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Normandy is best known to many people for the landing beaches, where Allied troops came ashore to liberate Europe from the German occupation. But there is of course much more to see in this part of France. For example, Normandy has beautiful vast and hilly landscapes. Narrow country roads wind through it and pass ancient villages here and there. You will find towns and ports in Normandy that have played major roles in the past. Enough to see, whether you like nature, culture or history. During my stay in this part of France, a number of places impress me a lot. You can read about the beautiful places in Normandy in this article!
First of all, Mont Saint-Michel. Who doesn’t know this special island? It is located in the 500 km2 bay of Mont Saint-Michel between the Cotentin peninsula and Brittany. This is the place with the largest tidal range in all of Europe. The difference between low tide and high tide can be as much as 15 metres. Saint-Michel used to be a tidal island. It was accessible at low tide, but not at high tide. Nowadays there is a bridge that connects the island to the mainland so that it can be reached throughout the day.
Mont Saint-Michel has a turbulent past. Much has happened on the island since the settlement of hermits on the island in the fifth and sixth centuries. Around the year 700, the spiritual community was founded on the island. In the centuries that followed, Mont Saint-Michel developed into a type of pilgrimage. The chapel that once started grew into a large abbey. A town formed around it, with buildings at different heights and narrow, medieval streets in between.
Are you staying in the southern part of Normandy? Then be sure to take a trip to the beautiful, medieval city of Saint-Malo in northern Brittany. Walk over the almost 2 kilometers long city wall and absorb ancient atmospheres in the walled part of the city, Intra-Muros.
Honfleur is one of the nicest places in Normandy if you ask me. And I’m not alone; it is busy here all year round. It is clear that Honfleur is in many top 5 lists of the most beautiful places in Normandy. The port of Honfleur is picturesque and has therefore been a source of inspiration for famous painters for centuries. The tall buildings along the harbor have different colors and the facades of many are covered with slate. On the quays along the harbor there are many cozy terraces where you can also enjoy a good meal. You can escape the crowds in one of the many medieval streets further from the harbour. The port of Honfleur is well known, but so is the Sainte-Catherine church. The Sainte-Catherine Church is the largest wooden church in France. Also special is the bell tower, which is not part of the church itself, but is located across the street. Do you like walking around with a guide? Then this walk through Honfleur might be something for you.
The town of Granville really surprised me. I read beforehand that Granville has a new part and a historic city. Especially this historic part, La Haute-Ville, is wonderful to stroll through. La Haute-Ville was settled by the English during the Hundred Years’ War. It is situated high on rocks, is 400 meters long and 200 meters wide and has ramparts all around. It suddenly feels like you’ve ended up in England; the Anglo-Saxon style mixed with Breton architecture is well preserved. That is not to say that the new part is not interesting to visit. Here you will find shopping streets, beautiful churches and the harbor. In the past, Granville was already an important fishing town and it still is. In addition, it is a popular seaside resort and people come to the spa for thalassotherapy. Read more about my visit to Granville.
The town of Bayeux is best known for the Bayeux Tapestry (Tapisserie de Bayeux), a 70m long and 50cm high embroidery depicting the Battle of Hastings. It was made around 1068, probably commissioned by a bishop for the dedication of the Romanesque La Cathédrale de Bayeux. The tapestry is seen as a great art treasure and can be admired in Musée de La Tapisserie de Bayeux . In the 12th century, the Romanesque cathedral burned down. It was built again, this time in Gothic style. The crypt under the cathedral is all that remains of the first Romanesque church from the 11th century. Beautiful frescoes can be seen in the crypt, as well as columns and capitals. Furthermore, Bayeux is a nice city to walk through. Especially the historical part around the cathedral is nice to see. Historic buildings, small shops, narrow streets… all very atmospheric.
Behind the cathedral you will find Place de la liberté where there is a tree of liberty, an Arbre de la liberté. The liberty tree is a symbol of freedom, created after the French Revolution. The plane tree in Bayeux was planted in 1797. The tree now has a diameter of 2 meters and is more than 30 meters high. Be sure to walk around the tree when you are in Bayeux! Read more about my visit to Bayeux.
In Fécamp you can go for a kilometer-long beach with chalk cliffs, something that Normandy is so famous for. But there is more to see and do in this city. There are nice restaurants in Fécamp, several of which are located near the harbour. You can walk or take the car to the top of Cap Fagnet, a rock more than 100 meters high. Here you can make a short walking route along bunkers from the Second World War. From above you have a beautiful view of the city, but also of the chalk cliffs on the northern side. In Musée des Pêcheries, located in a former cod drying plant, you can learn everything about fishermen’s life in and around Fécamp. Palais Bénédictine is the place to be if you are interested in Benedictine liqueur, as this is the place where the famous Bénédictine liqueur originated. You can end a day in Fécamp on the beach, where you might witness a beautiful sunset.
Pont-Audemer is also a surprise during my trip through Normandy. In the past, the town was mainly home to tanners, who needed a lot of water for their work. So there are many canals in Pont-Audemer. Bridges, vistas, narrow streets… nice to stroll through. The town is also called the Venice of Normandy because of all the water. Pont-Audemer is also known for the Eglise Saint-Ouen, a church built in the 15th and 16th centuries and using different architectural styles (Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance). There are many half-timbered houses in Pont-Audemer and you have nice squares for a nice lunch on the terrace. Read more about my visit to Pont-Audemer.
Deauville is a chic seaside resort on the Côte Fleurie. Until the mid-19th century, Deauville was a farming village on a hill, until Napoleon III’s half-brother decided that this place was extremely suitable as a seaside resort. He commissioned the construction of a number of villas and a racecourse. It was the beginning of a seaside resort that was loved by the rich and famous, especially when the train connection from Paris was a fact. Deauville is full of immense villas and luxury hotels. The beaches are very beautiful, there is a swimming pool with sea water, there are two racecourses and the casino is the fourth largest in France. A visit to Deauville is in stark contrast to other beautiful places in Normandy, but it is definitely worth it. Earlier I made a trip with a sidecar in Provence, you can also discover Deauville in a sidecar. Recommended!
A small but charming fishing village in Normandy is Yport. During the day the small pebble beach is full of brightly colored fishing boats. That alone makes it a photogenic place. Between the short boulevard and the beach is a row of blue and white beach houses, which completes the picture. There are a few nice restaurants in Yport and there is a casino at the end of the boulevard. It is nice to visit Yport by bike from a nearby village. Back you have to pedal quite a bit, you have to defy quite a few altimeters. An electric bicycle is actually not a superfluous luxury! Would you rather discover the coast on foot? From Yport you can also walk along the chalk cliffs.
A place where the average Normandy visitor will not come so quickly is Saint-Léonard, a town near Fécamp. You don’t go here for the town, but for the stretch of coast. You will find a natural waterfall on the pebble beach of Saint-Léonard: La Roche qui pleure. The ice-cold water comes from the chalk cliffs here, great to cool off on a hot summer day. We spend some time there in the evenings a few times. Preferably not too close to the rocks, I’m a bit afraid of crumbling stone. At low tide it is nice to look for cockles, crabs and fish. A wonderful place with an amazing view of the lesser-known parts of the coastline.
Because when you talk about well-known parts of the coastline in Normandy, you usually immediately talk about Étretat. Falaise d’Aval and L’aiguille are perhaps the most famous places in Etretat, together with Manneporte, which is a little further on. I have actually seen very little of Étretat. It is so busy when we are there that I quickly decide to visit the place again, but then outside the high season. I think it would be wonderful to walk along the chalk cliffs and enjoy all the beauty around me. But with less people than in high season. Incidentally, the town of Étretat itself is nice to walk in. Here you will find covered market halls and Manoir de la Salamandre, a building from the 14th century that now serves as a hotel and restaurant.
More lovely places in Normandy
The above mentioned places and cities are of course not the only beautiful places in Normandy. Caen, Rouen, Beuvron-en-Auge, Vernon and Dieppe are also worth a visit. Reason enough to travel to Normandy several times!