In the heart of Normandy and just two hours from Paris, Caen la Mer is the ideal destination to discover this land of contrasts, from the effervescent city of Caen to the wild and wonderful coastline.
1. Historic Caen
William the Conqueror made Caen a strategic center in the Middle Ages and to this day you can explore its charming medieval streets and half-timbered houses. At its heart is the Château de Caen, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe (with stunning views of the city and the Church of Saint-Pierre). The medieval district of Vaugueux, with its Caen stone houses, is one of the city’s most popular areas, and Rue Froide, one of the oldest streets in Caen, is home to small independent shops and addresses greedy.
2. Exceptional heritage
The two abbeys of Caen, the Abbaye aux Hommes and the Abbaye aux Dames, date back 1000 years and are jewels of Norman Romanesque architecture. They were built for the marriage of William the Conqueror with his cousin Mathilde of Flanders. Inside the Abbaye aux Hommes, it is impossible to miss the imposing tomb of Guillaume.
Thousands of British and French forces landed on Sword Beach in Caen la Mer on June 6, 1944. This vast sandy beach is 8 km long between Ouistreham and Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer and the bunkers can still be seen in the sand dunes where the attacking forces took refuge. Among the memorial sites in the area is the Great Bunker Atlantic Wall Museum where, with everything recreated down to the smallest detail, you can experience the daily life of German soldiers. You can also visit the Hillman Site bunkers in Colleville-Montgomery, the Commando N°4 Museum, and pay tribute to the Pegasus Memorial. The Mémorial de Caen is truly the museum of reference when it comes to the Second World War, but also more broadly to the history of the 20th and 21st centuries and the often fragile peace in the world.
4. Sports galore
It is the ideal destination if you wish to indulge in water sports, since 10 km of sandy beaches await you, as well as four superb seaside resorts. Ouistreham Riva-Bella beach, next to the port of Ouistreham, is the ideal place to practice water sports such as canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding, sand yachting, jet-skiing, dinghy sailing or catamaran sailing. …
5. A stroller’s paradise
Nature abounds along this rugged stretch of coast, but if you just fancy a quiet stroll along the beach, we recommend the beach at Hermanville-sur-Mer – look for the famous ‘Bluette’ villa at Hermanville, which is covered with pebbles from the beach and was designed by the famous architect Guimard. It is classified as a historical monument.
6. City green space
The Jardin des Plantes in Caen was one of the first botanical gardens in France, dating back to 1689. There are more than 8,000 species of exotic and Norman plants in the 3.5 hectare park. Don’t miss the magnificent Japanese Sophora, the olfactory workshop to recognize the plants of the medicinal garden, and the Orangery overflowing with banana and vanilla trees.
7. Food and drink
There are plenty of excellent restaurants to suit all budgets, from Michelin starred to cheap and cheerful. Or head to one of the many markets in the area and pick up some fresh local produce for a picnic. In Caen, the medieval district of Vaugueux is an ideal place to spend the evening, with restaurants in the cobbled streets or in summer, head to the sunny terraces of Place Saint-Sauveur. In the evening, head to rue Ecuyère, the famous ‘thirst street‘ (‘thirsty street’) to enjoy the best of Caen’s bars!
8. Ouistreham Riva-Bella Lighthouse
At 38m high, you will have to climb the 171 steps of a spiral staircase but your reward is a 360° view of the city. It is literally breathtaking.
9. Wildlife Reserve
Do not miss the visit of the Pointe du Siege and the Orne estuary where the meeting of the fresh water of the Orne and the salt water of the English Channel has created a unique landscape. Explore dunes, marshes, sandy foreshore, mudflats, salt marshes and woodlands. La Pointe du Siege has 1,500 meters of sandy beaches and is a Natura 2000 site. The Orne estuary, the largest reserve in Calvados, is a favorite spot for migratory birds, such as the shelduck the rush phragmites. Watch out for the seals too.
10. Arts and culture
The Château de Caen is home to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen, where you will find many Italian and Flemish works, pieces from the French Renaissance and contemporary art. The castle also houses the Museum of Normandy, which has various collections of local and historical interest.
For more information, visit www.caenlamer-tourism.com
Excerpt from France Today magazine
Main photo credit: City view from Caen Fortress, Caen, Calvados department, Normandy region (formerly Lower Normandy), France, Zairon, Wikimedia Commons