5 Reasons to Cycle Normandy
Normandy is most widely known for the role it had in shaping the world’s future during the Second World War. From the beaches troops first arrived on to the buildings that were destroyed during battle, every sight is moving and significant. Normandy not only offers an abundance of history, but it also contains stunning castles and museums in quant towns throughout the department. Around every corner is something new to boast about. Here are five reasons why no one should pass up the opportunity to cycle through Normandy:
Mont Saint Michel
Being the second most visited site in France, after the Eifel Tower, the Mont St. Michel is an architectural gem located on an island at the mouth of the Couesnon River, which separates Normandy and Brittany. The abbey was built at the request of Archangel Michael in 708. During the French Revolution it served as a prison, but was reverted to its original use in 1863 and later became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vision of the Mont from across the water is amazing, but the views at the structures top are breathtaking. Don’t leave without seeing Benedictine Abbey’s interior, which is one of a kind.
World War II Monuments
- Landing Beaches – On June 6, 1944, 130,000 soldiers landed on beaches across Normandy’s coast including Sword, Omaha and Utah. Ride along the coastal roads stopping at different landing sites to reflect on the events that took place and the bravery that will be remembered forever. Visit the veteran’s cemeteries with graves situated in perfectly straight lines.
- Arromanches – This small town played a big role in WWII. One of the two man-made Mulberry Harbours was located off the coast of Gold Beach in Arromanches and its remnants can still be seen today. The first museum built commemorating D-Day can be found here. There you can learn more about the Mulberry Harbour, Operation Overload and see original WWII weaponry. You can also watch archive video footage of the D-Day landings. History buffs are in for a treat.
- Cean – While exploring lower Normandy, you will definitely want to ride through the town of Caen. After it was nearly destroyed during WWII, the town went through 15 years of reconstruction to become the spectacular sight it is today. Don’t miss your chance to visit France’s best WWII museum the Caen Museum dedicated to peace.
- American Cemetery – Formerly known as the American St. Laurent Cemetery, the American Cemetery located on a cliff overlooking the Omaha Beach was the first American cemetery on European soil in WWII. The 172.5 acre site consists of over 9,000 burials, a limestone chapel at the end of the reflecting pool, and a semicircle colonnade inscribed with maps and narratives of the military operations. Most famous is the 22 foot bronze statue of “the Spirit of the Youth” with the Garden of the Missing, a wall listing 1,500 unknown soldiers, behind it. One visit to this monument and you will know why many agree it is one of the most moving WWII sites.
An artist’s paradise, the town of Honfleur, located on Normandy’s coast, is known for its magnificent, tall, narrow buildings along the port. On one side you will find the old church in Honfleur, Saint Etienne, with its unusual wooden spire and the maritime museum, the Musée de la Marine, as well as the town’s famous salt storage building. The wonderful wood built Church of Saint Catherine is situated on the other side. The church’s bell tower has inspired renowned artists including Monet and, Honfleur native, Boudin. This paint-worthy town may arouse you as it has a number of impressionist artists.
Cycle to the upper region of Normandy to experience the history Rouen has to offer. The Rouen Cathedral alone is worth the trip. It has been rebuilt three times because of war damages; the crypt is all that remains from the previous structures. The beauty of the building captured artist Monet’s eye enough to paint the cathedral 30 times in different light and weather conditions. Take a stroll down the streets lined with half timber buildings and experience a glimpse of the past when you come across the site where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. A church has been built at the location to honor her.
Enjoy one of Normandy’s famous kinds of cheese while peddling through. French’s best known cheese from lower Normandy, Camembert, has a fresh, soft and creamy taste that, like most things, gets better with age. Pont l’Evêque cheese is solely produced in Normandy; passing it up would be a grave misfortune. Take a break from cycling, grab a nice bottle of wine, and enjoy the rich, delectable cheese this region offers.