as in the cathedral, forms a dome in the interior.
Utah Beach, north of Carentan, was another of the landing points used by Allied forces in 1944. The beach is a kind of open-air museum, with guns and landing craft left over from the landings. There is also a small museum.
The old seafaring town of Honfleur (pop. 8,178), on the Seine estuary opposite Le Havre (to which it is to be connected by a bridge in 1994), is one of the most charming little towns in Normandy, with its picturesque Vieux Bassin (Old Harbor) and its many old houses. This was the home port of the seamen who made their celebrated voyages to Canada in the 16th C., making that country almost a Norman colony. On the north side of the harbor is the Lieutenance (16th C.), the old governor's house, built on the remains of the town walls, now housing the port office.
Musée de la Marine
The church of St-Etienne (14th-15th C.) and a neighboring building now house the Musée de la Marine (the maritime history of Honfleur).Exhibits at the Maritime Museum include models, engravings, maps, portraits, paintings and documents. Highlights include explanations of shipbuilding, fishing, crafts linked to the sea and the changing topography of the port.
Address: Quai St Etienne, F-14600 Honfleur, France
Musée Eugène Boudin
The Late Gothic church of Ste- Catherine, with a free-standing belfry, is of wood, and was built by local shipwrights after the Hundred Years' War. It is now an annex of the Musée Eugène Boudin; the main museum is in Place Erik Satie, with works by Boudin (who was Claude Monet's teacher) and other artists, mainly Impressionists.
Address: Place Erik Satie, rue de l'Homme de Bois, F-14602 Honfleur, France
1km/0.75mi northwest of the town center, south of the road to Trouville, is the hill of Côte de Grâce (wide views), with the pilgrimage chapel of Notre Dame de Grâce (1606). To the southeast is the Mont Joli, from which there is an even better view of the town.
Deauville, like Trouville, is one of the largest and most popular resorts in Normandy, with a population of 4,520 which becomes many times greater during the winter season. Its seafront promenade, boating marina, regattas, and races attract visitors from many countries. From here the 30km/20mi long Côte Fleurie ("Coast of Flowers") extends southwest to Cabourg and the Corniche Normande runs northeast to Honfleur.
Alençon (pop. 30,380), situated in southern Normandy at the entrance to the Normandie-Maine Regional Nature Park, has been noted since the 17th C for its lace (points d'Alençon), and it still has a lace-making school with exhibition and sale rooms. Other features of interest are the Town Hall (1783) and the Maison d'Ozé (15th C), now occupied by the tourist information office.
In the Grande Rue is the church of Notre-Dame (1444), in Flamboyant style, with an 18th C tower and choir, an elegant porch and fine stained glass.
Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle
The Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle has interesting collections of pictures and of lace.
Address: Cour Carrée de la Dentelle, F-61000 Alençon, France
14km/9mi west of Alençon, on the fringe of the Alpes Mancelles, is the village of St-Cénérie-le- Gérei, which has a Romanesque church (frescoes).
Château de Fontaine Henry
Fontaine Henry in the Mue valley (pop. 350) is noted for its château. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the foundations of an 11th C castle, this is a notable example of secular Renaissance architecture. It contains fine furniture and a collection of pictures, including works by Mignard, Rigaud and Robert. Also of interest is the 13th C chapel (altered in 16th C).
Immediately northeast of Deauville, beyond the river Touques (bridge) is the popular resort of Trouville (pop. 5,555), with a beautiful beach and a boating harbor. One excursion from Trouville which should not be omitted is a drive along the Corniche Normande, which skirts the coast, high above the sea, to Honfleur, with extensive views.
Museum of Trouville
The Museum of Trouville is an art and history museum featuring paintings and a history of sea-bathing and sea-side resorts.
Address: 64 rue du Général Leclerc, F-14360 Trouville-sur-Mer, France
Trouville Aquarium and Reptile House
The Trouville Aquarium and reptile house feature salt water fish, reptiles, insects and spiders.
Address: 17 rue de Paris, F-14360 Trouville-sur-Mer, France
Avranches (pop. 8,509) is prettily situated above the river Sée. At a council held here in 1172 Henry II of England, having done penance, received absolution for the murder of Thomas Becket. A tablet in the gardens of the Sous-Préfecture, in Place Daniel-Huet, marks the spot where Henry begged for forgiveness. The cathedral of Avranches was destroyed during the French Revolution. Avranches was in the thick of the fighting in 1944, and was the starting point of General Patton's advance in July of that year. From the Jardin des Plantes (Botanical Garden) there are magnificent views of the estuary of the Sée and the Baie du Mont St-Michel. The town hall possesses important manuscripts of the eighth-15th centuries concerning the Mont St-Michel.
Chateau de Brecy
Chateau de Brécy is laid out behind the rear façade of a provincial farmhouse which has been given the ambiance of a château, this is one of the very few remaining examples of a garden of the first half of the 17th C. Each terrace is a separate garden and a work of art on its own, and the garden ascends over five different levels.
The Municipal Museum introduces the life in the Cotentin over the past centuries. Exhibits include Archeology, Decorative Arts, Fine Arts, and Ethnology.
Address: Palais Episcopal, Places Jean de Saint-Avit, F-50300 Avranches, France
Arromanches les Bains, France
The little seaside resort of Arromanches les Bains (pop. 552) lies northeast of Bayeux. The Musée du Débarquement (Museum of the Landings) commemorates its role in World War II, when a huge artificial harbor, Mulberry B, was constructed to facilitate the British landings.This is an ideal starting point for a trip to the Normandy beaches because the museum displays allow you to orient yourself and understand the battle.
Domfront (pop. 3,995) is picturesquely situated on a narrow ridge of rock. An 11th century watch tower (views), in a beautiful public park, is all that remains of the town's medieval castle. The old part of the town, with 16th century houses, is well preserved. Outside the town is the Romanesque church of Notre-Dame-sur-l'Eau (late 11th century, but much altered in later centuries), with 12th century frescoes, tombstones and statues.
Granville (pop. 13,486), beautifully situated on a peninsula with a sheltered harbor, became a fashionable seaside resort in the 19th C. In the old walled town, on higher ground, are the beautiful Gothic church of Notre-Dame (15th-16th C) and the Museum of Old Granville, housed in the Grande Porte. On the Pointe du Roc is a lighthouse from which there are fine views, and near this is an aquarium.From Granville there are boat trips to the offshore Iles Chausey and to Jersey and Guernsey.
Omaha Beach, northwest of Bayeux, was one of the landing points of the Allied forces on June 6 1944. There are a memorial to the landings and an American military cemetery.This landing was the most difficult site in the invasion of Normandy, due mainly to its high cliffs that overlook the beaches. Casualties at this beach were greater than those of all other landing beaches combined.
Pointe du Hoc
Pointe du Hoc is a clifftop location in Normandy. Through the use of rocket-propelled grappling hooks, U.S. Rangers scaled the cliffs here as part of the D-Day invasion. Their objective was to destroy a battery of heavy guns that were thought to be based on the point. Although the raid was successful, it was discovered that the guns had been moved from the position prior to the attack.
Bagnoles de l'Orne, France
Bagnoles de l'Orne (pop. 895) ranks with Tessé-la-Madeleine as the best known spa in western France. Beautifully situated on a little lake in a gorge, it is a good base from which to visit some of the Châteaux in the surrounding area and to explore the "Suisse Normande" ("Norman Switzerland").
Falaise (pop. 8,800), birthplace of William the Conqueror, is dominated by the magnificent ruins of the castle in which he was born in 1027. The main surviving remains are the keep and a massive 13th C. round tower 35 m/115ft high. In the town are the churches of Ste-Trinité (13th-16th C.) and St-Gervais (11th-16th C.).
Chateau de Carrouges, Carrouges
Château de Carrouges was built in the middle ages and passed between three well known families. The Keep was rebuilt during the Hundred Years War, the chateau was a residence during the 17th century and now serves as the headquarters of the regional nature reserve of Normandy and Maine regions.
Château Guillaume le Conquérant
Château Guillaume le Conquérant is a medieval chateau (12th to 13th C) noted for being the birthplace of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, who invaded England in 1066. Two of the three towers are in the style used by the Normans in England, while the third Round Tower was constructed in the 13th C.
August 1944 Battle of the Falaise Gap museum
The Musée Aout 1944 explains the Battle of the Falaise Gap. Established in 1987, the museum houses a collection of heavy equipment.
Address: Chemin des Roches, F-14700 Falaise, France
Faliase - Automates Avenue
Caricatures and mechanical models are featured in department store windows during the month of December.
Address: Boulevard de la libération, F-14700 Falaise, France
Hôtel de Souza
A 17th C mansion once owned by the illegitimate daughter of King Louis the XV.
Address: 26 rue du Camp Ferme, F-14700 Falaise, France
Argentan (pop. 17,448), once an important lace-making town, was badly damaged in 1944. The church of St-Germain (15th-17th C.) was rebuilt after the war. There are remains of a 14th C. castle and the old town walls.
Cabourg (pop. 3,523) is one of the most popular of Normandy's seaside resorts, which originally became fashionable during the Second Empire. Marcel Proust (1871- 1922) often stayed here.
In the valley of the Sienne are the ruins of Hambye Abbey, founded in 1145. The surviving remains include parts of the church (12th-13th C.) and some of the conventual buildings.
Lessay (pop. 1,763), between Carteret and Cherbourg, grew up round an abbey founded in the 11th C. The Romanesque church, destroyed in 1944, was lovingly rebuilt after the war.