Histoire et Patrimoine – History and Heritage
Enduring monuments to Normandy’s past are all around, from prehistory to the Second World War. In the ninth Century the Vikings from the north – the ‘Nor(th) men’ who gave the region its name – invaded via the river Seine. They stayed, converted to Christianity and built the cathedrals, castles and monasteries that still can be seen today. They also created a vast empire that included an audacious and incredibly successful invasion of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror with allegedly some 55,000 soldiers on over 700 boats. (He landed on the south coast of Britain on 28th September 1066 and only a few months later was crowned in Westminster Abbey in London on Christmas Day).
Bring the past to life by visiting one or more of the following:
The Celtic Camp de Bierre at Trun (25km, 15 miles, 30 minutes), the mini Dolmen des Bigne with its fairy folk lore (6km, 3.5 miles, 10 minutes)
Vieux–la-Romaine. Visit the interesting archaeological site of a Gallo-Roman city. (50 kms, 31 miles, 43minutes)
The restored Viking camp at Ornavik at Herouville-Saint-Claire (53km, 33 miles, 40 minutes)
The Middle Ages
William the Conqueror’s birthplace and castle in Falaise (14km, 9 miles, 17 minutes), the restored 13th century nunnery Abbaye Sainte Marie aux Dames at Villers-Canivet (21kms, 13 miles, 22 minutes) the ‘his and hers’- William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda’s Norman Abbeys in Caen (51km, 32miles, 45minutes), the gothic jewel of the Cathedral of Sees (46km, 29.5 miles, 36 minutes), exquisite half-timbered castles and Manor houses of Crevecoeur-en-Auge (46km, 29.5 miles, 43 minutes) and Coupesarte (47km, 29 miles, 46minutes). The fairy tale Chateau d’O (38km, 24 miles, 35 minutes).
The classic ‘Historic Monument’ of Chateau Vendeuvre (29km, 18 miles, 30 minutes). The magnificent Haras du Pin – the Versailles for horses (30kms, 19 miles, 34minutes).
Imposing mansion of Balleroy near Bayeux (91km, 56 miles, 1hr 8).
The Belle Epoch
The new bathing resorts of late 19th century Deauville, Trouville and Cabourg with their casinos and fabulous Anglo-Normand style villas, such as the over the top Villa Strassburger (100km, 62 miles, 1hr 9) built by the Rothschilds.
World War II
The awe-inspiring story of the D-Day Normandy landings on 6th June 1944 – the greatest armada of invasionary forces that the world has ever known – is brought home by the many memorials, respectfully maintained, throughout the region. Millions of soldiers from six armies fought for two months in the summer heat to open the way to liberate Paris. It was the ‘beginning of the end’ of the war. More than 20, 000 Normandy civilians were also killed, mainly due to the ‘friendly fire’ of the Allied bombardment. A moving tribute to the soldiers who fought in the final battle of Normandy, 18th-22nd August 1944, closing the ‘Falaise Gap’ to the retreating German forces is at Montormel Memorial (38km, 23 miles, 45 minutes).
The destruction of the war meant that some whole cities had to be rebuilt like Le Havre (136km, 84 miles, 1hr 30) whose modern (1950’s) architecture by Auguste Perret has earned it UNESCO world heritage status. Take time to marvel at ‘the innovative exploitation of the potential of concrete’ but also don’t miss the fabulous steel and glass structure of the Museum of Modern Art (MUMA) facing the sea. It houses the biggest collection of Impressionist art after the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, including 200 canvases by Monet’s mentor, Eugène Boudin.
More recently, there are engineering marvels like the graceful bridge, Le Pont de Normandie, 856m long, soaring high over the Seine near Honfleur completed in 1995 (117km, 72 miles, 1hr10).