In the recent weeks and months, due to the pandemic, we have only been able to reach the stunning landscapes of Europe and other continents virtually. Now that the world is slowly awakening, travellers will once again get hope. This is a completely new situation for Europe and for the whole world, and currently no one can predict what the upcoming months will bring. But as soon as international travel is made possible again, we should now choose our own continent instead of overseas landscapes.
Let’s discover the wonderful values of Europe and learn more about parts of the world heritage. Let’s begin our journey by exploring the breath-taking countryside of Normandy.
The world of contrasts
Whether raw, barren, gentle green, playful, romantic, Normandy is a world of contrasts, an ideal destination if you are looking for a wonderful journey. Visitors are totally impressed by the view of Gothic church towers reaching out the sky, the bizarre coastal cliffs and the ancient wooden houses. The northwest coast of France is the perfect meeting point of the masterpieces of nature and man.
The cliffs of Étretat were particularly attractive to artists: Isabey, Delacroix, Corot, Courbet, Boudin, and Monet all painted these phenomena.
Just like writers – Alphonse Karr, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas or Guy de Maupassant – who could also not resist the appeal of Étretat. Maurice Leblanc placed the hideout of his legendary thief, Arsene Lupine, on the cliff top of Aiguille, which rises at the port of Aval, while Georges Simenon dedicated one of his famous Maigret books to Étretat.
It is no coincidence that we have called the rocks of the Alabaster coast a phenomenon, as they are truly fleeting beauty. The sea is constantly biting them, pushing them deeper and deeper into the land year after year.
It is most felt on the coasts of Normandy that the English Channel is part of the Atlantic Ocean. We almost feel dizzy, if we look down from the coastal cliffs into the deep. Down below, the ocean rumbles against the bright white chalk cliffs.
The Alabaster coast is the name of a 120-kilometer-long coastline stretching south from Dieppe to the port city of Le Havre at the mouth of River Seine. Although the coast is covered with coarse pebble, and the difference between low tide and high tide is quite large, in summer, it is one of the favourite bathing places of the French. Dieppe was the first smart French bath modelled based on the English city of Brighton.
The special light and bizarre cliffs attracted the painters as magnets. The rocky shore, reaching even up to a hundred meters, is only interrupted in some places by valleys that stretch to the sea. The most bizarre rock formations are located around Étretat. To the west of the city rises the Aval Rock which is a huge natural rock gate reminiscent of an elephant trunk. To the east, there is the Amont Cliff with the Notre-Dame de la Garde chapel at the top.
South of Le Havre, the coast is gentler. The most pleasant holiday resorts are located here, one of which is Deauvelle standing out with its magnificent luxury hotels. In the southernmost part of Normandy, just a few kilometres from the border with Brittany, the Mont-Saint-Michel Monastery, the biggest attraction in the whole region, rises high on a sea cliff. Due to its endowments and destiny, it is also called the pyramid of God. Whether we visit it early in the morning, when its striking silhouette is almost lost in the mist of fog, or at sunset, when the walls and towers begin to shine in almost unearthly light, the monastery rock offers a different but always breath-taking sight at all times of the day. Mont-Saint-Michel is a rocky island in the sea, one kilometre from the coast of Normandy. However, during low tide, it can be reached on foot. In the 19th century, even a dam was built to approach it, but it made the bay very sandy and cost millions of Euros to restore it. The island, which is only 55 thousand square meters, is dominated by a Benedictine monastery from the 11-16th century.
In its masterfully constructed east and west wings, we can admire the perfection of Gothic architecture. Even today, Benedictine monks live and work in it, although the monastery is visited by millions of tourists every year.
The mountain and the bay were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, among the first ones. However, you keep finding the medieval French architectural heritage in the patinated cities of Normandy. It would be hard to choose one of them, but the headquarters of County Calvados, the ancient city of Caen, is definitely worth visiting.
The name obviously snaps the attention of the fans of the noble nectar. Yes, it is the famous apple brandy, which is steamed from cider, and then aged in oak barrels for years. The city of Caen is also famous for once being one of the most important capital cities of William the Conqueror. The word Caen has Celtic origins and means “battlefield”. It has been the scene of many important battles since the time of the Celts as well as in the 11th century, and even later.
William did not only build a castle for himself, but also an abbey for women and men. He was buried in the latter, but his grave was destroyed during the French Revolution, his bones disappeared, however, his tomb can still be seen in the abbey church of St. Etienne.
Rouen is also a noteworthy historic city on the banks of the Seine which Victor Hugo once called the city of a hundred towers. The most impressive of these is the Gothic Basilica of Saint-Ouen, the inspiration for Claud Monet’s famous painting cycle, Rouen Cathedral.
Although several monuments were destroyed by the bombings of World War II, about two thousand wooden structures survived. This unique construction type, which was used north of the Alps from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, is also very common in Normandy, providing an incredibly romantic atmosphere to the historic city centres.
Some curiosity about Norman cuisine
One of the main ingredients of the Norman cuisine is seafood (fish, shellfish, crabs). Another famous Norman gastronomic specialty is the trou normand, i.e. “a Norman hole”. The inhabitants of the country have a peculiar biological belief: according to them, while eating, a small pit is formed in their stomachs, and it is life-threatening to fill it with food, it can only be filled with alcohol. Therefore, in the middle of the main course (for example during an unequal fight with a thirty-centimetre Vire sausage), a shot of Calvados (local apple brandy) must be drunk with a single sip and eating can only be then continued.
“Á la normande” means that the meal is made with mustard and Calvados. Normand apple pies are legendary here, as well as local apple brandy. A lot of apples are grown here, and they taste absolutely delicious.
As this region is home to apples, they are also used to make some wine called cider. Among meet dishes, beef is also popular just as throughout entire France. Due to the proximity of the sea, the rule that oysters should be avoided in months without letter “r” does not apply here. Sole, mussels, oysters and various shellfish are very popular in Normandy. Their dishes are rich in butter, cream and sour cream, and the famous camembert cheese is also produced here.