Normandy Activities and Things To Do On Holiday

Trouville and Deauville - Beaches and ‘Planks’

Deauville promenade, Calvados, Normandy

Part of the ‘Cote Fleurie’ popular with nineteenth century artists and writers, Trouville is now a family resort with beautiful beach, fishing port and narrow streets packed with curiosity shops and restaurants. The long sandy beach at Deauville with its famous ‘Planks’ promenade draws the rich and famous to its golf courses, casinos, marina, race track and polo grounds

Barneville-Carteret - Beach

Sandy beaches warmed by the Gulf Stream. North of Carteret you’ll find mile after mile of deserted sands and dunes, and south of Barneville Plage, there are golden beaches and, for the adventurous, a wide range of watersports.

Follow the Route du Fromage and Route du Cidre

Follow the signs for self-drive Cheese and Cider tours of the cheese and cider-making areas of Calvados taking in producers offering guided tours and tastings, rich meadows with contented cows, apple orchards and the picture-postcard villages of the Pays d’Auge with their half-timbered buildings. Spring is a particularly pretty time of year to visit when the apple orchards are in blossom.

Kayaking and Canoeing - Suisse Normande

The deep gorge of the River Orne south of Caen is ideal for outdoor pursuits. Take to the river in rented kayaks, canoes and even pedaloes.

Visit the World War 2 Beaches and Memorials

Visit Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches and see the last remaining gun emplacement at Arromanche. Wander around the war museums in Cherbourg, St Mere Eglise and St Marle du Mont, and stop at the war graves in Bayeux and Longues-sur-Mer.

Golf

Normandy is one of France’s most popular golfing destinations and has over 35 courses open to non-members. Countryside and coastal landscapes are spectacular and 12 courses offer sea views. Many have been designed by well-known course designers like the 18 hole par 72 Golf du Vaudreuil by Hawtree. Chantepie and Fuchet created the 18 hole par 70 links course of Golf d’Etretat nearly 100 years ago on the famous chalky cliffs of the Alabaster coast. It is rated amongst the 25 best courses in France and, although relatively flat, requires a great variety of shots, has well defended greens and can be very demanding in the wind.

In Deauville, the par 71 red and white course offers 18 very different holes whilst the par 36 blue course requires strong technique due to the numerous bunkers and areas of rough set amongst trees. In Eure, the Champ de Bataille course is recognised as one of the most enjoyable and beautiful in France. Set in the grounds of a magnificent Louis XIV chateau, the course has stunning tree-lined fairways and some of the most challenging holes in Normandy with water hazards and formidably raised greens. And in Orne, the Belleme Golf Club course has wide open spaces broken up by mature forest and natural water hazards – a par 72, the course is very varied.

Visit William the Conqueror's Castle, Falaise

Visit Falaise castle, set on a cliff between the Rivers Ante and Marescot, 32km south east of Caen. This twelfth century castle with its Anglo-Norman keeps and thirteenth century Drum Tower was home to the former Dukes of Normandy and birthplace of William the Conqueror in 1027. William was the bastard son of Duke Robert of Normandy and a village laundry woman called Arlette. The Fountaine d’Arlette down by the river marks the spot where they met.

The castle suffered heavy damaged during WWII in August 1944 but is open again to visitors after the latest phase of restoration. Earlier restoration work in the 1990s caused local controversy by using modern materials to make clear the difference between what was original and restored areas.

Open daily beginning February to December except Christmas Day 10am – 6pm (7pm July/August). Audio visual tours daily and English language tours in high season. Tel: (00 33) 2 31 41 61 44. www.chateau-guillaume-leconquerant.fr

Near the chateau, the Museum of August 44 details the closing of the ‘Falaise Gap’ which was the grim climax of the Battle of Normandy in 1944 - open early April to mid-November.

Bird-watching in the Regional Natural Park of the Cotentin and Bessin Marshes

The marshy wilderness of peat bogs and water meadows which make up the 30,000 hectares of the Regional Natural Park of the Cotentin and Bessin Marshes are a wonderful habitat for migratory birds to rest and feed in peace. Spring and autumn are times to watch for the spectacular migrations of many land birds. Whilst following park trails, look for storks, cattle egrets and herons in summer and waders and ducks in winter. Permanent residents include woodpeckers, fan-tailed warblers and short-toed tree creepers.

The park centre on the D913 between Saint-Come-du-Mont and Carentan at Les Ponts d’Ouve has a video room and exhibition centre and gives access, either by boat or nature trail, to hides where marsh birds can be observed in their natural habitat. Curlews, herons and oystercatchers are regular visitors to the park coastline at Lessay harbour and migratory birds flock to the mudflats of Veys Bay. Part of the park is given over specifically to a 100 hectare bird reserve where you can see teal, bitterns and black terns. Sunrise and sunset can be magical times for bird-watching so don’t forget your camera. Tel: (00 33) 2 33 71 65 30.

New Franco-British Cycle Path

Normandy is being promoted as a venue for holiday cyclists with a new network of cycle paths following the coastline. Routes have been checked and tested by local cycling associations before being opened, and ferry terminals like Caen and Cherbourg are good starting points for those travelling by bicycle.

Be amongst the first to test the Haute-Normandie and Cherbourg to Coutances sections which are already complete. Le Havre to Cherbourg and Coutances to Mont St Michel paths are to follow. The scheme will take 3 years to complete and cyclists will ultimately be able to follow the coast from Roscoff in Brittany to the Belgian border. The whole scheme is part of a European Cyclists Federation initiative which one day hopes to link Lands End in the UK with Kiev. Plans are for 80% of paths to be off road with provision points every 30km. Routes in the UK will stretch from the New Forest to Land’s End.

Festyland

Festyland amusement park at Bretteville-sur-Odon, south of Caen, offers fun for all the family whilst learning more of Normandy’s history. Attractions include rides on a pirate ship, Viking express roller coaster and Spirit of the Conqueror along with medieval jousting tournaments on mechanical horses, magic roundabouts and 3D cinema.

Crêperie, restaurants and picnic areas.

Open daily during July, August, and school and bank holidays 10.30am - 7pm.  Tel: 02 31 75 04 04 or see www.festyland.com for other times April – September.

Visit Zoo de Champrepus

Observe 50 animal species in a series of exotic environments at one of Normandy’s most popular attractions. Champrepus zoo, between Villedieu-les-Poeles and Granville, is dedicated to the protection and breeding of endangered species. See life on the African savannah with giraffe, zebra, ostrich, antelope and oryx. Lemurs in the Malagasy garden include some endangered species. Take a tropical paradise ride to spot tigers and flamingos and get close to some exotic ‘domesticated’ species like reindeer and camels. Children will love the large play area and mini farm with 3 'hands on' parks where they can stroke the donkeys, goats, sheep and rabbits.

Open daily from April to end Sept,ember 10am - 6pm (7pm July and August). Tel: (00 33) 2 33 61 30 74

Visit Alligator Bay Reptile House

Just 5 minutes from Mont St Michel in Beauvoir on the road to Pontorson.

Marvel at more crocodiles and alligators than anywhere else in Europe (over 200) plus lizards, snakes and iguanas in a huge natural environment protected by glass. Walk the forests of Louisiana and jungles of Africa. Get close enough to pat some of the 300 residents of the tortoise farm, home to giant Seychelles and African spurred tortoises. Open 10am - 7pm April - 30 September and 2 - 6pm October, November, February and March, and weekends and holidays only in December and January.

Tel: (00 330) 2 33 68 11 18. For more visit www.le-reptilarium.com

Horse Riding

Horses are a passion in Normandy and the region will host the World Equestrian Games in 2014. Visit national stud farms (haras) at St Lo and Le Pin in Orne to learn more about Normandy’s excellence in horse-breeding. Haras du Pin gives magnificently theatrical shows of driving and riding set to music in their Colbert Courtyard each Thursday at 3pm June – September. These are popular so make sure to arrive early.

Towns like Caen, Lisieux, Flers and Argentan all have horse shows. Make a date to attend Deauville’s international event on 16 – 18 June 2011 at Deauville-la-Touques-Hippodrome. Deauville Tourist Office will have more information. Tel: (00 33) 2 31 14 40 00.

Equestrian centres throughout the region are happy to cater for visitors and many owners are English-speaking. Follow the beaches and coastal paths of the Cotentin Peninsula or gallop across the bay of Mont St Michel. Inland, go hacking in the forest in Eure or climb the hillsides of Suisse-Normande.

Hiking

Normandy has a well defined network of hiking trails for you to enjoy. Explore the region’s varied countryside at your leisure from the wooded valleys and hillsides of Suisse-Normande, lush meadows of Pays d’Auge and towpaths of the River Seine to Normandy’s coastal cliffs and beaches.

Some of the most important national long distance GR routes (sentiers de grande randonnee) begin here, including stunning coastal walks. The coast to coast GR36 long distance trail begins at the Brittany Ferries port of Ouistreham near Caen and ends over 1000km later at Bourg Madame in the Pyrenees Orientales, passing briefly through Orne around Alencon and St Denis-sur-Sarthon. Follow the Sentiers des Douaniers (customs officers path) to discover wild moors and Manche’s Nez de Jobourg - an area with some of the highest cliffs in Europe. On a clear day, panoramic views include the Channel Islands of Aurigny and Guernsey. The GR21 follows cliff-top trails beside the Channel from Le Havre through St Valery-en-Caux to Dieppe - a distance of 134km. The stretch between Fecamp and Etretat is particularly beautiful. These routes are waymarked with red and white blazes. Shorter, local routes are often marked in yellow. For those just interested in a quiet stroll there are plenty of shorter walks in the countryside or along lovely beaches.

Local tourist offices are a good source of maps and itineraries and usually stock official walking guidebooks known as TopoGuides.

Bungy Jumping

A war damaged viaduct across the River Souleuvre designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) has found a new use as a take-off point for bungy jumping. The centre near Vire in the heart of the Normandy countryside uses the rebuilt bridge to offer a bird’s eye-view of the Normandy countryside plus the chance to follow an adventure trail in the trees and try travel on a zip wire. The centre is open weekends and public holidays 9 April – 27 November and everyday but Tuesday and Wednesday in August.

For more, see www.ajhackett.fr

Fishing

Normandy is a wonderful place for a fishing holiday, whether it be fly fishing in the fine chalk streams of Pays d’Auge for salmon and brown trout, or casting for pike and carp in the region’s wealth of lakes and former gravel pits. The River Selune which meets the sea at Mont St Michel is great for trout, carp, eel and pike as well as salmon, as are the Rivers Vire and Douve. The Risle is acknowledged as one of France’s finest brown trout rivers while La Touques and Le Pays de Caux chalk streams also offer good runs for sea trout June to October. You’ll need a fishing licence. These can be bought at most fishing tackle shops and tabacs. Local Tourist Offices can usually help with best fishing spots and season dates.

And with 600km of coastline, Normandy affords plenty of opportunities for sea fishing for bream, sea bass, mackerel and more - either from boat or shore at places like Granville. Tackle shops are a good place to enquire about charter boats.

 

Panorama XXL Rotunda, Rouen

The Panorama XXL rotunda offers a spectacular 360° panoramic view of Yadegar Asisi's paintings. After Rome in 312 AD, it will exhibit Amazona in autumn 2015 and Gothic Rouen with Joan of Arc as the central theme in spring 2016.

Joan of Arc History Centre, Rouen

Opening on 21 March 2015, the 'Historial Jeanne d'Arc', Joan of Arc History Centre, in the Archbishop's Palace, just by Notre-Dame Cathedral, will take you back to the Middle Ages.

An ambitious project initiated by the city of Rouen, it will be the biggest place dedicated to the history and memory of Joan of Arc. Through smart scenography and moden staging, her story will unfold over more than 1000m².

Family Friendly Things to do in Normandy

Article on family friendly activities in Normandy.

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