Normandy offers a wealth of quiet villages and unspoilt countryside for leisurely exploration. On the coast the craggy wild granite coastline of the northern Cotentin gives way to the long sandy beaches and white cliffs of the south. Inland there are ancient beech forests, the apple orchards of Calvados and the meandering valleys and wooded hillsides of the Suisse Normande.
Normandy is situated in the North of France and is actually two seperate regions, Haute Normandie and Basse Normandie. The north coast of Normandy faces onto the English Channel, bounded by Brittany to the west, Picardy to the east and the Loire regions to the south. Essentially flat, it is a land of wood gabled farmhouses, granite manor houses and fine cathedrals. A thriving agricultural region with naturally rich pastures, hedgerows and woodland, and vast forested nature reserves.
The dairy herds in this area of France produce the thick white cream and butter, and soft cheeses, which are used lavishly in Norman cooking. Apples from the orchards of the Pays d'Auge are made into Calvados, an apple brandy, and cider. Great horse country, there are many stud farms and riding centres. The River Seine runs through the region from Paris, 75 kilometres away, to its mouth at the port of Le Havre on the north- west coast.
Rouen, lies on the left bank of the Seine and is the capital of Normandy. Dominated by the great cathedral of Notre Dame, it was here that the trial of Joan of Arc took place and where she was burned at the stake. Noted particularly for its distinctive porcelain, there is good shopping and many places of interest.
Along the coast are the ports of Cherbourg, Dieppe and Le Havre and between them the elegant and fashionable seaside resorts of Cabourg, Trouville and Deauville. Good beaches and excellent restaurants. Trouville has a fine marina and casino. Near the coast is Bayeux, famous for the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th century embroidery depicting the Norman conquest of England.
Further south, in the Eure, are the gardens of Giverny, where the painter Claude Monet lived and worked.
A huge variety of fresh fish and shellfish. Excellent fruits-de-mer along the coast. Market stalls groaning with fruit and vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and flowers. Butter from Isigny and Gournay carved from great blocks, bowls of thick cream, the cheeses of Camembert, Neufchatel, Pont l'Evêque and a dozen others, on the dairy counters.
Patés and terrines, andouille de Vire, a lightly smoked pork chitterling sausage with a black skin, mounds of rillets, potted pork, and fresh bread.
Lamb from the salt meadows of Avranchin, gamey duck and chicken roasted or casseroled and served in a cream sauce with a dash of Calvados, which gives the cooking here its characteristic flavour. Good beef.
Fruit tarts, apple turnovers, butter brioches, puff-pastry galettes with jam, fallues, sweet pancakes, custards.
Calvados, as well as wine, is consumed traditionally between courses. Café-calva, when the brandy is served either in a small glass at the same time as the coffee, or else poured into the coffee cup when it is still warm, is a popular custom in cafes as well as at the table.
Excellent sailing along the coast and numerous small ports and marinas, which have berths reserved for visiting boats. Sea festivals during the summer. Golf courses throughout the region. Pleasant walking and cycling country.
Equestrian farms hire out horses and organise treks for an hour or a day to riders of all levels of experience. Children are welcomed everywhere and included in all activities. Good fishing in the lakes and rivers. Exhibitions, concerts, fetes and festivals of all kinds. Lace from Alençon Markets in most towns and villages on different days of the week.
Maritime. Warm summers with temperatures often reaching 30 degrees C. Rainfall concentrated in the autumn.