A captivating, yet familiar region of northern France

Normandy is a very special region in northern France. Like other French divisions, it has a particular character and style. It lies just across the English Channel and should be explored. Many travellers to France will pass through Normandy en- route to other destinations but this distinct department is always worth a longer stay in order to see and to search. The name of Normandy comes from ‘Northman’. That came from the earliest origins and resulted from the ancient invasion by the Danish Vikings about a thousand years ago.

Normandy retains historical and cultural connections with Britain in our present time as well. Somehow the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey from so way back in history are associated with the region. The Queen of England still currently retains the ancient title of so called ‘Duke’ of Normandy. This entrenched appointment was established so many centuries ago. Both of these Channel Islands remain, of course, a protectorate of Britain.

Etretat, NormandyPassing visitors should stop by and take a break in Normandy. The local architecture begins almost at the department border. The domestic style is often of half- timbered and currently rather fashionable houses and they dominate the regional character. It is an architectural style evolved from a form that was laid down so long ago. The local scene has not really changed a great deal in the meantime. So much of it these days seems really quite permanent and robust. It all seems harbouring for me as it seems to have a particular wellbeing. The recognisable grace of Normandy proudly protects its origins and development beginning from so early in contemporary human history.

Normandy remains an undeniable contributor to British history and change as well. William the Conqueror of Normandy invaded England in 1066. England has not been infiltrated since. After his celebrated victory at the Battle of Hastings, William became the King of England after replacing the defeated Saxon King Harold. Visit the tapestry in Bayeux in Normandy that was embroidered on almost endless fine cloth in England. It beautifully displays, pictorially, the events of the Battle of Hastings and is a priceless art work for all time. It is there for all to see and wonder at. It was created over a thousand years ago and is an extraordinary artefact to admire in our modern lifetimes.

The Normandy beaches were also the starting point for the liberation of France and Europe in 1944 by the Allied forces. This was Operation Overlord. The local French museums display many records and photographs, often not properly explored or appreciated, that demonstrate the technical capacity and heroism displayed at the closing stages of the Second World War. These events occurred more than 75 years ago now. The operation was meticulously planned and staged from the southern Channel coast of England.

DieppeWhen you visit Normandy, stop off at the City of Rouen. This is the formal capital of the region and presents itself as French in splendid glory. Find the central square where Joan of Arc was slowly burned to death at the stake at the age of just nineteen by the English during the Hundred Years’ War. It is an historic setting and preserved forever by a concrete and sky reaching towering cross. Saint Joan of Arc was probably the greatest French patriot that ever lived despite her very tender teenage years. She is generally regarded as France’s premier Patron Saint.

Drop by also at the port of Dieppe as well as you pass along the coast. This is a port that provides additional sea links to England in addition to Calais. It is a very fresh version of the typical English seaside resort and much will be familiar to the British observer. Dieppe will always be a French reminder of British childhood days by the seaside.

Both Deauville and Honfleur, not so far away, are both very glamorous and their exploration will remind travellers of a France that perhaps has been visited so much further south along the Riviera bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Deauville has many separately named beach huts on the sands by the Channel Sea with the names of numerous Hollywood movie stars attached to the doors. The familiar, named personalities have all attended the annual film festival in the town and have left their prestigious mark and persona to mark the location, their glamour and the country.

HonfleurThe town of Honfleur is astonishingly beautiful in its own right also. It is a channel fishing port and is home to a number of prominent and unique features surrounded by the protection of the created harbour concrete security. Take a slow lunch there and observe all the French human life going on around you.

Further westwards across the region, visitors will come across the Alabaster coast. This is quite the most natural costal terrain that can be found in France. Go to Etretat along the beach line and look at the chalk archways, chalk- land pointed arrows and other geological features. They will take the breath away for some observers who really appreciate the natural style remaining in the primeval landscape. This piece of coastline has been the site and setting of a number of memorable Atlantic ocean tragedies, but yet, strangely, so many achievements as well. Find the monuments to the many triumphs and the descriptions of the many tragedies too. Etretat supports a wonderful museum at the top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean.

This portion of the Alabaster coast has also been the subject of a number of French impressionist paintings too. These days, French celebrated art works can be viewed in many worldwide galleries and sell for monumental sums. Claude Monet was a particular admirer and contributor. He was the leader, student and painter of the features of Etretat. Find him yourself in London in the National Gallery. Search for him to find the particularly enduring and alluring artistic quality surrounding the natural features along this coastline.

Public garden, EtretatMonet’s world famous and permanently preserved garden lies in Normandy as well at Givenchy. It is always open to visitors. He loved natural features so much and recorded them with his contemporary and celebrated impressionist art style during so many and intensely enjoyed periods of his life.

The river Seine, so familiar of course, drifting across the French nation, flows out into the Atlantic ocean in Normandy. This river, with its tributaries, constitutes much of the quality of the Normandy country culture. Stay and dine in this rural landscape amongst the rivers when you are there and admire the wide scenery and splendour of the region.

This department has also been the founding home of the formation of the Canadian ‘family’ connection with France over so many centuries. Much of Canada speaks French due to the shared history. Canada was explored by France after a number of pioneering voyages. Early knowledge and development of sea navigation was used to find wider wings in the new world. These cultural roots were formed from early scientific, adventuring and the development of mathematical navigational colleges in the port of Dieppe. It all started from the maritime association with Normandy.

Beach at DeauvilleThe local economy of Normandy, currently, depends on modern, scientific agriculture. Much food is grown and the cattle and the sheep are farmed amongst the beautiful natural slopes and grassland that exist there. Normandy is a rural region that has made such an impact on global historical development yet so gradually behind its musty net curtains. Normandy has a strong culture of literature as well. Find it in the local libraries and appreciate its artistic contribution to human intellectual culture too.

During the current period of Brexit, if you travel to France from England, take the opportunity to visit Normandy. Remind yourself of the ancient connection with Britain and the intertwined and never ending history from the very earliest records of civilisation that both countries share. We are all Europeans really and always will be.

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Bob Lyons

Retired airline pilot and European explorer

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