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Normandy

I've been trying to help answer questions of travellers to France - particularly Western France, Normandy and Pays de Loire - for a while now. One thing that strikes me is the frequent use of the phrase "visit Normandy" when it later transpires that the poster actually means "visit the Normandy D-Day beaches for a day".

Is that really all that people think of when the word "Normandy" is mentioned? I think it short changes a wonderful region with so much more to offer.

I'd welcome your thoughts as I weep into my glass of Normandy cider ...

Posted by
521 posts

I fear you are correct that this is the primary thing that people think of, but for me it is the food. Crepes, pate, cheeses, and excellent wine.

Posted by
10344 posts

Hi Phil: We here continue to benefit from your sharing your local knowledge of France. And you're quite right, maybe half the time when a question is posted here, the word "Normandy" is used when, it becomes obvious from subsequent posts, what they meant was "D-Day beaches." Repliers here are constantly having to ask first-time posters the clarifying question, "Do you mean (only) the D-Day Beaches." Most travelers on this forum are going to Italy, that's why it has its own section. Also Ireland. When people on this forum ask about France, it's two types of travelers: the regulars to France who often (but not always) want to explore more than just Paris and the D-Day Beaches, or first-time travelers whose itineraries are 3 days in Paris and "can I do Normandy (i.e., the D-Day Beaches) as a day trip from Paris?" Way down the list is Loire chateaux country, Provence and "the Riviera" and beyond those 5 French destinations, we get only a few who want to go beyond that. Not sure why. I could speculate but won't.

Posted by
66 posts

Oh, go on, you have to speculate to accumulate! LOL :D

Posted by
10344 posts

You know how to twist my arm.Speculation follows:Concerns about the "language barrier"For some travelers, possibly the perceived concern about the French not being friendly (which I have not found to be the case, especially if you make a reasonable attempt at speaking French), combined with the language barrierAmericans who are not retired have shorter vacations (than Europeans), have to go farther to get to Europe, it costs more, so most of us feel we have to hone our itineraries down to the biggies and the biggies in France are perceived as Paris, D-Day Beaches, and farther down the list: Loire Valley Chateaux Country, and farther down the list: Provence and/or the Riviera. And not much beyond that.Through Private Messages I've been able to help some of the very few travelers in the last few years, on this forum, who have made extended trips through Brittany and the rest of Normandy (beyond D-Day Beaches and Mont St Michel, the latter being on the border of Normandy and Brittany). It has been fun and is necessary because Rick, whose books are deliberately intended to be selective in their choice of destinations, does not have much in the way of detailed coverage of Brittany or Normandy beyond the places mentioned above.

Posted by
264 posts

Salut Phil!

Yes, it is all they think of! It's the American education system (lack of) malheureusement! i.e. Americans landed in Normandy and liberated Paris.

To be more specific when beginning travelers ask about Normandy, they actually mean "Omaha Beach."
It's because so many US soldiers were killed there, and that's what's taught in American History in US schools! And, that is all that is taught!

I share your love for the Normandie region. On one subsequent trip to France I went back to Haute Normandie just to enjoy the local cuisine which cannot be obtained any further than 10 kilometres from the source!

Again, beginning travelers don't know that France has regions! Most have less than a week to spend and of course they visit Paris, and maybe a day trip somewhere if they are lucky!

If I were fortunate enough to join you in your glass of Cidre Brut I would not be weeping! I would be ecstatic!!!

Interests and attitudes about travel to France vary, but as for me, je prefere La France q'aux etats unis meme la Floride.

If I'm lucky I'll live there one day!

Posted by
1657 posts

Bon jour, Phil,
Our trip last summer was Paris, than a long loop through the Loire (2 nights), Brittany (mainly for Carnac), and Normandy. Our Normandy stops were Mont St. Michel, Bayeux, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery (three hours total for those two, including picnic lunch), Rouen, Les Andeleys and Giverney ( not sure if those two were in Normandy or not), Honfleur, and Etratat. We didn't have time for a couple of ruined Norman castles and monasteries that were also on our list and also had to skip the town near Cherbourg where Henry's white ship sank.So, at least these two Californians were not visiting Normandy just for its D-Day associations! Our interests are scenery and medieval and stone-age history We loved Normandy and Brittany and hope to return to both.

Posted by
2297 posts

Hi Phil,

I've been to Normandy several times, love the area almost as much as I love Brittany - because of the people. But I've never been to the D-Day beaches nor do have a very strong desire to go there. Well, if it happens, great, but I wouldn't go out of my way to make it happen. Places like Honfleur, Etretat, Mt St Michel ... would be much higher on my list of must-go places.

In that I'm probably an exception to most travellers here and my suspicion is that it's because I'm European myself.

Posted by
12040 posts

A useful analogy- inform the poster that the "I want to visit Normandy as a daytrip from Paris" query is like saying "I want to visit Massachussets from New York City as a daytrip."

Posted by
66 posts

Thank you to everyone for their replies. It's funny, because people from Britain, when they think of a holiday in France and if they haven't done it before, probably think of visiting:

  1. The Dordogne
  2. Brittany
  3. Paris
  4. Loire Valley
  5. Provence

That's a personal view based on nothing other than where I've spotted the most Brits on holiday at the same time as us.

Our own very first holiday in France was a fortnight's driving holiday to the Dordogne area in the mid-eighties - every step of the way was planned in detail using Michelin maps and Green Guide for the area. Right down to where to stop along the way to take photos, based on the "viewpoint" signs on the maps!

contd ...

Posted by
66 posts

contd...

That was the most exhausting holiday we ever had - we seemed to spend most of it packing and unpacking and booking into and out of hotels and guest houses!
But in subsequent years our choice of area to visit became fairly random, as we discovered on this first trip that places we had never even heard of, and were not mentioned in the guides, were sometimes just as interesting - plus we felt like we were discovering these places for ourselves, which made little out-of-the-way places just as thrilling as the big attractions.

It was in this way that we zig-zagged our way through France over the years, from the Dordogne via Basque country through the Pyrenées, Languedoc, Burgundy, Alps, Auvergne, Aquitaine, Limousin, Franche-Comté, Normandy Upper and Lower, Loire Valley, Brittany, Champagne, Alsace and Lorraine, the Vexin and others in between. Oh, and Paris for anniversaries and business trips, and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais for "booze cruises"!

As years went by we even managed to revisit some places quite by accident, simply because we'd forgotten where we had been before. It was like bumping into an old friend on the odd occasion when we would turn to each other, driving down some country road and seeing a town or village hove into view, saying, "Does this look at all familiar to you?"

:D

Posted by
661 posts

Phil, entièrement d'accord avec vous! Nous avons eu la chance de passer de superbes vacances en Normandie et en Bretagne. Nous avons visité le Mont St-Michel, les plages et sites de débarquement Canadiens bien sûr, la Côte de Granite Rose, Carnac, Étretat, Dieppe. Nous avons beaucoup appréciés, les paysages, la gentillesse des gens et la bouffe. Au plaisir d'y retourner un jour!

Posted by
875 posts

Unfortunately I think you are correct, and it is such a shame as all of the areas I saw of Normandy last April were so incredibly beautiful. I am so anxious to return and see even more wonderful places in Normandy (even if I don't care for Calvados:)!
It is truly an extraordinary region, and I'm sure there are many of us who realize that.

Posted by
408 posts

I am very excited about visiting Normandy and doing several battlebus tours and a private tour of Bastogne. My husband and I are both interested in history and both come from military families. My husband is a veteran and I am proud to visit this area and to learn and hear the stories of our fallen. I will spend 23 days in France and Belgium and I will enjoy other sites, but my main reason for my visit is to learn about the past.

Posted by
66 posts

The Normandy D-Day Beaches vs. Normandy.

The D-Day beaches in total comprise about 10% of Normandy's coastline, Omaha and Utah 5%.

Normandy stretches from the coast almost to the gates of Paris (about 250km west to east); the towns along the D-Day area mainly visited are, for the most part, up to 10km inland.

Just to get it into proportion. :)

Posted by
8 posts

Phil, I am happy I stumbled upon this post. Please excuse my ignorance of your wonderful country,but I must ask quite innocently if you could tell me what else there is to "see" in Normandy. Our family w/b visiting this summer. We have nearly a whole 2nd week to visit the countryside and CANNOT decide where to visit. DH would love Normandy, I confess primarily to see some WWII history, but I want to know why else we would come to area. Tell me please, what makes Normandy special to you? We have 3 older/teenage boys, they'd like to see some castles, we like hiking, biking, fishing, canoe/kayaking, maybe some gardens, country shopping both for local produce and window shopping. We like country. We want to meet the people of France, visit the little villages, get off the beaten path... We probably have to stay in Northern France, as we fly out of CDG at noonday. Like to consider Brittany too, but had a concern they like to be more english/celtic. We did find a gite rental in Brittany that was very nice. Oh yeah, and not sure if I'd like the cider I've heard about, but we definitely like wine, cheese, crepes, and seafood. BTW, is the Atlantic way too cold to swim in that far north? We all like the water too, pools and/or beaches. On another topic, I asked where to stay in France, you suggested Lower Normandy. Do tell why!! Thanks Phil!

Posted by
66 posts

Lisa, I'll post you a Private Message with a link to our "What to Do" and "What to See" and "Gardens" pages of our website. I don't want to do it here for various reasons!

But basically, Lower Normandy away from the coast (and this is the part I know intimately) is a mix of hedgerowed countryside and woodland (known as "bocage" countryside)with medieval forts as well as renaissance-style châteaux, towns and villages with medieval timber-framed houses and manors, cider farms, some wonderful gardens (Monet's at Giverney is best known but by no means the best).

The immediate hinterland of Caen, for instance, looks unprepossessing but a few miles along the N12 and you're into the bocage and you soon come to Falaise where you'll find the castle of William the Conqueror, the last successful invader of Britain in 1066 (as recorded in the Bayeux tapestry, which is actually an embroidery and probably was made in Winchester or Canterbury, England, BTW!).

Then there are Chateau de Champ de Bataille, Chateau de Vendeuvre, Chateau de Carrouges, Richard the Lionheart's castle at Petit Andelys ... I could write a book on palaces and castles we've visited here!

Phil

Posted by
285 posts

Hi Phil, I would be greatful for any advice on the Normandy area and beyond. Myself and husband are going in Sept this year. Flying into Paris renting a car then onto Normandy. We want to see the D-Day beaches but much more too. We are just making our plans now,I was hoping to drive through Normandy and then see some towns on the way back to Paris. We have 7 days and I know that Paris will easy take a full three with Versailles as well. Would love to hear more about Normandy and want to find bed and breakfast too.