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Normandy holiday guide

Posted on 23 July 2015 by Dan Johnson

The department of Calvados includes lush countryside, historic towns, and some of the best sandy beaches in Normandy. Pictures and words by Gillian Thornton.

What to Expect

With easy access by cross-Channel ferry from Britain’s south coast, Normandy has long been an established holiday destination and is a wonderful region for family breaks. Split into Upper and Lower Normandy, it is made up of five departments – or counties – with Calvados right at the heart.

Historical sites in Normandy

William, Duke of Normandy, was born at Falaise and established his abbey and ducal castle at Caen before heading across the Channel with conquering on his mind. History fans can tread in the footsteps of our own William I, with the help of an inexpensive activity book for children linking key sites with puzzles and fun facts. Available from local Tourist Offices.

Fast forward nine centuries and the Normandy beaches saw the start of Operation Overlord in June 1944 – Normandy’s battlefield sites make a moving destination at any time and for all ages.

World War II battlefield sites in Normandy

The green, wooded countryside and wide open sands of Calvados are a great place to relax, but there’s plenty of active fun to be had too. Try sand yachting or kite surfing; cycling, hiking, or horse riding; and enjoy a 1km descent by luge on rails at the Souleuvre Viaduct – open to anyone over 3.

The friendly resorts of the Côte Fleurie include stylish Deauville with its racecourse, boardwalk and international film festival, and Cabourg, first resort in Calvados to be awarded the Family Plus label by the French Minister for Tourism. Animal lovers will love the zoological parks of Cerza and Jurques, as well as Naturospace centre for exotic butterflies at Honfleur.

Must-see Sites

The Bayeux Tapestry – follow the invasion of Britain by William the Conqueror through this medieval masterpiece in stitch, leaving time to visit Bayeux Cathedral.

The D-Day landing beaches – four of the five code-named beaches lie in Calvados and each has its own story to tell through museums and memorials.  Omaha packs a real punch with its vast dune-backed sands and cliff-top cemetery.

World War II beaches in Normandy

Pegasus Bridge – close to the Caen-Ouistreham ferry terminal, this is where Operation Overlord and the D-Day landings kicked off.  Visit the museum to hear how Allied troops landed at night by glider and see part of the original bridge.

Pegasus Bridge in Normandy

Haras du Pin – Normandy is famous for its bloodstock but you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the magnificent animals on show here at ‘the Versailles of the Horse’.  Equestrian shows take place on Thursday afternoons throughout summer.

Honfleur – the picturesque old harbour near the mouth of the Seine is fringed with tall houses. Take a quirky tour through the house of composer Eric Satie, and see some glorious coastal paintings in the Eugène Boudin Museum.

Hidden Gems

Suisse Normande – go canoeing, hiking, or climbing in the deep river gorges of Normandy’s ‘Little Switzerland’ around Clécy and Thury-Harcourt.

Maisy Battery – west of Grandcamp-Maisy, this underground German battery is one of the most authentic D-Day sites, excavated by English historian Gary Sterne.

Caen Memorial – hugely popular with both school parties and military history fans, this unique museum champions world peace through the stories of conflicts since World War I.

Chateau de Vendeuvre – step back to the 18th century at this family-owned chateau with opulent interiors and magnificent park.  Watch out for the surprise water jets!

Hidden gems in Normandy

La Paix Lavandes – bijou lavender farm run by Anglo-Dutch couple at St Germain du Crioult, free entry May to October, cream teas and essential oils for sale.

Lavender fields in Normandy

Local Flavours

Apples are big business in Calvados, the orchards of the Pays d’Auge swathed in pink and white blossom in spring, and fragrant with fruit as autumn approaches. Follow the signposts along the 40-km Route du Cidre to visit producers of cider, calvados (apple brandy) and delicious pommeau aperitif, as well as fresh farm apple juice. For a foodie twist, try the more widespread omelette normande that can be flambéd in calvados.

Love seafood? You can’t find fresher than at the quayside restaurants along the coast. Visit Honfleur in early October for the shrimp festival and Grandcamp-Maisy in December to celebrate scallops.

Normandy is cattle country, the lush pastures grazed by traditional Norman cows with russet and white colouring, and distinctive eye patches. The rich milk is made into butter, cream and cheese such as Camembert, Livarot, and Pont l’Evêque. For those with a sweet tooth, a tour of the Caramels d’Isigny factory is a must, and don’t miss the chance to try the delicious Sablés d’Asnelles butter biscuits.

You’ll find all these products and much more on sale at local markets. Every town has a designated market day, so ask at any Tourist Office to find your nearest and enjoy the ultimate in ‘slow food’.

Tourist information from www.calvados-tourisme.com.

Where to stay

Siblu’s Domaine de Litteau holiday village has received is a four-star choice for holidaymakers and a favourite of holiday home owners in Normandy.

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