Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Normandy
The region of Normandy in northwestern France extends from the Ile de France, between Picardy (to the north) and Brittany (to the west), to the English Channel. Historically - as its name indicates - it is the territory conquered in the ninth century by Norsemen from Denmark. Since then it has been constantly fought over, most recently after the Allied landings in 1944, and evidence of this is to be seen all over the region.
Apart from history, Normandy has much to offer the visitor: beautiful and varied scenery, ranging from the steep and rugged Channel coast to the charms of the "Norman Switzerland", as well as the architectural treasures of its old capital of Rouen, the extraordinary Mont St-Michel, castles and Châteaux, churches and abbeys, and - not least - some of France's finest seaside resorts like Deauville, Trouville and Dieppe.
The old province of Normandy, with an area of 29,900sq.km/11,550sq.mi and a population of around three million, consists of the départements of Seine-Maritime (chief town Rouen) and Eure (Evreux) in Upper Normandy (Haute Normandie) and Calvados (Caen), Orne (Alençon) and Manche in Lower Normandy (Basse Normandie).
Upper Normandy, which is traversed by the lower Seine, is the western part of an area of chalk tableland in the Paris basin rising to 250m/820ft and slashed by valleys, usually running parallel to one another. The most characteristic part of the area is the Pays de Caux (the "land of chalk"), which falls down to the Channel in steep cliffs (falaises) some 100m/330ft high.
A transition to Lower Normandy is provided by the Pays d'Auge, the eastern part of the département of Calvados. Although it is part of the chalk tableland, this has been overlaid by layers of impermeable clay; it is much broken up by valleys and, like the Bocage, is crisscrossed by hedges.
Lower 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, and the Bocage Normand (also built up of ancient rocks), an area of woodland and meadowland with numerous springs and a great patchwork of hedges. In the south east of this area, in the Orne valley, is the wildly romantic country known as the "Norman Switzerland" (Suisse Normande). In the wooded south Normandy rises to its highest point (417m/1,368ft).
Between the ancient massif and the chalk tableland, in Calvados, is an area of Jurassic rocks with much meadowland. In southern Normandy this merges into the Perche uplands, consisting mostly of Cretaceous limestones.
Industry is concentrated mainly around Rouen and Le Havre. Otherwise Normandy is a region of intensive arable and stock farming, mainly cattle (hence Camembert cheese) and horses.
Tourism also makes an important contribution to the economy. In addition to its scenery the attractions of Normandy include its seaside resorts and its beautiful beaches on the Côte d'Albâtre, the Côte Fleurie and the Côte de Nacre.
After Caesar's conquests Normandy became a Roman province. Raids by Germanic tribes in the second and fifth centuries were followed in the sixth century by incorporation in the Merovingian kingdom of Neustria. In 911 the Norsemen (Vikings) who had pushed into the lower Seine valley in the ninth century founded a Norman duchy under their leader Hrolf or Rollo. This was soon expanded to take in the Côtentin peninsula and became a force to be reckoned with in the later history of France. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066 Duke William of Normandy (William the Conqueror) became king of England and Normandy became an English possession. In 1204 it was won back by the French king Philippe Auguste. During the Hundred Years' War, in 1417-1419, it was briefly held by England, and in 1431 Joan of Arc was tried by the English in Rouen. In 1450 it finally returned to France. During the Second World War Normandy was the scene of the Allied landings of 1944, and its numerous military cemeteries and memorials are a reminder of the many thousands who died in the fighting.
Cider has been made in Normandy since the 13th century, using pure apple juice from apples containing little acid. The juice matures, becomes cloudy and then clears, and finally ferments to produce a sparkling drink which is a favorite thirst-quencher, drunk well cooled.
Visitors can learn more about cider and calvados in one of the regional cider museums, for example at Valognes (Côtentin) or Barenton.
The tourist authorities have devised a number of specially signposted routes for visitors. The "Route du Cidre" runs through the apple-growing country round Cambremer, in the Pays d'Auge. Visitors can see round the cellars of the local cider- producers and sample and buy their cider and calvados. The "Route du Fromage" runs through such famous cheese-producing villages as Livarot, Pont- l'Evêque and Camembert. The "Route des Ducs de Normandie" guides visitors round a series of medieval and later churches and abbeys, castles, Châteaux and manor-houses. The "Route of Ivory and Spices" follows the ancient route (centered on Dieppe) over which ivory and spices were conveyed, with visits to associated sites and monuments.