Normandy’s Non-WWII Sites

August 1, 2013 11 Comments »

Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel in the distance on an overcast day

When you think of Normandy attractions – immediately you are thrust into WWII and images of D Day.  There is no shortage of tour buses and tours focused on WWII sites in the area.   However if you look beyond the cemeteries, memorials, American flags, plaques, and gift shops you’ll find that Normandy is much more than just D Day sights.

With its 350 miles of coastline and richly varied landscapes, Normandy gives you a wonderful choice of scenery and culture which is why it ended up being a big surprise for me.  I expected my interest in the WWII sights, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with the landscape and culture of the area.  From UNESCO sights, to architecture, to churches, to stinky cheese, and apple brandy – there’s plenty to see and do around the area.  If you go, then make sure you stay an extra couple of days to explore some of these non-war sites and the bliss of the French countryside.

Monet’s Muse – Rouen

Not only was Joan of Arc burned at the stake in Rouen, but it also has a fascinating architectural history.  It’s deemed the “Town with a Thousand Spires”.  The ornate Notre-Dame Cathedral inspired Monet to paint his Cathedral series – a series of 28 paintings to show the different effects of light at varying times of the day.  The facade of the cathedral is mesmerizing with it’s abundance of pinnacles and carvings  – you can stand and stare at it for hours.

Rouen Notre Dame Cathedral

Rouen Notre Dame Cathedral

Calvados Tasting

Drive through the countryside enjoying the green rolling hills of Normandy along the Cider Route.  You’ll be able to stop and do plenty of Calvados tasting.  Calvados (apple brandy) is made when apples are harvested and pressed into a juice that is fermented into a dry cider. It is then distilled into brandy. After two years aging in oak casks, it can be sold as Calvados. The longer it is aged, the smoother the drink becomes.

Cider Route Normandy

Cider Route in Normandy

Calvados Tasting

Calvados tasting

Mont Saint Michel

A UNESCO sight, the island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times.  Le Mont Saint Michel looks like a wedding cake from a distance – but the top down design was for religious purposes. On top God/church, the abbey and monastery, below this the Great halls, then stores and housing, and at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen and farmers’ housing.   This is one of the most visited sights in France and also probably one of the most photographed.  Unfortunately – they are doing a great deal of construction around the pathway leading to Mont Saint Michel which left it a little less picturesque, and to top it off we had a some pretty gray weather, but we made the most of it by touring through the indoor abbey and monastery buildings.

Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel – seen from great distances.

Rooftops mont saint michel

Rooftops below the abbey level.

Cloisters Mont Saint Michel


Normandy nonwar 7

Inside the upper levels of the Monastery

Mont Saint Michel wall

The outer wall looks out on the vast tidal inlet that served as protection in ancient times.  We visited at low tide.

Mont Saint Michel Inside

Inside the Monastery

Village Life – Sainte Marie du Mont

The countryside is peppered with old chateaus and castles.  In fact my friends and I actually stayed in this lovely chateau in Sainte Marie du Mont – a small village near Utah Beach.  Each morning I would get up and walk from the chateau to the local bakery and use my best French to get a bag of fresh croissants and pain au chocolat.  Then I would walk around the town square saying “Bonjour” to other locals as they were out running their morning errands.

Chateau Sainte Marie du Mont

Napping in the back yard of the chateau. Bliss!

church Sainte Marie du Mont

Morning light in the church in Sainte Marie du Mont

Pont de Normandie

Make sure that your itinerary includes crossing the Pont de Normandie cable bridge.  Completed in 1995 this bridge spans the river Seine linking Le Havre to Honfleur in Normandy.  Not only is it fun to drive over, but there’s also a pedestrian and biking lane for those who aren’t scared of heights!

Pont de Normandie

Pont de Normandie suspension bridge

Looking for more ideas?  Check out the Normandy tourist board website!


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