Friday, April 10, 2015

Finding France; Nowhere like Normandy!


Nowhere like Normandy

Made up of two départements the Normandy region includes picturesque rural lands such as the Pays de Caux, the Pays de Bray, the Norman Vexin and the Roumois and the delightful meadows of Normandy, surrounded by woodland, are bordered to the West by the English Channel coast with towering cliffs and pebble beaches.

Rouen is the historic capital and the town centre includes hundreds of half-timbered buildings and many fine Gothic churches, including the remarkable cathedral whose soaring spire makes it the tallest church in all France.

Easily accessible from Paris by road or by train, a journey to Normandy should not be missed, especially in spring when the apple trees are in blossom and the meadows display an unforgettable variety of greens.

Normandy is famous for its rich gastronomy: cider, calvados without forgetting butter and cream, and the cow’s milk cheese of Livarot, Pont l’Évêque and Camembert!

Here the palate discovers the pleasures of the farm: butter and cream – such as Beurre and Crème d’Isigny -, cheese and apples which are used to prepare delicious apple tarts. The famous cheese of Camembert, Livarot and Pont L’Evêque accompany most meals. Many dishes are made with a cream sauce à la normande. The region boasts a number of excellent restaurants and has a total of 28 Michelin Stars.

HIGHLIGHTS of Normandy

1. Rouen

The city, sprawled along the River Seine, is still the major trading centre between Paris and the sea. Beyond the industrial and commercial business parks that might repel some visitors, the historic city centre is a “must-see”.  Stroll through its fascinating heritage: Gothic churches and mansions, restored half-timbered houses, well-maintained public gardens… the “city of 100 bell towers” from the words of Victor Hugo.

The town comprises about 2,000 half-timbered houses, of which half have been restored. The State has listed 227 houses as historical monuments. This makes Rouen one of the first six cities in France in terms of historic architectural richness.

2. Mont St.Michel

Mont Saint-Michel is a rocky tidal island located in Upper Normandy, at the mouth of the Couesnon River.. The highest point of the island is the spire at the top of the Abbey’s bell tower, 170 metres above sea level. They are currently less than 50 people living on the island. The unique feature of Mont Saint-Michel is that it is completely surrounded by water and can only be accessed at low tide. Victor Hugo described the tides as changing “à la vitesse d’un cheval au galop” (“as swiftly as a galloping horse”).

Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most famous French monuments. Approximately 3 million people visit it each year (3,250,000 in 2006). The Mount and its bay are listed as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO

3. Etretat

The little town of Étretat is located in the Pays de Caux, on a section of the coast of Normandy called “La Côte d’Albâtre”, and is renowned for its impressive white cliffs, featuring arches, a large rock needle and tunnels.

Etretat is one of many stops of interest on the coastal road along the Côte d’Albâtre, 130 km long from Le Tréport to Le Havre. The resemblance with the opposite coast in England is striking. Enjoy the pebble beach, surrounded by cliff formations.

Many come here in summer to admire the magnificent setting of Étretat, contributing to its festive atmosphere. The little town’s origins as a fishing village are still evident with capstans and fishermen’s huts on the sea front, next to the beach.

4. Le Pays d’Auge

Normandy’s reputation for cheese, cream, and cider rests largely on the lush green meadows and rolling orchards of Le Pays d’Auge. Stretching south from the cathedral town of Lisieux, this is rural France at its most pastoral and idyllic, where placid dairy cows gorged on knee-high grass turn their heads as you move along the undulating country lanes.

Timeworn half-timbered farmhouses peep from behind gnarled trees heavy with fruit destined for the famed local cider, and the apple brandy Calvados. The most familiar name here is Camembert, still home to the pungent cheese created here during the French Revolution, but lesser known delights like Crèvecoeur-en-Auge boast gorgeous medieval manor houses.

5. Giverny

In the tranquil riverside village where Claude Monet spent the final 43 years of his life the artist’s house remains as he left it, with dazzling yellow dining and upstairs rooms hung wall to ceiling with vivid Japanese woodblock prints. In life, he employed a full-time gardener to ensure his waterlily pond and enchanting garden was always spruce enough to paint, and the gardens that some have called his greatest masterpiece are still bursting with colour.

Monet made a garden full of perspectives, symmetries and colors. The water garden is where you will find the famous Japanese bridge covered with wisterias, other smaller bridges, weeping willows, a bamboo wood and above all the famous nympheas which bloom all summer long.

Giverny is less than fifty miles from Paris. Opening times: April–Oct daily 9.30am–6pm; last entry 5.30pm. Prices: 10euro.

BEST time to Go
June to August: Average of 22degrees (Jazz under Apple Trees Festival May to June).
September: Average 16degrees and fewer crowds. But also sees the most rainfall, bring an umbrella and layers. (September music festival)

High speed TGV connections:
Charles de GaulleAirport Paris  - Rouen Right bank
Marseille St-Charles - Rouen Right bank
Lyon - Rouen Right bank
National rail links:
Paris St-Lazare - Rouen Right bank
Le Havre - Rouen Right bank
Caen - Rouen Right bank

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