Normandy, a gourmet’s journey

By | Category: Travel destinations

a quick snack

Impressionist works give us a good vision of Normandy, but Normandy is much more. Many come to take advantage of its mild climate softened by the English Channel’s waters, who travel past a huge variety of different, green landscapes. Discover the quality of the quiet life that could be found in each of its remote villages often full of half-timbered houses, the famous maisons-à-colombage. Stop at any nice cosy auberge to taste the authentic Norman cuisine. Cooking in Normandy is something very important. It’s based on butter and cream -from Normandy of course – oil being only allowed for use in salads or for French fries!

Normand cooking is a simple feast for gourmet. Various local, fresh vegetables associated with fresh seafood or with the tender meat provided by local cattle, are the basic ingredients of the Normand recipes. The salt-marsh lamb bred in the surrounding of Mont Saint-Michel is a unique experience. During a visit to Mont Saint-Michel, even if restaurants take advantage of their privileged setting to have prices somewhat excessive, take enough time to order and enjoy the real omelette de la Mère Poulard, a must.

The rich milk from the countless cows quietly grazing in the green fields, provides the most well-known product of Normandy, the camembert, a pure marvellous cheese that real cheese-addicts says has to be made with raw milk. Any local dairy produces its own camembert and each will swear to produce the best one. Trust them all. Just take a fresh baguette, spread a large piece of camembert on it and appreciate! And remember, whatever the cheese, French people have only one rule, nothing else other than wine can be drunk with cheese. And which wine? We French are very open-minded. Red wine, white wine, Bordeaux or Burgundy it’s up to you. And for Adrian, the CD-Traveller’s chief-editor, it should be a glass of Chablis.

With millions of apple trees, the apple is the fruit of Normandy. The iconic tarte Tatin, which wasn’t even created in Normandy, can now be found everywhere in Normandy. It’s a sort of upside down caramelised apple tart, served warm or cold topped with one large spoon of créme fraîche or eventually with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Apples are also used to produce cider that every local producer claims to be the best one. And apples give us the tasty ‘Calvados’ a strong alcoholic drink that is traditionally an after dinner liqueur.

Around Caen:
Every British school child knows of the Norman, William the Conqueror – Duke Guillaume de Normandie -sailed from his Duchy to Pevensey and became king of England after defeating Harold at the Battle of Hastings. In a more recent past, it was a sort of “Guillaume, nous voilà!” when the Allied armies landed back on the beaches on D-Day 6th June 1944. Omaha, Juno, Sword, the D-Day beaches where so many gallant men loose their lives, are places that veterans, visitors and school children visit to remember the courage of these men. The Caen-Normandy Memorial is the D-Day museum dedicated to the understanding of the battle for Normandy. Family passes are offered at a discount price and guided D-Day beaches tours are available.

chateau guillaume de Normandie

Not far from Caen, Falaise is a small town towered over by the castle of Guillaume de Normandie It was here that he planned and prepared his conquest of England. Heavily destroyed by bombing in the war, the castle with its two square keeps plus a circular one and its twelve towers, has been lightly restored. Each visitor receives a touchpad that reveals the interiors of the castle as they were at the time of William the Conqueror with coloured furniture, painted walls and hangings. The touchpad also includes a treasure hunt that kids enjoy as well as adults. Movies and surprising sound effects enrich the visit and give an attractive view of Anglo-French/Franco-British history.

Rouen:
Rouen is an old town with a beautiful pedestrian centre around the cathedral, with numerous bars, restaurants and attracting shops including valuable antique dealers. It’s a popular place to make a pub crawl before or after dinner. Some restaurants offer special Monet menus inspired by the personal notes of Monet himself who was also a greedy customer. Every night Rouen highlights its historical centre with a free lightshow on the front of the cathedral, two to three times a day between 10.30 pm and midnight. The 30 minutes show has two parts, the first one being dedicated to Monet and the Impressionism and the second one is about Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years’ War. Most of the spectators stay for a second or a third show. Children won’t want to leave!

part of the light show

Le Havre and around:
The town and its harbour, the second French harbour in size, was virtually destroyed in the war. The complete reconstruction of the town centre after the war by Auguste Perret gave birth to a surprising concrete architecture that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A few kilometres from Le Havre, the little town of Etretat, a former fishing village, is a must-visit place for its fabulous pebbled beach and white cliffs not forgetting the Arch and the Aiguille Creuse – the Hollow Needle. The streets of Etretat have still kept some of the atmosphere of the 19th century when it was a fashionable leisure resort.
Fécamp, another fishing harbour, is just a few kilometres away. It was one of the harbour-bases of the Terre-Neuvas, the French fishermen who sailed across the Atlantic to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland looking for cod.

Giverny:
Giverny, half way between Rouen and Paris, is the world centre of impressionism. There are two must-see attractions: Monet’s house and the Musée des Impressionismes. The Impressionisms Museum, formerly the American Art Museum, was dedicated to the American painters who were inspired by Monet and followed him to this remote village. Now it is a museum devoted to all impressionist painters.

Monet's home

Monet’s house is a study in the private life of the painter who lived there for around 43 years with his second wife and their eight children. Paintings by his fellow artists were hung on main walls. Other walls were covered with hundreds of Japanese prints by Hiroshige and Hokusai among others, proving the influence of Japanese print art on Monet’ work. In the front of the house the garden was designed by the artist himself to suit his artistic needs and he employed seven gardeners to take care of it. Down by the main garden, a smaller one hides the water lily pond and the Japanese bridge which Monet created. In his last years he spent much time here realising the famous Nympheas. After years of neglect, both gardens have been restored to how they were in his lifetime. And since June 2011, James Priest is the first English gardener to be appointed as the head gardener of the Claude-Monet Foundation to maintain the gardens as Monet conceived them.

Normandy what else?

Besides the impressionist festival and the towns where the exhibitions take place, Normandy has a lot more to offer. The Mont Saint Michel with its willowy shape over the sea attracts millions of visitors despite the parking lot problems and fees! Deauville with its boardwalk can be so romantic at sunset, or more sporting with the land-yachts speeding on the long sandy beach. Cherbourg at the very end of the Cotentin peninsula was the main harbour from where more than fifty million European immigrants sailed to the United States. A museum, the Cité de la Mer, housed in the magnificent Art Deco Baggage Hall has an exhibition about the history of immigration to the new world and – in a special area – there is a reconstruction of three stages of the Titanic’s last journey; the crossing, the collision and the sinking of the liner.

Caen, Cherbourg and Le Havre are linked to Portsmouth by daily ferries. A few ferries also leave from Poole to Normandy.

For more about Normandy, click here.

Images © Frederic de Poligny
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