Normandy is one of the great historic regions of France. In the Middle Ages, Normandy was a powerful dukedom which, like Burgundy, rivalled the kingdom of France in power and prestige.
Indeed, the dukes of Normandy managed to achieve the same status as the kings of France, to whom they owed allegiance.
Before he died, Edward the Confessor, king of England (1042-1066) named his nephew William, duke of Normandy, as his successor. But after Harold, William’s cousin, took the English crown for himself, William invaded England in 1066, to assert his claim to a royal crown.
The story of Harold and William the Conqueror is magnificently told in the historic Bayeux Tapestry, which can be visited in Bayeux, a few miles to the west of Caen.
The Normandy area, the former dukedom of Normandy was reunited into a single region under changes made by the French government. Until 2015, it was split into Upper Normandy (Haute Normandie) in the east, and Lower Normandy (Basse Normandie) in the west.
Upper Normandy (Haute-Normandie) consisted of the French departments of Seine-Maritime and Eure, and Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie) of the departments of Orne, Calvados, and Manche. The new region covers 30,627 square kilometres (11,825 sq miles).
Le Havre, Caen and Rouen are the three main cities in this region. Outside the towns and cities, Normandy is a prosperous agricultural area, specialising in dairy products, fruit (notably apples) and mixed farming.
The most famous regional products are the cheese Camembert, and two drinks, cider and the spirit distilled from it, Calvados. Normandy is also famous for its racehorses, and the region has many top breeding stables.
Places to visit in Normandy
Giverny: Visit the home of the greatest Impressionist, Claude Monet, and the Giverny Museum of Impressionism – formerly the Museum of American art.
Caen: Much damaged during the Second World War, has a Memorial museum of the Normandy Landings and the Liberation
The Normandy Beaches: The site of the D-Day Landings in World War 2. The landings are commemorated in monuments, museums and war graves.
Bayeux: An attractive old Norman town where the historic Bayeux tapestry was made, and is still preserved, 900 years after it was made.
Falaise: Impressive Mediaeval fortress, birthplace of William the Conqueror.
Honfleur: Attractive small port at the mouth of the Seine. Old harbour with picturesque quayside; Eugène Boudin museum. St Catherine’s church, from the 15th century, is the largest historic wooden church in France.
Rouen: With its quays on the river Seine, its picturesque historic centre, with half-timbered houses, an ancient clock, and a magnificent gothic cathedral, one of the finest in France.
The Rouen Fine Arts museum has the best collection of works by the Impressionists outside Paris, plus a broad collection of old masters from 15th century to the 20th century, including Rubens, Velasquez, Poussin and many more.
Le Havre: In the 1950’s, the old town, destroyed in the war, was rebuilt in concrete by architect Auguste Perret, to the wishes of the Communist city council. This example of post-war urban planning is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The Musée Malraux is one of the best museums outside Paris for impressionism and fauvism.
The White Cliffs of Étretat: The most famous cliffs in France, but also worth checking out are the remarkable Jardins d’Étretat.
Le Mont Saint Michel: The world famous mediaeval abbey built on a rock in the bay; a UNESCO world heritage site and one of our Top 10 Places to Visit in France.
Le Cotentin: Countryside, cliffs and sandy beaches, on this granite promontory jutting out into the English Channel.
Le Cité de la Mer, Cherbourg: Devoted to underwater exploration, the museum includes a visit of the ‘Redoutable’, one of the biggest submarins in the world, plus the deepest aquarium in Europe.