The light shows of Normandy

By | Category: Travel destinations

Rouen Cathedral © Frederic Mouren de Poligny

One of the most appealing stories that Just about Travel has published over the years has been about the light show at Rouen cathedral in Normandy. Frederic visited it and took a stream of images for us.

Light shows have grown in popularity amongst not just our readers but tourists as well. And as that interest has grown so the complexity of the crafts people who design them has grown as well. The light shows last longer than they did and they have spread in popularity to other destinations as the tourist authorities realise how many visitors they can attract by designing a show into their plans.

But Normandy is still, the easiest place for many Britons to travel to and see the accumulated knowledge that the crafts people have built up to provides some of the best light shows you will see anywhere. It is an easy weekend break by ferry or plane and I have known people go across just for dinner a light show and then returning on a late ferry so that it became just a day out!

One of the best is still that at Rouen, a place forever linked with England since this is where William the Conqueror died at the priory of Saint Gervase. It was the capital of Normandy and the centre of William’s rule until he transferred it to Caen.

So it is at Rouen Cathedral that you can see a light show narrating the story of two of the most significant people connected to the city; William and Joan of Arc. The light show here started a month ago and lasts until the 23rd of September and unlike some, costs nothing to watch.

Liberty Tree in Bayeux

Another place forever linked to England is Bayeux, the place that gives its name to the tapestry which can be seen at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. That seventy metres of the finest embroidery has survived so long is quite astonishing. That a piece or artwork is also a historic chronicle (or vice versa) is also surprising but whatever it is it surely must be an essential sight to see if you visit Bayeux.

This year the light show runs from today, the 11th of July until the 26th of August but only on Tuesday’s, Thursdays and Saturdays. It has ten narratives celebrating France’s journey to freedom during WWII. It isn’t solely to be seen on the cathedral. It is also displayed on the famous Liberty Tree, the tree which was planted during the French Revolution. There is a cost for watching the light show which ranges from €5-€14.

The city of Sées is about a 75 minute drive from Bayeux and it also has an annual light show projected onto its cathedral called the Musilumière de Sées. Sées is a small town of under 5,000 people yet its cathedral is a large gothic building which seems out of place in such a small location. Consequently the cathedral stands out, even more so when the light show is on. Opening on July the 14th, the light show continues until September but only on Fridays and Saturdays. There is also a cost to watch this light show.

Le Mans is a name that most people will recognise and here, during the summer months a free lights show is available.

Le Mans © La Nuit des chimères

This time it isn’t just projected onto the cathedral, any building might receive the treatment as will fountain. Whilst Le Mans is known today for the twenty-four race, it also has another two claims to fame. The first is that this was where Henry II was born (he of the Thomas a Beckett incident) and it was also where Richard the Lionheart’s queen, Berengaria, spent her last years after endowing a Cistercian abbey here.

Leaving aside light shows using cathedrals as backdrops, at the Château de Creully which is near the coast, there is another light show which is combined with a mediaeval festival over one weekend. Held on the 4th and 5th of August this year, the castle was, very briefly in 1944, the headquarters of the BBC in France as it reported on the allied advance to liberate France.  (Incidentally, the website hasn’t been updated at the time of writing with details of this years’ festival.)

For something a little bit different, you could visit the Manoir du Courboyer in the Perche Regional Natural Park. Located in the southern part of Normandy, At this manor house, which dates back to the fifteenth century, there is a spectacular lightshow about the heritage of this picturesque area, famous for its Percheron horses. This show is on every Friday and Saturday from 22.30 and there is a charge.

Today, being July 14th, means that there will be firework displays throughout France and not just Normandy. But one place in Normany, Caen, may not have a light show throughout the summer but it does have a firework display every Friday at the Vauban tower. Its free unless you book one of the 57 seats but that will only cost a single euro. There is even a shuttle from the train station to take you to the tower!

With all the links that Normandy has with England, it is unsurprising that this area of France is a popular one for visitors. But in July and August the light shows make it even more appealing.

For more about Normandy, click here.

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