Prepare yourselves for a spectacular journey into France's past, its gastronomic pleasures, and the charm of its villages and its people. Normandy combines a 360-mile dramatic coastline, including the landing beaches, farmlands, bustling market towns and historic landmarks such as the cities of Caen, Bayeux and Rouen.
Normandy is a province of many faces. Its history is both intriguing and frightening. It came into being in 911 A.D. when Rollo, Chief of the Vikings, won the territory in a treaty from the King of France, Charles the Simple. In the 11th century Rollo’s descendant William the Conqueror ruled over this coveted land, building castles, churches and abbeys to assert his authority. William left from Caen in 1066 to cross the English Channel and win the crown of England. You will fully comprehend this story when you see the fascinating Bayeux Tapestry and when you walk through the ruins of William’s castle in Caen.
You will understand the power of the 12th century Church when you explore the magnificent abbey of Mont St-Michel— and the cruelty of the 15th century Church when you see the square where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen. And you will only just begin to understand the horrors of 20th century war when you see the 9,385 marble crosses in the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. But Normandy also has a much softer face. It has beautiful, peaceful gardens and châteaux. It has quaint harbors on the Channel, striking cliffs, and picturesque medieval villages with half-timbered houses. On its rolling green hills graze the sheep, cows and goats that give us that incomparable Normandy cheese. And after tasting the local Camembert you must try a glass of Norman cider or a shot of Calvados.
We also explore the rocky coastline of Normandy’s charming neighbor, Bretagne (Brittany). Brittany’s pleasures are charming coastal villages, oysters, crêpes and hard cider! And a day on the Isle of Jersey is an enchanting adventure of English beauty. As Victor Hugo said, “It possesses a unique and exquisite beauty. It is a garden of flowers cradled by the sea.” So prepare yourselves for a spectacular journey into France’s past, its gastronomic pleasures, and the charm of its villages and its people. You will see why the Normans have been fighting for so long to hold onto their precious land.
Arriving at the Paris airport, we drive north through rolling “château” countryside, following the winding Seine River, to our first destination, the tiny village of Connelles. Our hotel is a magnificent manor house, remarkably situated over the Seine River. In the afternoon visit the beautiful ruins of the Château Gaillard, built by Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century in Les Andelys, a charming medieval village. On the second day we visit Claude Monet’s lovely home and its spectacular gardens in Giverny. Afterward we can visit the adjacent Museum of American Art with its collection of works of art by 40 American artists, many of whom were influenced by Monet and came to Giverny to paint. Back at our villa we can take a boat ride on the river, stroll the beautiful grounds, or take a swim in the heated pool before a cocktail on the patio and a gourmet dinner.
Driving westward across Normandy, we stop in the tiny village of Camembert for a picnic of fresh Camembert cheese and baguettes. We continue over the border into Brittany, stopping in the lovely town of Fougères. We then arrive at our home for the next four nights, the charming town of Dinan. Dinan is as quaint as you can imagine, with narrow medieval streets, beautifully restored half timbered houses, the ruins of a castle, and lovely gardens at every turn. We walk the ancient ramparts that surround the town for lovely views on all sides. We have a day exploring this medieval town with time for a boat ride on the Rance River before dinner.
Today we visit Dinan’s more famous neighbor, St-Malo, a delightful port on the Atlantic Ocean. Most striking are St-Malo’s massive 12th century ramparts, which offer a splendid walk, looking out over the harbor and islands. The historic old center is a maze of medieval streets, quaint boutiques, sidewalk cafés, and beautiful old houses. The next day we visit the village of Cancale, known throughout Europe for its abundance of oysters. We’ll find out if they taste as good as their reputation claims. We enjoy a sumptuous seafood lunch in a château overlooking the ocean before following the stunning coastal route back to Dinan.
Today we visit the spectacular Mont Saint Michel, France’s most visited treasure. The ancient abbey, which has always played an active role in French history, is truly a wonder to behold. Set atop a hill which becomes an island when the tides are at their highest, it is visible for miles around and offers a splendid view of the surrounding coast and tidal marshes. It has been a place of worship and refuge for more than 2,000 years and has also been a fortress and a prison. Much of the abbey was built in the 10th century, but the whole complex of religious buildings took over 1,000 years to complete. After a guided tour of the abbey, we have time to wander on our own and choose the most enticing crêperie for lunch. We then drive north to Bayeux, where our quaint hotel in the center of the old town is our base for the next two nights and is just eight kilometers from the WWII Landing Beaches.
Our local guide, Philippe, is an expert on the history of the World War II Normandy invasion. He spends a whole day showing us the most important sites. At Omaha Beach the impressive American cemetery with its 9,385 marble crosses is unforgettable. From Colleville-sur-Mer to Vierville, we will study the history of the Allied invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944, or what was called Operation Overlord. The largest invasion fleet in history landed at the beaches code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. The Monument to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade commemorates those who lost their lives while protecting the men in the landing craft and on the beaches. At Pointe du Hoc we see the steep cliffs which the Allied soldiers had to climb to attack the German defenses. On this site 135 specially trained Rangers of the 2nd Battalion lost their lives in the attack. The 116th Regiment of the US infantry tirelessly fought the Germans who resisted in vain. The sight is covered with craters from hundreds of shells, and the smashed blockhouses have been left as a living museum to record the historic battle.
A visit to the museum built to display the Bayeux Tapestry is a fascinating and pleasant way to understand the history of William the Conqueror’s defeat of King Harold and the Norman conquest of England. It is a unique medieval work of art, the oldest known tapestry, measuring 203 feet long. It displays incredible details of the events and life style of the 11th century. After lunch we take a short drive to Caen to visit the recently completed World War II Memorial Museum. In 1944 Caen was at the center of the Battle of Normandy and suffered tremendously. Today the memorial is meant to be a « Museum for Peace » in hopes that all those who visit will believe that the horrors of such a war must never be repeated. After this World War II history lesson we journey back through the centuries to William the Conqueror’s Caen. We see the two abbeys he built in the 11th century, where William and his wife Matilda are buried. We then drive to our next destination, Honfleur. Our hotel in the center of this lovely harbor town is a beautiful 18th century manor house, complete with its own tapestries, chandeliers and period furniture. We enjoy a gourmet dinner in the old town.
This morning we take a guided walking tour of Honfleur and have free time to enjoy this beautiful village. After lunch we drive along the coast to Etretat where we take a cliff walk for a spectacular view of the English Channel. We return to Honfleur for dinner on the harbor.
Today we visit the largest town in Normandy, Rouen. Our local guide shows us this beautiful medieval city, steeped in history and memories of Joan of Arc. You’ll recognize the cathedral from the famous Monet paintings. On the way back to Honfleur, we stop at a calvados distillery for a taste of this famous apple brandy.
This morning we visit the impressive ruins of the famous Jumièges Abbey, consecrated in 1067 by William the Conqueror, on the site of a 7th century abbey. In the afternoon we stop for a cider and cheese tasting at a beautiful apple orchard. Tonight we stay in a beautiful château where we have our farewell dinner. In the morning we drive to the Paris airport for the return flight.
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