Friends, tanks and cidre in Normandy

by Julien

Hi there, dear reader! 
Welcome back to our trip diary and we are very happy to have you here, behind your screen, reading us! 

In May this year, we were in a part of France that neither Eva or I knew much about: Normandy! It’s a very famous region in France so we’d already heard about it. But we have just never been there ourselves.

It is the land of Camembert and Calvados. It is the land of historic battles. It is also the land of beautiful and impressive landscapes. As you may know already, we are mostly travelling along the coast thus we cannot really write about the “inland” part of Normandy. Although we were told by the locals that we missed quite a few things. To be fair, with what we saw and will show you today, I am sure another trip to it is justified! 

Where to start? 

We’ll tell you a bit about the people we met! Throughout our past studies and jobs, we made friends of different horizons. While we didn’t manage to meet friends in Bretagne for a bunch of reasons (time mostly… and we are truly sorry we didn’t manage, guys!), we did meet a few in Normandy. Our first stop in this region was a visit to one of Eva’s friends from university around Coutances. We left magical Bretagne and entered beautiful Cotentin, a department of Normandy. We did stop by Le Mont Saint Michel in between; you can read about that in our previous post.

It was interesting to notice that in a matter of a few kilometres, the architecture and the landscape morphed rapidly. It became hillier. Forests made space to agriculture. And horses… It seems the place is filled with stables! And, as if to make that a fact, our host has 3 of them (which Carlotta obviously loved).

We spent a couple of days with our friends, catching up and meeting new people as well. They live in a typical 3-sided old stone farmhouse with roses stretching their heads towards the sky, towering eucalyptus trees and free, happy chickens running around. We relaxed in the garden, soaking in the fragrances, enjoying some drinks, and a really good Raclette one evening (there is no wrong time of year to have Raclette ^^). We visited Coutances in the rain and had some crepes. It was a really good time there. Eva’s friend works for an organic Calvados producer so we also took the opportunity to buy a bottle of that local famous drink (more about it in a few lines) – perfect! 

A few days later we also met another friend of ours, on the opposite side of Cotentin, an ex-colleague from our days in Frankfurt-am-Main. Although this meeting was much shorter, it was still very nice to see him after all these years. And the great thing about having friends living in the area you are visiting is that they always come up with the greatest ideas and plans for things to see and visit! Thanks to all of you for the good tips!

All our friends agreed: we should follow the coastline all around Cotentin and especially in the Northern tip of the peninsula. It is called the “Route des Caps” and it totally delivers! Just a quick tip though: If you want to do it, do it as we did from West to East! The reason is quite simple. Despite the fact that the whole coastline there is absolutely gorgeous with some areas even protected, France still managed to build a nuclear power plant right there. As a result, you have a sort of hideous furuncle right at the end of the Western coast. So, when you start in the West, you see it, you hate it and then you forget about it as you drive past and never see it again.

We also made a point to stop at Cap Lévi and the Phare de Cap Lévi (the lighthouse)! Since our son is called Levi, we had to see it. And the village before it (Le Perrey, I believe) is sooo pretty as well! As you can see from the pictures, the Route des Caps is really a must-see.

Giant brioche bought at the market of Barfleur – sooo good!

Then there are other cute or even spectacular places you ought to see: Barfleur, Honfleur, Vattetot-sur-Mer and Etretat. These towns are all amazing in their own right. Just a special note regarding Etretat: Not only is it a beautiful town, but the cliffs around it (the “Côte d’Albâtre” or “Alabaster Coast” in English) are just jaw-dropping. For our Wiki-friends, these cliffs are part of the same geological system as the White Cliffs of Dover. If you like Dover, you will love Etretat! We hiked all along the coast there and the views we got were incredible! Just make sure to hold the hands of your little ones tight – it’s a very long way down!

Another type of landscape in Normandy is famous worldwide. Names like Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword are often associated with it. Yes, I am talking about the “Normandy landings”! We did not really stop there and so we won’t be able to show pictures of these places, because we had the great luck of happening to be travelling in Normandy right for the celebrations of D-Day! 

So for all of you who might have missed that History lesson, D-Day corresponds basically to the moment when, during World War 2, the Allies made a joint effort to push the Nazi army back and eventually reconquered/freed France. This event is often seen as the turning point of WW2 when the Allies finally won over the Nazis. Now that this is out of the way, let’s go back to our very own story. This year was the 75th anniversary of D-Day and tons of efforts were made by France and other countries alike to make it big! Usually the big stuff is reserved for the decade anniversaries, but considering that most WW2 veterans are quite (and this is an understatement) old, it was decided that this time, it will be big again. Who knows whether there will still be veterans around in 5 years… Or at least, this is what we were told as to why it was such a mess everywhere. Because honestly, it did feel like a bit of a mess. For about almost a month (so 1 week or so BEFORE the actual dates and at least 2 to 3 weeks AFTER), tons of things were organised so that everyone who wanted to celebrate that event could have a party. Driving along the coastline, and especially near the Landings, was a nightmare. Whether we were taking normal or tiny roads, we would always run into a traffic jam due to people going to this event or that museum’s special exhibition and so on. Overall, it was still very interesting, seeing all the old army vehicles on the roads again (especially the amphibian ones or the tanks). It’s really funny when you’re preparing dinner in the camper with a view over the sea and all of a sudden a real amphibian tank drives by in the shallow waters of the beach beyond. Yet we also had mixed feelings about the people dressing up everywhere. On one hand, you can feel the devotion to pay tribute to the people who witnessed these events and to stick to the truth of it through the costumes and all. On the other hand, it felt like the biggest cosplay convention ever and I am not saying this in any disrespectful way, only it’s really hard not to make the comparison. So due to all this merry chaos and the fact that people driving WW2 jeeps tend to not care a lot about the actual driving regulations (like priorities…), it was simply impossible for us to go see the landings in peace and quiet and be able to seize the sheer size of these. Same goes with the WW2 graveyards which can be found in the same area. 

To conclude, what about talking a little bit about what to eat or drink in Normandy? It’s famous for several very tasty products!

First dairy: Normandy is the homeland of the world-famous cheeses Camembert and Brie. One originally comes from a town of the same name, Camembert. And the other comes from Meaux (“Brie de Meaux”). There is also a town famous for its butter: Isigny! These are like staples when it comes to French products you can put on the table. 

Then Normandy is most likely the twin region to Bretagne in its tradition for beverages made from apples. You can buy apple juice everywhere, but also cidre. They make pear cidre, too! That’s then called “Poiré”. I totally recommend you try these. And when it’s time for something stronger, Normandy has one famous drink: Calvados! Also known as Calva. This iconic spirit has marked Normandy culture for ages and is a favourite of mine. Similar to Cognac in its variety, you can get it “young”, “aged”, “out of aged” and, of course, “vintage”. Some local brewers are also mixing cider and beer and, as far as we can tell, the results are very interesting. You can also find crepes almost everywhere in Normandy as well as goat cheese and caramel with salted butter. If you ever come across it, try a bread spread called “Caramiel”. It’s basically honey mixed with salted caramel and it’s heaven. Our glass was empty waaay too quickly. The organic culture is also very popular in Normandy and you’ll find organic supermarkets or small local farm shops everywhere. We also passed several producers of organic cidre which offer tasting sessions en lieu. Unfortunately, with the kids that kind of thing is not so easy at the moment, but we’ll come back to do some cidre/calva tasting.

And now, do you feel like travelling there too? Or did we miss something? Is there anything else you recommend for people who want to go and explore Normandy? Feel free to comment and share! 

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