City Breaks in Normandy
Situated on the crossroads between the routes from Brittany to Paris, Alençon is an ideal stopover point for visitors travelling further a field. It is most famous for its lace making traditions which gave the name to the Alençon stitch, and there are two museums devoted to this important part of the town’s heritage.
Alençon’s St Leonard district is an attractive architectural mix of newer and older buildings in the beautiful medieval streets.
Essentially a medieval town, Bayeux is also home to the famous tapestry depicting William the Conqueror’s epic journey to England and the Battle of Hastings. Intrinsically linked with the events of June 1944, the town provided headquarters for General de Gaulle after D-Day which is now a museum. There is also a museum dedicated to the Battle of Normandy whilst the British War Cemetery is within walking distance of the town centre. The town itself miraculously avoided any destruction during Allied Bombings. There is a busy commercial centre where you will find shops, restaurants and hotels, including a number of antique stores. A market is held twice a week, on Wednesdays and on Saturdays.
Caen is a thriving city with exceptional historical heritage. William the Conqueror lent the town his favour in the 11th century and commissioned many of the city’s most famous sites including the Abbey aux Hommes and the Abbey aux Femmes, where his wife Mathilde is buried. Rebuilt after the War, the city offers an appealing mix of old and new with plenty of well-maintained green spaces and has something to offer to everyone!
The Caen Memorial is a must-see for all visitors as it not only examines the events from 1939 to 1945, but the Second World War’s deep-rooted origins. The Museum of Normandy, located in the town’s medieval castle, offers a wide range of exhibitions that illustrate the varied history of the region. Lovers of art should head to the Museum of Fine Art which boasts one of the finest classical and 17th century Baroque collections. The exotic Botanical Gardens are also worth a visit.
Today Caen is a thriving commercial and university centre. After a day’s sightseeing, Caen ‘s excellent selection of bars, cafés and restaurant make the city a vibrant place to be after dark.
A lively town with numerous quayside restaurants, hotels and markets, Cherbourg also has one of the most exotic-looking buildings in Normandy- a 19th century theatre, vaguely reminiscent of Monaco’s casino square. For art lovers, the Thomas Henry Fine Arts Museum boasts a good collection of works by local artist Millet, and for visitors on the Second World War trail, there is a museum dedicated to the Liberation. Cherbourg also offers the Cité de la Mer- an impressive museum dedicated to the undersea world which exhibits the largest submarine open to the public!
Deauville is a glamorous seaside resort which has plenty to offer all year round. It is home to the American Film Festival and various international polo and horse-racing events. It is often frequented by stars who enjoy its traditional glamorous atmosphere but modern facilities. Deauville, together with Trouville and Cabourg, provides the basis for the Norman coastal resort of Balbec in Marcel Proust’s “Search for Lost Time”, and there are many references to the famous intellectual around the town.
A genuine seaside resort, Dieppe’s streets are filled with shops and restaurants, and the weekly market brings colour and tradition to the central square. An 18 hole golf course nearby makes Dieppe a good choice for keen golfers and its sporting facilities include tennis courts and water sports. Dieppe was once an important port for the trading of spices and ivory, and its château museum displays a collection of sculpted ivory worked by local craftsmen as far back as the 16th century plus a collection of Impressionist paintings.
With ruins dating back to the Celtic times, Evreux bears witness to a rich and troubled history. The 10th century Gothic cathedral is particularly impressive and definitely worth a visit. Evreux also boasts a 15th century belfry, once a fortified tower at one of the town’s gates, as well as St Taurin’s shrine. The capital of Eure has a weekly market and a busy town centre, full of shops, cafés and restaurants. It is also situated not far from Monet’s garden at Giverny plus several châteaux, such as Champs de Bataille and Harcourt.
This traditional fishing port on the Alabaster coast was once the favourite residence of the Dukes of Normandy. Today, it is a bustling town, with several intriguing museums to visit. Nominated as an Art and History town, Fécamp Tourism Office organises several events and tours which give a fascinating insight into the town’s history. The Chapelle Notre-Dame-de- Salut is worth a visit, as it offers magnificent views of both the town and the sea.
Le Havre is as important a commercial port as it is a popular yachting destination. Its 2km of beach open onto the Seine estuary, once the backdrop for many Impressionist artists who loved the effect of the light, including Monet as seen in his “Sunrise at Le Havre”. Completely destroyed during the 1944 bombardments, the city was rebuilt in modernist style by famous architect Auguste Perret, and has now been recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. The Malraux Museum is worth a visit as it houses an impressive collection of Modernist works together with art from preceding centuries and contemporary art. The Notre Dame cathedral, Natural History Museum and the Graville Priory also deserve a mention.
Like many European ports, le Havre offers a lively, buzzing atmosphere in the evening, a great nightlife. You’ll love the old docks refurbished into trendy nightclubs!
Lisieux is perhaps most famous for its association with St Thérèse, who grew up in the town. Her dedication to God and canonisation have transformed Lisieux into a place of pilgrimage and there are numerous references to her life around the town. One such place is the St Pierre cathedral, which dates from the 12th century; where Thérèse regularly took part in mass. There are numerous events throughout the summer, including the illumination of the Basilica and various religious processions. The town also holds a weekly market every Saturday which is definitely worth a visit.
Rouen is not only an important vibrant city, but a river port which often sees the arrival of cruise ships and, every four years, the famous Tall Ships Armada. The town’s long history dates back over 2000 years and is intrinsically linked with the life of Joan of Arc, who fought and died at the stake in the city. She died on the Place du Vieux Marché, now marked by a modern church built in 1979.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is also not-to-be-missed, as its gothic splendour looks over Rouen. Claude Monet was so enamoured with its façade that he painted it more than 30 times! During the summer period, the “From Monet to Pixels” light show is projected on to the façade of the cathedral which transforms the place of worship into a huge canvas with images inspired by Claude Monet’s paintings.
The beautiful Medieval quarter is also worth a visit as it is filled with traditional Norman architecture. The town’s cobbled streets have plenty to offer passers-by, brand name shops and charming cafés from which you can bask in the wonderful atmosphere of Rouen.