Mont St Michel is a marvel of Western civilization and a World Heritage treasure, founded over 1,300 years ago after the fiery Archangel St Michel appeared to a bishop in a vision. It is one of the world’s best preserved examples of medieval architecture and a humbling place to visit, whatever your creed. Over 3 million people visit each year to see its Abbey and Ramparts and to celebrate Mass. This UNESCO site is also where Mère Poulard, the famous chef, founded her inn in 1888 and created famed dishes such as the omelet that bears her name.
Discover the famed beaches where thousands of young Allied soldiers gave their lives to turn the tide of World War 2 in a series of history’s most decisive and important battles. The Normandy invasion is also the stuff of Hollywood legend: stride Omaha Beach for yourself, setting of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’, or visit the 82nd and 101st Airborne Drop Zones made famous recently by the series ‘Band of Brothers’.
Listed as a “Memory of the World” by UNESCO, the Bayeux Tapestry is a hand-embroidered masterpiece over 70m long created in the 11th century to celebrate the conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy. It is thought to have been made by monks in the region, and records the events of the Battle of Hastings on October 14th, 1066 with a little bit of artistic license. Fantastic animals, magnificent ships and dragoons of troops under Viking, Norman and Saxon standards do battle, each stitch vivid with the feats that saw William vanquish Harold, another pretender to the English throne, and add ‘Conqueror’ to his moniker.
Villedieu-les-Poêles is known as the ‘City of Copper’, a famed centre of metallurgy dating back to the Crusades, and the reign of Henry 1st Beauclerc, King of England and son of William the Conqueror. Situated in the southern Manche region of Normandy, next to Brittany, the town’s granite architecture and quaint cobbled passageways and courtyards still echo with the sounds of artisans past and present, working in copper, pewter and brass. Visitors may enter the Bell Foundry, the Atelier du Cuivre and the Maison de l’Etain to witness these time-honoured techniques first hand.
The childhood home of fashion maven Christian Dior stands on a windswept cliff facing the Channel Islands in Granville, Normandy, not far from Mont St Michel. Villa Les Rhumbs was built by a ship owner in the late nineteenth century and was named after the old marine term ‘Rhumb’, into which wind or compass roses where divided. One such rose appears as a mosaic floor ornament in one of the house’s entrances. Dior’s parents bought this grand house with its winter garden located in a park in 1905 and the avatar of French fashion later wrote that ‘my life and my style owe everything to its site and architecture’.
Dairy & Calvados Farm Parts of Normandy consist of rolling countryside of patchwork, hedge-bounded farms known as ‘bocage’. These farms are usually pasture for dairy cattle or apple orchards. A wide range of dairy products are produced and exported from Normandy, including renowned cheeses like Camembert, Livarot, Pont l’Évêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchâtel, Petit Suisse and Boursin. The region is also a major cider producer, and its apple brandy, known as calvados, is famed far and wide. The mealtime trou normand or ‘Norman hole’ involves a pause between courses to quaff a glass of calvados, thought to aid digestion, cleanse the palatte and increase the appetite.
Stud Farm Visit Normandy is justly famous for its horses and stud farms. Near the small town of Le Pin is the most famous and spectacular stud farm in all of France – the Haras du Pin, one of only two whose buildings are also listed on the French National Monuments register. Founded in 1665 and approved by Louis XIV in 1715, Besides horse breeding, Haras du Pin also features horse and carriage displays. France’s royal stud farms date back to the 17th century, and were set up to ensure a reliable supply of quality horseflesh for the army. September and October also sees horse races at one of the France’s oldest and most prestigious racetracks, the Bergerie, near Le Pin.
The oyster growers of Normandy produce about 25% of all the oysters in France. The area features over 2,713 acres of oyster cultivation parks. The region runs from the Belgium in the East, stretches westerly across the Cotentin Peninsula, and then South to the famous Cloister Mont-Saint-Michelle in northern Brittany. What makes this region so attractive is that an oyster lover can sample oysters from at least four distinct “oyster terroirs” in close proximity. Each “terroir” (growing area) imparts a special taste nuance to its oysters. The quality of Normandy’s oysters stems from the fact that the region benefits from the highest tides in Europe.