Normandy: what to do, what to see...

Normandy is home to one of the wonders of the Western world. A jewel of French heritage set on its own rocky island in an enormous bay: Mont-Saint-Michel. Normandy is a world of picturesque villages with cobbled streets and Gothic churches, all of which were sources of inspiration for Impressionist painter Claude Monet. But Normandy also has its eye on the future in hi-tech cities like Le Havre. Come on, let’s go... 

Not to miss sights in Normandy

• Mont-Saint-Michel and its bay

Originally, in 709, this rock was occupied by a simple little church. Over the centuries, an abbey, convent buildings, surrounding walls and a village were erected to make Mont Saint-Michel a spiritual and intellectual home, in addition to a place of pilgrimage. Witnessing the island monastary emerge from the bay, between sea and sky, is breathtaking in its majestic beauty.

• The planks of Deauville

This storied wood walk is mythical, dating from 1923 and bordering the Art Deco style bath cabins along the beach. How many stars have walked on these 643 meters (2010 feet)? Joséphine Baker, Buster Keaton, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimée in "A Man and a Woman", not to mention the stars of the American Film Festival. Today, it's still the place to see and be seen.

• The landing beaches

On June 6, 1944, the beaches of Normandy were the historical theater of the great military operation, which mobilized an armada of boats and planes to free France from the German occupation. Museums and cemeteries line this coast, from Sword Beach to Ouistreham, Juno Beach to Courseulles-sur-Mer, Gold Beach to Arromanches, Omaha Beach to Colleville-sur-Mer, Utah Beach to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, and to the Pointe du Hoc in Cricqueville-en Bessin.

• The Caen Memorial

This memorial retraces the period before and after 1945, reviving D-Day, the Battle of Normandy, World War and the Cold War. This is a touching dive into the heart of the 20th century.

• The cliffs of Étretat

They stand out from the Alabaster Coast, like three vertical limestone soldiers marching into the sea. The Manneporte, Courtine and Aiguille, which have inspired so many painters, are visible from the shoreline, from a boat or from a path overlooking the Channel.

• Le Havre and its post World War II architecture

About 80% destroyed during the Second World War, the city was rebuilt by the architect Auguste Perret, specialist in reinforced concrete. It is necessary to see his achievements in brick and morter, calibrated and harmonious, like the town hall, St Joseph's Church and its tower of 110 meters (360 feet) and the Peret appartments typical of the 1950s. Altogether they are all listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

• Notre-Dame Cathedral in Evreux

Built between the 10th and 13th centuries, the imposing cathedral retains both a Romanesque and Gothic style. Its 70 stained glass windows, some of which are made with the famous Yellow Evreux silver salt, dazzle every visitor without fail.

• Gros Horloge and Rouen Cathedral

The Gros Horloge is a beautiful Renaissance pavilion, spanning the street and sporting a clock face. From the platform of the belfry, those brave enough to climb it are rewarded with a panoramic view of the roofs of old Rouen. Look up a bit further to spy the Gothic towers of the superb cathedral which house the namesake organ of Richard the Lionheart.

• The small port of Dieppe

Strolling on the port of Dieppe, one is plunged back into the luminous landscapes of Turner, Pissaro or Gauguin, all subjugated by the colors of the houses which are reflected in the water, and by the animation of the quays, between two fishing rafts.

• The pretty village of Veules-les-Roses

Plan a stop in this seaside resort of the Pays de Caux, brimming with old-fashioned charm, which nestled along the Veules, the smallest river in France at 1149 meters (3770 feet) long! Between the sea and the countryside, the village and its mills ensared Victor Hugo, Paul Meurice and the painter Camille Marchand.

The D-Day Landing Beaches (External link)
The cliffs at Étretat (External link)
Mont Saint-Michel and its bay (External link)
The boardwalks of Deauville (External link)
The Caen Memorial (External link)
The cathedral of Rouen (External link)
The tiny port of Dieppe (External link)
Le Havre (External link)

Things to do in Normandy

• Discover Monet's impressions at Giverny

Resettling 1883 in a house in Giverny, on the right bank of the Seine, the painter Claude Monet was inspired by his gardens to paint his finest works, such as the series of 250 Nymphéas. Today, the village retains its impressionist touch, thanks to the many artists who live there.

• Get lost at night in the Mont-Saint-Michel abbey

In the summer, when night falls, follow the abbey's trail of mysteries...did you really see that peregrine falcon nestling in the spire, or did your imagination play tricks on you? Regardless, the night route allows you to discover the architecture and magic of the monastary under the velvet blanket of darkness.

• In Étretat, golf cart and golf clubs are waiting for you

The Etretat golf course is perched at the top of the cliffs, overlooking the bay.
For 110 years, the course has been demanding and the view impregnable, especially on hole number 10! Check out what you need to know about golf in Normandy here.

• Put on your best hat to attend a horse race

Normandy is a breeding ground for horses and stud farms. Come and cheer on the champions in full gallop, at the racetracks of Deauville or Cabourg. Connoisseurs from around the world come to admire the finest thoroughbreds and the best jockeys. Place your bets!

• Drooling for Honfleur mussels and fries

In Honfleur, enjoy strolling around the Vieux Bassin, lined with tall, narrow houses crowned with slate roofs, or criss-cross the alleys of the medieval district of L'Enclos. Of course, you have to visit the Sainte Catherine church, hewn totally in wood, and the Musée Eugène Boudin, who hails from this part of France. Not to mention the mussels and fries—it's the taste of Honfleur!

• Feel growing in front of the Cherbourg harbor

Imagine almost 4 kilometers (2.5 miles of pier), in open sea, facing the city, an artificial harbor created to defend the city against the English. Begun under Louis XVI and finished under Napoleon III, as with several military forts, today this technical feat effectively protects the port from sea erosion.

• Visit the Bayeux Military Cemetery

The largest British cemetery in France is a place of memory which contains more than 4,600 graves of soldiers of 11 different nationalities, killed during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

• Tour the Grand Dukes in Deauville

Deauville has always been a festive resort, and it lives up to its reputation today! To start the evening, head for an iconic bistro serving seafood, or a vintage-style brewery, or splurge on a grand hotel bar. Then head to the casino, where you can try your luck at roulette, poker and the 300 slot machines. Finally, shake it off at one of Deauville's clubs, beloved by the stars of yesterday.

• Immerse yourself in the incredible collection of MUMA in Le Havre

In a concrete and glass building, inaugurated in 1961, the André Malraux Museum of Modern Art exhibits one of the largest collections of Impressionist paintings, thanks to the donation of Hélène Senn-Foulds. The museum is a playground of light, setting off the subtle hues of Renoir, Sisley, Pissaro, and Degas.

• Leave for a romantic weekend in Cabourg

The pedestrian promenade on the seafront, the Belle Epoque homes, the legendary Grand Hotel where Marcel Proust loved to stay, its 4 kilometer (2.5 miles) of beach as far as the eye can see, rends Cabourg perfect for a romantic getaway.

Mont-Saint-Michel (External link)
Monet at Giverny (External link)
Étretat (External link)
Cherbourg (External link)
Bayeux (External link)
Dive into the incredible collection of modern art at MuMa in Le Havre (External link)
Go for a romantic weekend in Cabourg (External link)

Getting to Normandy