You don’t need to jet off to distant destinations to see the world on a luxury cruise. Cherbourg in Normandy lies just 70 miles across the channel from Bournemouth, but it can show you an entirely different way of life.
Normandy’s proximity makes it a perfect destination for a much shorter mini-cruise too, even if you only want to get away for a couple of days. The region has a wealth of different landscapes stretched across over three hundred miles of coast, from miles of sandy beaches and quiet harbours to chalk cliffs, forested hills and timber cottages hidden away in vast orchards. Normandy could be your new favourite holiday destination, and it’s waiting just across the Channel – whether you’re looking for ancient history or a thoroughly modern shopping trip.
France is a nation of farmland; Normandy is well-known for its orchards and the quality of its dairy. Being so close to the coast, you’ll find a great selection of seafood too; giving keen diners plenty to taste in a good number of high-quality restaurants.
Cherbourg is a solid slab of maritime France. The harbour here is filled with sail boats, and tall period buildings line the peaceful waterfront. You could have the option to see the tapestry in neighbouring Bayeux, which tells the entire Game of Thrones-style epic of how Britain fell to William the Conqueror (sadly no dragons). In Cherbourg itself, on the other hand, you’ll find the Liberation Museum in the town’s old fort – commemorating Northern France’s freedom in the days following the D-Day landings. The Cité de la Mer museum documents the town’s nautical heritage, so it’s a great place to get a feel for Normandy and what makes it tick – and even if maritime history really isn’t for you, there’s a huge number of aquariums here if you’re infinitely happier watching sharks, octopi and bright tropical fish doing their thing.
Mont St Michel belongs in the movies. It’s a medieval fantasy town, a fortress in the sea. The citadel is a self-contained village and monastery, and a favourite destination for guided tours around Cherbourg. This is Norman architecture at its finest and most fantastical, where every solid stone house and shop is stacked up on top of the next. You’ll find some enchanting shops and bistros hidden away in the narrow streets, but climb the stone stairway to the summit and you’ll be faced with the towering old abbey complex of cloisters, gardens and vaulted stone ceilings. A spiked tower stands above it all, crowned with a golden statue of St Michael in full knight getup. If you like your medieval, Mont St Michel is practically a theme park.
Caen (pronounced “kehn”) is filled with beautiful parks and a welcoming old centre. You’ll find the old city’s fine art and regional museums inside the Chateau de Caen, a solid old fortress built during the days of William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago. Standing opposite is the Abbey of Saint-Etienne, an equally imposing landmark where the Norman King of England was buried in 1087. If you run a mile at the first sign of ancient history, you could always take a shopping trip in the busy centre and stop off at a café; or wander the fountains and floral gardens of the Jardin de Plantes, and see the remarkable revolver memorial outside the city’s Centre for History and Peace.
Many Normandy cruises specialise in tours of the landing sites during the Second World War – giving the historically inclined a chance to see sights like the blown-out beach bunkers of Pointe du Hoc. St Mere-Eglise is another D-Day site that features on some Normandy itineraries. The town is steeped in history, having lasted through the Hundred Years’ War and the conflicts between French catholics and protestants, right through to the beach landings and the Airborne troops who parachuted in to free the town.
Honfleur’s colourful, narrow, wonderfully French houses crowd the waterfront overlooking the harbour – a favourite subject for Monet in some of his paintings. Honfleur lies south of Le Havre, across the Seine estuary, and makes a wonderful port to spend some time getting to know Normandy. Nature lovers will find a huge collection of tropical plants, birds and butterflies at Le Naturospace (“J’ai adoré les couleurs des papillons” will definitely win you some culture points); passionate gastronauts, meanwhile, can spend their time in one of many extraordinarily good restaurants dining on fresh shrimp and lobster, lamb or pigeon – and a fantastic selection of wines. You don’t need to holiday in Paris or Lyon for a taste of true French cuisine – it could be waiting for you right across the Channel in Normandy.
Cruises to Normandy open up an entirely different culture on Britain’s doorstep. If you’d like to book a cruise of Normandy, or even if you’re just looking for advice on booking or our current deals, you can call our award-winning Cruise Concierge team free on 0808 202 6105. Alternatively, leave a reply in the comments section below, and we’ll be happy to get back to you about your request.
Article images courtesy of A.F Borchert (Wikimedia Commons) and Wikipedia (public domain).