Normandy is unlike the other regions of France. It is not famous for wine like Burgundy or Champagne. It is not a place where the rich an famous go for some sunshine like the French Riviera. It is not a reflection of an opulent royal past like the Loire Valley. Normandy has always been a land marred by war.
It served as a launching point for the Duke of Normandy to claim the throne of England during the Battle of Hastings and more recently, Normandy saw some of the fiercest fighting of World War Two and was the jumping off point for the liberation of Europe.
Driving along the highway, I was not sure when we officially passed into Normandy but definitely noticed the increase in dairy farms. Dotting the side of the road are cows lazily munching on grass in the fields. Here cattle are not fed, they graze. That grazing leads to milk, cream, and cheese. While Normandy may not have a local wine, they certainly have a local cheese. Normandy is Camembert country and you would certainly be remiss if you didn’t enjoy this soft, fresh, local cheese an every opportunity. Expect meats to be served with cream based sauces and during your other travels in France anything listed as a la Normande, will be slathered in a fresh cream sauce.
Normandy is also known for it’s apples. Cakes, pies, pastries, and other local delicacies will be filled with apples everywhere you go. Where you don’t see dairy farms, you will likely find cider producers. Reduce the cider a little bit more and you will get Calvados, a local apple liquor that is not without it’s charms and which people are proud to boast about and perhaps bond with the occasional tourist over.
You will need all that great local food for fuel because if you are travelling to Normandy, you will want to head to the D-Day beaches for a glimpse of history from which we are not too far removed.
With each passing season, these relics sink into the sea, are buried in sand, and get just a little bit more worn away. It is in places like this that one can ponder the events of the past and be inspired to help build a better future.
In the villages that dot the beaches you will find plenty of American, British, and Canadian flags flying. You will also find in many of those villages museums, where for a couple of Euros you can see their collection of Jeeps, Radar equipment, artillery, or whatever else they may have found locally. It’s also a great chance to speak with some local people about not only the exploits of allied soldiers in that town, but the life of people in France with stories that just might not make international news.
While passing through these villages that seem to entirely be made up of stone walled farms and stone houses, if you look closely enough you may still find the pock marks where shrapnel or bullets chipped away at buildings that survived and were otherwise repaired. You will also find in every village the church located in the centre, harkening back to a time when it was the centre of everyday life for those in rural France.
Conversely, Normandy is also a renowned home of French impressionism. War has always inspired art and this region with a ragged past is no exception. However, rather than focusing on the horrors of war, French impressionists found their muse in the way light danced among the ripples on a pond. Whether it is the light reflecting off the sea or the tranquil gardens behind long forgotten stone walls, in Normandy it is easy to find inspiration at every turn.
Camembert and cream sauce, impressionism, and a cruel history of war makes Normandy an idyllic location to both enjoy the comforts of modern life, reflect on the past, and possibly be inspired for the future.
Happy and safe travels to all.
P.S. I blame any editing errors on the conditions under which this entry was finished…on the train equiped with only an iPhone. Onward to Paris!
P.P.S. This blog post can be reached from #AllAboutFrance where you can also check out some other great blogs about France.