11 June 2013 by Jessica Boston
Top 10 Recommendations for a Fun-filled Family Holiday in Normandy
If you are looking for a family holiday in Normandy, then take a look at our Top 10 Recommendations for attractions to keep everyone amused and see the best the area has to offer.
1. Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry is a must-see for holidaymakers in Normandy. The historic piece is 900 years old and depicts the Battle of Hastings in an embroidered frieze that is almost 70m long. Whilst it may not seem to have much appeal for children, you might be surprised how much they enjoy searching out the more gruesome parts of the tableau! Combine your visit with a trip to the beach or a nearby adventure park for a great day out for all the family.
If you are able to visit Bayeux in July you’ll be able to join in the spectacle that is their annual Medieval Festival. The streets are filled with knights, jesters and acrobats in traditional costume and there are concerts, balls, parades and a medieval market to experience and enjoy.
2. D-Day beaches
In Normandy, a trip to the beach can be a journey into history as you imagine the dramatic scenes of D-Day all around you.
The main D-Day landings took place at Sword beach, Gold beach, Juno beach and Omaha beach. All these stretches of sand saw action on D-day in 1944 when allied troops landed to challenge the German lines.
Saving Private Ryan was filmed at Omaha Beach. This was the site of the first beach assault and some of the fiercest fighting. The area is peppered with bunkers to explore and the scars of bombing are still visible on the cliffs.
As well as the historic significance, Normandy beaches are great fun for a traditional family day at the seaside. Juno beach and Gold beach both offer gorgeous golden sands and safe swimming areas. Gold beach is also very popular with windsurfers and there are beachfront businesses offering board hire and lessons.
3. Mont St Michel
One of the most popular tourist destinations in France, Mont St Michel is a village and monastery built on a rocky island that is joined to the mainland by a causeway. The impressively turreted Benedictine Abbey dates from the 11th century and sits at the very top of the cliff. The narrow winding streets of the village spill down the surrounding hillside and are filled with gift shops, restaurants and museums to visit.
The ramparts of the Abbey are open to the public so you can climb up and enjoy spectacular views over the bay. Children will love pretending to be knights and damsels of old as you explore the ancient buildings, and if you can visit in the evening you can take an enchanting guided walk with lighting effects and music, a magical experience whatever your age.
Be warned, the tide here is very fast so coastal walks should only be attempted with an experienced guide and you need to pay attention to signs in the car park which indicate areas that will be submerged at high tide!
4. Go underground!
Le Souterroscope des Ardoisieres at Caument is a cave system that was previously part of a slate quarry. Go on an underground adventure as you walk through 400m of caves theatrically lit and ending with a spectacular subterranean rainbow. There are treasure hunts to keep children amused and they might even learn something from the geology trail that illustrates the rock formation process and water cycle. The tour lasts around an hour and with the caves maintaining a cool 15o however hot it is outside so you’ll need to bring a jumper. A restaurant and plenty of picnic areas are available for visitors.
There is a further cave complex at nearby St Cezaire to visit, this one less commercialised with a simple guided tour of caves featuring interesting rock formations creatively lit for a magical atmosphere. The guided tour takes around 45 minutes and there is a restaurant at the site.
5. Say cheese…
France is justifiably famous for wonderful cheeses and boasts over 300 different varieties with different specialities in each region. Normandy is most renowned for deliciously creamy Camembert originating from the village of the same name. Take a tour of the President farm factory to see the traditional tools and techniques that were originally used to make Camembert and, of course, taste some!
Follow the ‘Route de Fromage’ through the Normandy countryside with the aid of a map from the Tourist Office. The route includes visits to producers of local cheeses including Camembert, Livarot and Pont L’Eveque – a sort of cheese treasure hunt! For adults there is also the temptation to drop in at some of the area’s Calvados and cider producers that are signed from the road and happy to welcome tourists to sample and buy their produce.
The town of Livarot is well worth a visit for cheese-lovers with a cheese museum and annual Cheese Fayre showcasing the best cheeses from the region.
6. Discover Rouen
Rouen is a beautiful city with plenty of historic buildings, museums, restaurants, antique shops and chocolate shops to explore.
The Gothic Cathedral is an awe-inspiring sight and the medieval quarter of the city provides a fascinating window on the architecture of the past.
Older children will find morbid fascination in visiting the plague cemetery L’Atre St-Maclou that dates from the Middle Ages. It is gruesomely decorated with skulls and leg bones – not for the faint hearted!
Rouen is famously known as the city where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431 and you can visit a memorial at the site where it happened. There is a church designed and dedicated in her memory and an annual festival commemorating her life that takes place each June and includes medieval markets and street entertainment.
7. Under the sea
Cherbourg is home to La Cite de la Mer, a marine complex that includes the largest aquarium in Europe and ‘Le Redoutable’ a de-commissioned nuclear submarine that is the only one of its kind to be open to the public.
Discover fascinating facts about the history of underwater exploration, take a guided tour of the submarine for a unique insight into the lives of submariners, and marvel at the huge collection of sea creatures on display. An exciting day out, perfect for starting or finishing your holiday on a high if you’re travelling through the ferry port in Cherbourg.
8. Go back to Roman times
Vieux-la-Romaine is a museum and archaeological site. There are restored Roman buildings to explore and you can also see further excavations that are currently underway, carefully revealing the Roman city preserved beneath the ground.
The museum houses discoveries made at the site over the last 300 years including mosaics, murals, statues and stone columns and offers interactive displays to recreate life in Roman times.
Explore the ruins and play hide and seek in the Romanesque style garden with its beautiful fountain. You may even be able to take part in activities such as mural painting, Roman cookery and working with bone and ceramics.
9. Seek out seafood specialities
Normandy, with its bountiful coastline has an abundance of amazing fresh seafood available in its shops, markets and restaurants. Self-catering holidaymakers can take full advantage buying oily herrings for the bbq or fresh oysters to picnic on.
Of course there are also plentiful restaurants where you can enjoy regional specialities like mussels cooked in cider, oysters or turbot with a sea view while you watch the world go by. Fashionable Deauville and family-friendly Trouville are ideal for people watching entertainment while you eat.
If you get a chance Dieppe is well worth a visit to go to the traditional fishing harbour. You’ll be able to watch the spectacle as the local fishing boats unloading their daily catch of fresh fish and local scallops.
You could also visit L’Attelage des Grandes Marees at Gouville-Sur-Mer where you can take a ride in a horse and carriage across the sands at low tide to see the oyster beds and mussel farm.
10. Ostriches, fairies & lions – Thrilling theme parks
Have a family day out at one of the region’s many theme parks and family attractions.
The Enchanted Village at Bellefontaine is ideal for younger children with fairytale scenes along forest walks; it also has a miniature railway and some low key rides. Festyland is a bigger theme park near Caen with rides based on the region’s pirate and Viking history. There is plenty to see and do and rides to thrill children of all ages from toddlers to teens.
If your children love animals we can recommend the zoos at Jurques and Champrepus. Both offer a wide range of exotic animals, petting zoos, children’s play areas and reasonably priced cafes. Or for a rather unique experience have a day out at Eur’Autruche – Normandy’s biggest ostrich farm! The farm is at Eur’Autruche in Beaumesnil and has over 200 ostriches, rheas and emus. Visiting in May is especially exciting as it’s hatching time for the ostrich chicks! It’s very relaxed with children free to explore and run around and there is a gift shop that sells feather and egg based souvenirs.