Flowers in Monet’s garden at Giverny
The dreamy ponds of waterlilies created at Giverny by the father of Impressionism, Claude Monet, gave him his greatest artistic inspiration and have made this little village celebrated across the world. Monet lived here until his death in 1926, after which the property and gardens initially fell into decline – but thanks to generous donations they have been beautifully restored. There are two parts to Monet's garden: a flower garden known as Clos Normand in front of the house, and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road, home to the little bridge so frequently appearing in his paintings.
When Monet and his family settled in Giverny in 1883 the piece of land sloping down from the house to the road was planted with an orchard and enclosed by high stone walls; Monet had the trees cut down and created a garden full of perspectives, symmetries and colours. The land is divided into flowerbeds where flower clumps of different heights create volume. Fruit trees or ornamental trees dominate climbing roses and long-stemmed hollyhocks. Monet mixed simple daisies and poppies with rare varieties, and he didn’t like organised gardens, instead marrying flowers according to their colours and leaving them to grow and spread freely.
Calvados & pommeau
The unmistakeable sweet, appley aroma of Calvados will linger in your nostrils long after you’ve returned home from Normandy. This potent apple brandy is made almost exclusively in the region – and the Château de Breuil distillery is a major producer in the Pays d’Auge, a ‘controlled designation of origin’ (AOC), meaning that anything produced in this area receives a quality label. The distillery arguably performs nothing short of a miracle, turning apples into cider, then distilling cider to producing eau de vie, then distilling eau de vie in oak casks for years until it becomes the golden ‘calva’ that is used to make Calvados. The Busnel Distillery runs guided tours in English which lets visitors see the different stages of distilling and sample a selection of the distillery’s best-selling products. Pommeau is effectively apple sherry, a mix of one-third Calvados to two-thirds apple juice and drunk as an aperitif.
Salty sea air on Cap de la Hague
You can fill your lungs with invigorating salty air anywhere on Normandy’s coast – but perhaps the most stunning section of the Cotentin Peninsula, the Cap de la Hague is teaming with beautiful flora and diverse wildlife. An important site for migrating birds, it’s a must-visit for those who enjoy bird-watching as the terns, swifts and swallows swoop over the sea and alongside the cliffs. The wild moorland is perfect for hiking and coastal walks, or you can explore the variety of sandy or pebbled beaches below, looking up at the great cliff-faces – such as Le Nez Jobourg – which are among the highest cliffs in continental Europe.
Fish hauls in Dieppe
Dieppe has a long and fascinating history of seafaring and fishing was always a vital trade here. A promenade runs along the harbour from which you can view the fishing boats in the marina and stop in at various waterside restaurants to sample the fish newly brought in. If you arrive early in the morning as the fishermen are returning to port, you might even be able to buy your fish directly from them: the very best way! Dieppe is also considered one of France’s principal hotspots for scallops, which take pride of place on menus of restaurants all over town. You can enjoy them on their own or as part of the delicious local marmite Dieppoise (Dieppe fish stew).
Pear and apple blossom in the Pays de Domfront
Take a journey through the beautiful rural heartland of southern Normandy in spring and experience the scent on the breeze, when meadows and roadside banks are carpeted with wild flowers and the fruit trees are laden with blossom. At this time of year the orchards are positively humming with honey bees pollinating the countless flowers, which in turn will produce fruit to be harvested and turned into perry and cider, fruit juice and Calvados, aperitifs and liqueurs. The 75km Route du Poiré (‘poiré’ meaning perry) meanders through the pear orchards to the west of Alençon, taking in Domfront and the lovely towns of Barenton, Saint-Fraimbault, Mortanais, Sept-Forges and Passais-la-Conception. The route is signposted along its length and easy to follow in a car.