About Northern France – north coast and Normandy
This section is mainly about Normandy – the regions known as Upper (Haute) and Lower (Basse) Normandy. However the north coast of France between Calais and Le Havre also offers some of the best places to visit in the country together with some of the most exciting and picturesque scenery in Europe. Between the sandy beaches of classy Le Touquet, overlooking the Channel, and the popular family holiday centres of Brittany’s more sheltered southern coast, you will find the sculpted limestone cliffs of Normandy, the D-Day beaches, resorts both famous and simple, sprawling commercial ports, tiny fishing harbours and the jagged teeth of northern Brittany.
Normandy is the closest coastal region to Paris, and its Channel ports have always been commercially and strategically important. William, Duke of Normandy, set off from here to conquer England, and his heirs spent considerable time and energy coming back. Proximity to Paris was the reason for Normandy’s ‘discovery’ in the 19thC by artists in search of scenery; as was its patronage by fashionable society. The artists headed for Honfleur, Etretat and Rouen; the fashionable for Dieppe, Deauville and Trouville, a pattern still followed in most respects today. Inland from the coast is fairly developed, but Normandy’s rural hinterland contains the orchards and half-timbered manor houses of the Auge, the hills and rivers of the Suisse Normande and the rolling forests of the Perche.
Normandy is a land literally overflowing with milk and honey – and cheese and cream and apples and calvados – all of which play an important rôle in the gourmet scheme of things. One thing you have to abandon in this region of France is your diet. There is, of course, an abundance of superb fish and shellfish, but a marmite Dieppoise or sauce Normande will ruin any attempt at calorie control.
From Calais and Boulogne, Paris trains via Abbeville or Amiens connect with services to Rouen. Rouen is the main transport centre for eastern Normandy with trains to Dieppe and Le Havre, and buses to the coast. There is a rail link to Caen, centre of the central and western Normandy public transport network, with buses to the Côte Fleurie and D-Day beaches; trains to Bayeux, Cherbourg, and Pontorson (for Mont-Saint-Michel).