Jun 1st, 2022, 08:00 AM

Exploring Northern France

By Daniel Lucas
Image credit: Unsplash/ Mark Lawson
A trip to Normandy is well worth the time spent.

Those looking to get out of Paris for the weekend might consider making the trip up to the Normandy region of northern France. Just a three-and-a-half-hour train ride from Paris, the cities of Caen and Bayeux offer themselves as hubs to explore all that the region has to offer.

Caen, the larger of the two cities and closer to Paris, grants visitors a window into medieval France. Constructed around the year 1060 by King William I, better known as William the Conqueror, the Château de Caen lies at the center of the city.

The castle served as a strategic position from which the king and his Norman armies launched their successful conquest of England roughly six years later. The Abbey of Saint-Étienne, or the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, is a monastery that has remained unscathed through every major conflict on French soil and now holds the tomb of William the Conqueror.

Image Credit: Daniel Lucas

While the nightlife in Caen surely does not stack up to that of Paris, the city is full of great food options, and the bars along the water are packed to the brim with locals on Friday and Saturday nights.

Bayeux is a smaller town, just ten kilometers from the coast. The Notre Dame Cathedral of Bayeux offers an intriguing mix of original Romanesque architecture and gothic remodeling. The Old Town in Bayeux is a great spot to walk around, Bayeux was liberated by the British in1944 without a shot being fired, leaving the town as a window into the more recent past.

Image Credit: Daniel Lucas

AUP students visiting Normandy should take the time to visit the D-Day Landing Beaches, it is an experience like no other. In the decades since the war, the landscape of northern France’s rolling green hills has changed as the earth has begun to overtake many of the abandoned Nazi pillboxes. The haunting beauty of the beaches leaves a profound impression on all visitors and walking through the hallowed grounds of the Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha Beach is an emotionally overwhelming experience bordering on the religious.

German pillboxes in Normandy, France

For those interested in the machinery and engineering of war, the Overlord Museum (named for the operation to liberate France) just a kilometer off the beach features life-sized dioramas displaying the tanks, planes, and assorted weaponry of the Second World War.

Image Credit: Unsplash/ Norbu Gyachung

A longer day trip can also be made from either Caen or Bayeux to Mont-Saint-Michel, a castle upon a tidal island that is the closest you can come to  visiting Hogwarts. Making the journey from the base of the mountain to the castle-turned monastery at the top, you would be convinced that you were walking through a Dickensian street like Diagon Alley. 

At high tide, Mont-Saint-Michel’s ramparts seemingly rise out of the sea. When the water pulls out to the North Sea, the sand bar gives visitors the opportunity for a brief walk around the castle to get a 360-degree view.

Image credit: Unsplash/ Dag Heinrichowski

A trip to see France’s northern countryside is best taken in the Normandy region. One drawback for AUP students especially is the lack of public transportation. To do everything, visitors might find they have to rent a car for at least a day, however, for those who do so, driving through the tiny villages dotting the French countryside on the way to your destination is a joy in and of itself.