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The Marvels of Normandy

New itineraries with a real ‘plus’ from Belle France

Normandy has long offered a dizzying array of treats for the curious visitor. The pastoral landscapes with orchards, tumbling rivers and serene villages give way to bustling little ports and harbours. The cuisine is famously rich and sumptuous with some of France’s finest cheeses, cider, seafood and salt marsh lamb, while activity lovers flock here for the sailing, the vast beaches for sand yachting, the cliff top walks and peaceful roads for cycling.

The span of history arches from pre-Norman times to World War Two and is forever entwined with that of the UK. This was never more nuanced than now and a time of seismic shift in our relations with continental Europe.

Striking cliffs of Étretat
Striking cliffs of Étretat

So let’s celebrate this most diverse and distinctive of regions and take a look at some highlights. Where better to start than with a pair of brand new Belle France holidays? These bring the region to life with fascinating itineraries and a chance to indulge with our new ‘Plus+’ holidays: a little extra luxury without the Prestige price tag.

Plus+ Holidays

Experience luxury without the Prestige price tag.

We've created a new tier of holiday that sits between our Classic and Prestige tours. Choose from standard 3- and 4-star accommodation or upgrade to 4- and 5-star boutique hotels. Enjoy delicious, authentically French evening meals or upgrade to Michelin-starred meals.

You can even mix and match your upgrades. Go standard for the first four nights and treat yourself on the last night. Anything is possible.

NEW for 2020

A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry
A scene from the Bayeux Tapestry

Bayeux Tapestry

This 11th century creation is a major work of art, coming in at 69 metres long and is actually embroidery in ten different shades. The detail is remarkable, almost like a cartoon strip, with 623 figures and 759 animals, not to mention ships, buildings and a Latin commentary. It’s housed at the Bayeux Museum and, of course, depicts William the Conqueror’s 1066 invasion of England and victory at the Battle of Hastings where he defeated King Harold. Such is the tapestry’s importance that it has been declared a world treasure by UNESCO.

While in Bayeux don’t miss the old town, with its narrow streets, gorgeous cathedral and the colourful Saturday market which is one of the best in the region.

Mont St Michel at dusk
Mont St Michel at dusk

Mont St Michel

Set right on the boundary between Normandy and Brittany, Mont Saint-Michel is an island abbey beloved of artists and photographers. It is one of France’s most visited tourist destinations. They flock here, much like the religious pilgrims of centuries past, to soak up its almost mythical atmosphere.

It’s magnificent aspect, rising 100 metres above the sea, provides commanding views back to the mainland and underlines how this 12th century abbey was both religious sanctuary and stout fortress. During the Hundred Years War the English were never able to overwhelm the defences here. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and when the light is just right and the tide is at its highest this picturesque island is unforgettable.

Honfleur reflections at night
Honfleur reflections at night

Honfleur

Honfleur is a picture-postcard port, not too far from Le Havre. Ancient cobbled lanes lead past the half-timbered houses and lead down to the port which is an irresistible spot for lunch and a stroll along the harbour’s edge. In times past travellers departed from here to Canada and the possibilities of the New World. As you wander past the tall, pastel-hued buildings of the harbour, some several stories high and seemingly jostling for position on the crowded waterfront, you can imagine the hubbub of ships being loaded and prepared for their epic voyages.

Today take time to explore the museums and galleries: the Musée de la Marine, based in a 14th century church, provides an evocative history of the town’s maritime roots, while the Musée Eugène Boudin offers 200 works and is a mecca for lovers of Impressionist art.

Great Clock in Rouen
Great Clock in Rouen

Rouen

On the eastern edge of Normandy, this is a large city but its ancient centre is redolent of a rich history and the gentle ambience of the winding cobble streets and timbered buildings belies its more modern surroundings. It rose to prominence in the Middle Ages as the seat of power for the ruling Anglo-Norman dynasty.

More colourfully, it was here that Joan of Arc, the Maid of Orleans, was tried and famously burned at the stake in the 15th century. The Tour Jeanne d’Arc is the last remnant of the castle where she was imprisoned and there is a church on the actual spot where she was martyred. Don’t miss the exquisite cathedral, which captured the attention of Claude Monet who painted a series of works depicting the Gothic masterpiece in various lights and at different times of day.

Caen – The World War II Memorial
Caen – The World War II Memorial

Caen Memorial

Normandy’s vital role in World War Two is well documented and the dramatic Caen Memorial is an excellent starting point for a historical tour of the region. It tells the story of the war, with special emphasis on the D-Day beaches, Operation Overlord and the subsequent Battle of Normandy. Beneath the memorial museum is the site of General Richter’s command post HQ, the German nerve centre during the Occupation.

The Mémorial de Caen is also the Centre for History and Peace in Normandy, with an aim of promoting peace and reconciliation. For an insight into wars of long ago, you can visit the massive castle of Château de Caen, built by William the Conqueror a thousand years ago.

Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches
Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches

D-Day beaches

The D-Day beaches are vast and offer a sobering perspective on the horrors of 1944 when allied troops landed on 6thJune to commence the beginning of the end of the Nazi menace. This was the first major offensive to wrest back control and swing the balance of power so it was a critical moment and followed months of planning and detailed preparation along with feints and counter-feints. These were designed to fool the Germans who were closely monitoring signs of a possible invasion they knew would be likely, somewhere along the coast.

The beaches of Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno and Gold stretched from Cherbourg to Le Havre with Omaha being the bloodiest and the backdrop to epic movies like ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

The simple white headstones in countless cemeteries, big and small, are incredibly poignant and along the coast at various points you can still see concrete bunkers, piers and emplacements as well as the remains of the temporary Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches.

Claude Monet's gardens
Claude Monet's gardens

Giverny

For a little solace, head to the village of Giverny, a tranquil spot where the Impressionist painter Claude Monet spent 43 years of his life. It’s a delightful place, about an hour’s drive from Rouen and certainly a day trip from Paris. The garden aims to replicate the scenes from his paintings while being true to his planting, with a wild profusion of colourful annuals like poppies and daisies popping up amongst the roses, irises and hollyhocks. The water garden, with its iconic Japanese bridge will be familiar to many as depicted in a million greetings cards and posters.

Suisse Normande
Suisse Normande

Something a little different…

Suisse Normande

This is a less-well known area of Normandy, set in the Orne Valley around Thury-Harcourt and Falaise. The landscape is peaceful, bucolic and rather different from the mostly flat pastures of the wider region. Here there are rolling hills along with steep gorges that cut through dense forest with cascading rivers winding beneath rocky bluffs. 

Though hardly Alpine in its topography, the Suisse Normande has a unique charm and offers plenty to appeal to nature lovers and outdoor sport enthusiasts with excellent hiking, cycling, kayaking and climbing all on offer throughout the two main regional parks. 

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