Dotted with villages of half-timbered houses and covered by a neat patchwork of hedgerows, the rolling green countryside of Normandy is so beautiful and peaceful that it belies a tumultuous history. Over preceding centuries, endless wars on Norman territory reflected the unending rivalry between the French and the English. Earlier still, in the ninth century, Viking raids were an incessant menace. Indeed, the word “Norman” itself is derived from “Norsemen.” Weary of the commute to Scandinavia, the invaders eventually settled down and intermarried with the Frankish inhabitants.
For Americans, of course, this northwestern province of France is indelibly associated with the heroic D-Day landings of 1944. Daytrips can be taken to the D-Day beaches and monuments, including the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, plus Pointe du Hoc, where American Rangers scaled cliffs to capture key gun emplacements hours prior to the landing. Begin with a visit to the Mémorial de Caen, which features an impressive audiovisual history of the Battle of Normandy. The Pays d’Auge in the southern part of Normandy is renowned for its rolling hills blanketed in apple orchards. Winding through small towns around Cambremer, the 25-mile Cider Route invites visitors to discover 20 cider and calvados (apple brandy) producers.