Like so many other Americans, when I think of Normandy, France, my mind goes directly to World War II and specifically D-Day. June 6th of this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Normandy beaches landings by the Allied troops. Operation Overlord included some 73,000 American soldiers, and ultimately helped liberate France from Germany. As historically poignant as this event is, there’s so much more to the small area of northwest France. Dating to ancient times, Normandy is a rich and diverse region that transcends its close connection with World War II. Here are three things you might not know about Normandy.
There are over thirty abbeys in Normandy, which represent centuries of history and culture. Include the astonishing number of chapels, churches, basilicas and cathedrals, and it’s no wonder that Normandy is a popular draw for those on spiritual pilgrimages. But not just for devout Catholics, exploring the various religious sites is a feast for architecture aficionados and history junkies. Places such as Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen, Abbaye Saint-Martin de Mondaye, La Sainte-Trinité de La Lucerne, La Basilique Notre-Dame d’Alençon,Notre Dame de Pontmain, and Mont Saint-Michel shouldn’t be missed.
Food and Drink
Normandy is part of France, thus it’s not surprising fantastic food and drink are plentiful. Most famous for its cream, Normandy produces some of the best cheeses in France including Camembert and Boursin. Cream is also liberally used in savory dishes, making even a simple seafood dish decadent. Speaking of seafood, with over 400 miles of coastline, Normandy pulls plenty of shrimp, lobster, oysters and clams from their frigid Atlantic waters. Roasted pré salé lamb is popular, getting its unique taste from the lambs grazing on the seawater soaked grassland. The region might not grow grapes, but it does grow a whole bunch of apples. In fact, there are over nine million apple trees in Normandy. From the fruit, producers make various pastries, jam, cider and calvados, which is an apple brandy.
Alençon, a city in Normandy, is the birthplace and namesake of the UNESCO-listed needlepoint lace. With origins dating to 1665, Alençon lace was developed after Louis XIV brought Venetian artisans to France after seeing too much of France’s money being spent on Italian lace. Today, the school still exists, thus keeping the time- honored art alive. It takes eight years of training to become a master. This painstaking process takes twenty-five hours of work just to produce a square inch of lace. Housed in a former Jesuit college, Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle (Museum of Lace and Fine Arts) must be visited for more on the heritage of French lace and its important role in history.