Why go here?
A perennial favourite with British holidaymakers, Normandy is a manageable ferry ride to Cherbourg or Caen, making it a desirable destination for families and self-drivers who want to avoid airport hassle.
With 600 miles of coast and a lush inland landscape, it offers a huge variety of outdoor pursuits. Its historical sites, attractive towns and villages, and the Impressionist trail all draw visitors in search of culture. Top that off with great gastronomy, and this bit of northern France has something for all. This year, the 1,100th anniversary of the creation of the Duchy of Normandy is celebrated with events across the region from now until October (happybirthdaynormandie.com).
The great outdoors
From Mont-Saint-Michel Bay to Dieppe, the Normandy coast has miles of beaches. Combine a bucket-and-spade day with the pursuit of history on the Invasion Beaches, while on the Norman Riviera the towns of Deauville and Trouville are an elegant diversion. Experience Mont-Saint-Michel at dusk on a night walk to the abbey (mont-saint-michel. monuments-nationaux.fr). A new Abbey Trail on Horseback (mancherandonnee.com) explores five religious sites on a 96-mile trek, culminating in the crossing of Mont-Saint-Michel Bay. Follow one of five Impressionist itineraries (seine-maritime-tourisme .com) to discover the towns, seascapes, gardens and rivers that inspired the movement. And, on summer Thursday evenings, grab your glowsticks at the Labyrinthe de Bayeux maize maze (labyrinthe-bayeux.com), near Mosles, for an atmospheric, after-dark trail featuring artworks and storytelling.
The history trail
The Normandie Pass offers discounts on admissions to 26 Second World War sites and museums (normandie pass.com) and you can take a tour of the invasion beaches in an original military vehicle with D-Day Academy (ddaca.com). Head inland to Falaise to explore the childhood home of William the Conqueror, Château Guillaume-Le-Conquérant (chateau-guillaume-leconquérant.fr). Its Joan of Arc heritage, historic cathedral and half-timbered houses make the city of Rouen a tourist hotspot. It’s new Jewish Monument is now open to visitors (Tuesdays only, 3pm). Thought to be a synagogue, it dates back to the 12th century, making it the oldest Jewish monument in Western Europe.
The retail therapy
Rouen has historically been the centre of production of fine porcelain, but you’ll find it on sale all over, along with traditional copperwork such as bedpans, candle snuffers – should they be of use – cooking pots and kitchen utensils. If you do head to Rouen, you’ll find its pretty paved streets lined with boutiques selling everything from designer wear to French high street labels. Fashionable seaside resorts such as Deauville are also good for shopping. But it’s gourmet goodies that most Brits bring home – including camembert, preserved fruits, foie gras, andouille sausage and calvados – available from specialist stalls at the regular farmers’ markets.
The inside attractions
Explore the legacy of war at Le Musée du Débarquement at Utah Beach (utah-beach.com). Nearby, the Arromanches 360° Cinema (arromanches360.com) immerses viewers in the shocking reality of D-Day. Take a peek at the Bayeux Tapestry (tapisserie-bayeux.fr), marking the Norman conquest of England. A more light-hearted approach to the past is taken at Parc Festyland (festyland.com), near Caen, which will keep children amused with historically themed rides. Garden enthusiasts might outnumber art-lovers at Fondation Claude Monet (fondation- monet.com), in Giverny, but his studio and house are worth seeing, even if there are no original works on show.
The places to eat and drink
Normandy’s gastronomy is based on meat and fruit from its lush agricultural heartland, superb seafood, and lots and lots of cheese – washed down with cider and calvados. Beef and veal are the staple meats served – always with the addition of rich cream and butter – in typical restaurants such as La Petite Normande, which sits below the cathedral in Bayeux (35 rue Larcher) or Le Grand Sapin (legrandsapin.free.fr), in Villequier, a rambling building with a riverside garden. Seafood lovers should try Marée Time, in Bauvoir (maree-time.fr), with its view of Mont-Saint-Michel. It’s the perfect lunch stop – eat in or make a picnic of regional products from the shop.
How to get there
Simone Kane was a guest of Siblu (0871 911 7777; siblu.com), which has seven nights at Domaine de Litteau from 13 August, starting at £1,099 for a family staying in a two-bedroom holiday home. One-week return Portsmouth-Caen crossings with Brittany Ferries in August start at £360 for a car and family of four (0871 244 1400; brittanyferries.com).
Visit normandy-tourism.org. The Rough Guide to Brittany and Normandy; Frommer’s Normandy with Your Family.