Normandy offers history, art, ambience, and good food

Making memories on a French vacation

Honfleur Normandy

Photo: Colourbox
Honfleur harbor with its marina, shops, and cafés is the perfect place to spend a summer day.

Cynthia Elyce Rubin
Travel Editor
The Norwegian American

Normandy, known for its historic D-Day landing beaches, is also recognized for culture, architecture, beautiful coastline and delicious regional cuisine. This year, it is particularly welcoming with the 80th D-Day Commemoration and the Paris Olympics only an hour’s train ride away.

Its very name begins with the Viking settlers. Norman derives from the word Norseman. The Norman Conquest in 1066 would lead to conflict between England and France that ended in the Hundred Years’ War, much of it fought in Normandy. The last battle, at Formigny in 1450, was played out only a couple of miles from Omaha Beach where the three-month battle of Normandy eventually led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi oppression, certainly changing world history.


You’re in for a treat! Dining possibilities range from luxurious fine dining to informal roadside stops. But make sure to try local products. With a mixture of small, coastal towns and inland countryside, you can find many places serving homemade food using locally sourced ingredients and seasonal menus. From historic restaurants serving dishes passed on from generation to generation to modern eateries putting a new spin on old recipes.

From seafood, literally fresh from the harbor, to rich cream and cheeses; to apples from local orchards to prize ducks, poultry and lamb fed on the grassy salt marshes, there is something for everyone. And as coastal Normandy is home to some of the finer oyster beds in France, the region is brimming with oyster farms. Like wine, terroir and century-long traditions matter when it comes to these revered bivalves. Normandy’s oysters are known as having their own characteristics; they are fresh, iodized and fleshy with the scent of the sea and a soft nutty taste. Charming villages—Chausey, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, Utah Beach, Isigny-sur-Mer, Asneiles or Veules-les-Roses—are all well-known for raw oysters and seafood delicacies.

There are no vineyards in Normandy, however, a complement to any meal is the local distilled cider or eau-de-vie (brandy). The first written reference to cider distillation in Normandy is found in a manuscript dating from 1553.  Gilles de Gouberville, a gentleman from Cotentin (1522-1578) referred to stills and eau-de-vie in his Mémoires.  Tradition credits him with the invention of cider eau-de-vie and, by extension, the invention of Calvados. Made from apples and/or pears, this distilled cider serves as an aperitif or a digestif, in mixed drinks, or with coffee.

What to do and see

There are many places to discover and things to do in Normandy. Countryside walks, coastal hikes, cycle routes, historical cities like Rouen with its great cathedral. But, to my mind, there are two places that should not be missed:

Normandy was the source of inspiration for many fashion designers and painters. But foremost is the village of Giverny, where Claude Monet, one of the founders of Impressionism worked outdoors to capture the movements of light and shadow. Monet lived here from 1881 until his death in 1926, This is where he produced his famous water lily series. The Fondation Claude Monet now oversees his home and gardens, both of which are open to the public. Nearby, the Musée des impressionnismes Giverny highlights the Impressionist art movement.

The island of Mont Saint-Michel, the second most visited attraction in France after the Eiffel Tower, sits just off the north coast of Normandy. You have to traverse a causeway to reach it, but it is worth the effort. And you must be careful to leave by a certain time because the tides come in and out quickly so you can be in danger of being stranded. I still remember my visit when I was a student in France. As I walked the causeway toward the island (cars are not allowed after a certain point), I looked up to see a magical view with a pyramidal-shaped Gothic church crowning the top and seemingly wrapped around the granite rock.

Mont St-Michel Normandy

Photo: Sophie Kernen / Jumeaux & Co. / Normandy Tourism
Walking in the bay toward Mont Saint-Michel is a magical experience for many tourists in Normandy.

Today, it is somewhat of a tourist trap; nonetheless, it is scenic, historic and lots of fun. There are many restaurants on the island, but the one I remember and which is now very popular is the historic La Mère Poulard, founded by Madame Anne Poulard in the late 1800s. Although there is an expansive menu now, the star attraction remains the omelet. In France, this egg dish is not a breakfast item but is served for lunch or dinner. Here it is a souffléed omelet, a 100-year-old recipe, that turns out thick and fluffy omelets like no other. They are cooked in copper skillets over a wood fire by servers furiously whisking the eggs in a very noisy concert. This special egg dish is not inexpensive, but the experience is priceless.

The long history of Mont Saint-Michel is believed to date back to 708 when Aubert, bishop of Avranches, had a sanctuary built that soon became a focus of pilgrimage. The abbey church situated at the top stands, evidence of the architectural mastery of its 13th-century builders. It is a masterful example of the requirements of monastic life and the constraints of topography. There are guided tours of the buildings as well as self-guided tours. You can spend your time on the island researching church life or roaming around the shops and myriad eateries.

This article barely touches on all of Normandy’s must-see sites. Visit the hundreds of local industries that make Normandy unique. Follow the itinerary that made Coco Chanel and Deauville’s boardwalk famous and visit the many specialty museums that dot the region. For a very long list of places and events, go to

This article originally appeared in the July 2024 issue of  The Norwegian American.

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Cynthia Elyce Rubin

Cynthia Elyce Rubin, PhD., is a visual culture specialist, travel writer, and author of articles and books on decorative arts, folk art, and postcard history. She collects postcards, ephemera, and early photography. See