Travel: Notes from Normandy

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Travel: Cillian Donnelly finds out why Normandy is a glorious place to be when the weather is fine; with its endless, sandy beaches, picturesque coastal towns and villages and truly excellent cuisine, it is the ideal location for those seeking a serene break from the everyday grind.

Located in north-west France, sandwiched between Brittany and Picardy, this flat region radiates a relaxed air – a place where nothing seems hurried. The landscape is impressively uncluttered by modern design, and the locals are easy going, men and women clearly used to doing things at their own particular pace.

Tranche of Tranquility: It is almost impossible not to be drawn in to this tranquil setting, where every walk is a stroll, every conversation a chat, and every meal a luxury. Yes, Normandy is a gourmand’s dream.

The region is justly proud of its rich tradition of food and drink. No visit is complete without at least one full-on dining experience, remembering, of course, to begin with a kir normand, the local aperitif, blending calvados and cider, the latter a great advert for what is perhaps Normandy’s most famous food – the apple.

From alcohol to salads to moules à la normande and creamy desserts, it is hard to escape the familiar green fruit, yet here it is always welcome ; a refreshing addition to any dish.

Apple Apex: Talk of apples brings us neatly onto two of Normandy’s most proudly treasured products, the aforementioned cider and calvados. Local cider is quite different in texture and taste from what often passes for the drink in its commercialised form. Here, the flavours range from the sweet to the smoky and, often having a lower alcohol content than its mass-marketed cousin, it’s the perfect light and refreshing drink for a hot summer’s afternoon.

Calvados, on the other hand, has a fiery temperament. The famous apple brandy is usually to be taken after a hearty meal. However, if you’re feeling brave, you could try a trou normand, a ‘Normandy break’, and partake of a glass between each course, a tradition that’s still practiced in certain restaurants across the region.

Exploring the region’s costal areas, you will be unsurprised to find a rich variety of seafood on offer in restaurants and marketplaces alike. And with its heritage of farming, cattle and dairy produce are also much in evidence. Camembert, Pont l’Evêque, Livarot and Neufchâtel are just some of the renowned cheeses to come from Normandy ; making the cheese plate a course that is definitely not to be passed over.

Historic Heritage: Normandy attracts many visitors every year, particularly from the other side of the English Channel; indeed, many who come here may by surprised to see British regional flags flying in many coastal towns – there’s no time for historical differences, or so it would appear.

From Norman settlers to Napoleonic fortifications to the Second World War, Normandy is rich in historical interest. On the literary front, it is the birthplace of writers such as Gustav Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and Octave Mirbeau. Victor Hugo also took an interest in this corner of France, and his name adorns many street signs.

So, whether leisurely exploring the coast, marvelling at the impressive sense
of tradition, lounging on the beach, enjoying the excellent golf facilities or simply indulging in gastronomic delights, Normandy offers a wealth of experiences. 

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