Normandy - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Normandy


Normandy, in northwest France, has a proud and independent history and was one of the major powers of medieval Europe. Colonized by the Vikings from the 9th century, it was home to William the Conqueror who famously defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and in 1066 established the great Norman aristocratic line that remains prominent in England today. This historic event is commemorated in the region's most popular attraction, the marvellous Bayeux Tapestry. It was here, too, in Rouen that valiant Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, and at the chic seaside resort of Deauville that Coco Chanel started a fashion renaissance opening her first boutique. The province is, however, probably best known for the Normandy landings of 1944 when Britain and America began their liberation of France and Europe from Hitler's Germany.

Today Normandy is overwhelmingly agricultural and is appreciated by the gastronomically fastidious French for its excellent produce, particularly dairy and seafood. The region is also known, not for its wine, but for its ciders and apple brandy. Fighting in WWII destroyed many of the great medieval towns, but a few treasures still remain and make a trip to Normandy worthwhile, including the Abbey of Bec, Chateau d'Etelan, and Mont Saint-Michel Abbey.

Information & Facts


Located on the west coast of France, Normandy's climate is warm with a fair amount of annual rainfall, resulting in a lush, green countryside. Temperatures are seldom too extreme, but can be unpredictable. The average daytime high during the summer months of May to August is 80F (27C) while the weather during the winter months from November to March is relatively mild. Despite rumours that it rains non-stop in Normandy, it is neither that common nor rare, but visitors should pack an umbrella no matter what time of year they choose to visit.

French is the official language.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in France. Currency can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and some large hotels, though you will get a better exchange rate at the ATMs. Major credit cards are widely accepted, as are travellers cheques, particularly in major tourist destinations. Foreign currency is not accepted.

Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between last Sunday in March and last Sunday in October).

This ancient Viking settlement is situated a few miles inland, between La Havre and Cherbourg, and was the first French town to be liberated in 1944 during World War II. Fortunately Bayeux was spared from too much war damage, and remains full of old-world character with wooden houses, some elegant stone buildings and cobblestone roads. Many visitors flock here to explore the sites associated with the war's 'Longest Day' including an interesting D-Day museum and the famous landing beaches (less than 10 miles/16km away). A museum celebrating an older, but equally historic battle is located in the vicinity. This, the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, contains the famous tapestry that tells the story of the Battle of Hastings. The 231-foot (69m) strip of embroidered linen depicts scenes of Harold's coronation as the Saxon king of England, him being told of the apparition of a comet (a portent of misfortune), William dressing for war, and Harold's death. (Admission EUR7.80 (adult), free for children under nine; open 9am to 6.30pm, closing at 7pm from May to August and 6pm from November to March). Also worth seeing is the Notre-Dame de Bayeux, a fine Norman Romanesque cathedral, rich in sculpture.

Early on 6 June, 1944, the largest armada ever known left England's south coast and set off to liberate France. Shortly thereafter British, American and Canadian soldiers began landing on the beaches. Today veterans and their families walk along the same beaches codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah and Omaha. A good place to start a battlefield tour is at Arromanches-les-Bains, a few miles northeast of Bayeux. After it was taken by the British 50th Division, this small fishing village was turned into the mammoth military harbour using a prefabricated port that was towed across the Channel. Two and a half million men and 500,000 vehicles landed here. The wreckage of 'Mulberry Harbour' remains just off the beach. A little down the coast are Omaha and Utah, the beaches where the US Division famously landed. The cliffs are still pitted with German bunkers and shell holes, but otherwise these fairly innocuous beaches show little sign of the bloody battles that took place here. Many people come to Normandy to pay respects to the Allied soldiers at the many vast cemeteries along the coast that are maintained so immaculately.

By accident or design is not certain, but somehow the quaint fishing village of Honfleur, just across the estuary from busy, bustling La Havre, has managed to make time stand still and presents its many visitors with scenes and experiences largely unchanged for 100 years or more. Honfleur fortunately escaped serious damage during the World War II Normandy landings, and since then development has been minimal. It still functions as a fishing port and follows traditions dating back to medieval times, although it has lost its beach due to the silting up of the river. There are a few interesting museums, including those dedicated to composer Eric Satie and Impressionist painter Eugene Boudin, and some lovely gardens. Honfleur is certainly worth a visit from La Havre.

One of France's best-known attractions, the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is situated on a rocky island just off the coast of Normandy and Brittany. It was founded in 708 by the Bishop of Avranches, who built a chapel here. Construction of the current abbey began in 1023 but was not finished for 400 years. Built with granite, it encompasses a range of architectural styles, from Norman to Gothic. The abbey was a place for pilgrimages for centuries and also served as a monastery, a prison and a fortress against the English. There is still a Benedictine monastery within the abbey, which can be visited on a guided tour. Among the maze of cobbled streets within the walls of the abbey are a number of other attractions, including a maritime museum and a multimedia museum that tells the story of the island. The abbey is connected to the shore by a causeway, but there are plans to construct a bridge to it so that the sea will again flow freely around the island.

The capital of Normandy and a popular holiday destination, Rouen is also a centre of industry and commerce; it is the fifth largest port in France and the closest one to Paris, split into a right and left bank area by the River Seine.

Rouen is also one of France's most historic cities; William the Conqueror died here in 1087 and in 1431 it was the stage for the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. She was burned at the stake in the Place du Vieux-Marché (the Old Marketplace); the position is still marked by a huge bronze cross and worth visiting while on holiday.

Allied bombing largely destroyed the city of Rouen; all of its bridges and many of its great churches were ruined. However, substantial investment has been focused on restoring parts of the city to its former medieval glory. The great Cathédrale Notre-Dame, immortalised by Monet, remained fairly unscathed and is well worth a visit for its wonderful stonework.

An especially interesting Rouen holiday attraction is the Chapelle de la Vierge, where the heart of Richard the Lion-Heart is entombed as a token of his affection for the people of Rouen. The chapel also contains the Renaissance tombs of the cardinals d'Amboise.

Dozens of churches and some fine museums can be explored including the Musée des Beaux-Art, which is one of France's best provincial museums and includes the works of great French artists such as Veronese, Velasquez, Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin, Fragonard and Monet (including several versions of his Rouen Cathedral).

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