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Calvados (department number 14) is located in the region of Basse-Normandie and has an estimated population of 648,385 (approximate in 1999). The department is situated in the North West of France on the coast of the English Channel.
The capital of the department is Caen with the large towns of Bayeux, Lisieux and Vire within the immediate area.
The department is named after a cluster of rocks off the coast and covers the area of land stretching from the centre of Lower-Normandy to the northern coastline.
Why you should visit Calvados for your next holiday in France
Calvados is a perfect destination for walking and cycling holidays or for simply sightseeing and enjoying the heritage of the area. Several of the beaches are popular for water sports, including Cabourg and Merville Franceville.
The department boasts beautiful countryside, beaches not to be missed and famous interesting sites including the Bayeux tapestry and the D-day landing beaches.
As with the majority of Normandy, Calvados is a thriving agricultural region with naturally rich pastures, hedgerows and woodland, and vast forested nature reserves.
The area is great for tasty dishes and culinary delights. As you would expect with a coastal department, there is a huge variety of fresh fish and shellfish and market stalls groan with fruit and vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and flowers.
A speciality of the department is Calvados, a delicious apple brandy made from the orchards of the Pays d'Auge.
The climate is oceanic, with mild winters, temperatures rarely reaching below freezing, and temperate summers, around 25°C. There is often a sea breeze along the coast, which combined with tides contributes to quick temperature changes over a single day.
What to see in Calvados
Caen, the capital of the department and of Lower Normandy is located 10km away from the Channel. The city is linked to the Channel via a canal that runs parallel to the river Orne and joins at Ouistreham. The lock in the city enables large ships to enter Caen’s freshwater harbours.
The city is probably best known for its historical buildings and for the Battle for Caen, which destroyed much of the town during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.
The most famous of the historical buildings is Château de Caen, a castle built by William the Conqueror in circa 1060. It is one of the largest medieval fortresses of Western Europe. Caen is also home to the burial site of William the Conqueror.
The large town of Bayeux is situated just a few kilometres from the English Channel and is famous for the Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th century embroidery depicting the Norman conquest of England. Consequently, Bayeux is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Normandy. The River Aure runs through the town of Bayeux.
Lisieux is located on the road from Paris to Caen and lies in the bottom of the valley of the river Touques. The cult of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux brings large numbers of people on pilgrimage to Lisieux, where she lived in a Carmelite convent. In fact, Lisieux is the second most visited pilgrim town in France after Lourdes. The majority of the town’s historic buildings were destroyed during the Second World War but there are still plenty in neighbouring towns and villages of interest.
The shops are to be enjoyed with a huge variety of boutiques and little cafés to spend your time.
The historic town of Vire is situated just south of Caen and St-Lo and is pleasantly positioned overlooking the forests of Lower Normandy. The town has a number of gastronomic specialities including chitterlings, a tasty dish that is uniquely prepared by marinating the stomach and small intestines of a pig and cooking them inside the big intestines over a Beachwood fire for a number of weeks. Other culinary delights include andouille sausages and salmon from the local river.
The colourful harbour of Honfleur is located on the southern bank of the estuary of the Seine, very close to the exit of the Pont de Normandie. A picturesque port with character slate covered houses and inspiration for numerous paintings over the years by the likes of Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind.
Honfleur is home to the largest church made of wood in France. The Sainte-Catherine church has a bell-tower separate from the main building and is definitely worth a visit.
Others towns of interest in the department of Calvados include Villers-Bocage, Arromanches, Cabourg and Falaise.
How to get to Calvados
There are several regional airports in Normandy with links to Paris.
The ferry ports of Cherbourg, Dieppe and Le Havre are the most convenient for travel to Normandy although it is not that far from Calais where fares may be cheaper. Calais to Caen is 345 km and will take about 3 hours.
Normandy is well connected by rail to Paris but is not on the TGV route.