Normandy, France: Where rural charm merges with turbulent history

The Bayuex Tapestry/Taylor
The Bayuex Tapestry/Taylor

NORMANDY, FRANCE, February 8, 2014 – With 360 miles of dramatic windswept coastline in northwestern France, today Normandy is a region of lush farmland and rural countryside with more than a thousand years of turbulent history.

This gentle, peaceful land is full of pastures and forests; rolling terrain and grazing cows; villages of stone houses and half-timbered cottages; colorful flower boxes and tranquil streams.  A place that has inspired poets and artists with its ever-changing light.  Yet despite its placid charms, Normandy’s past has frequently been filled with turmoil and conflict.

In 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, who later became known as William the Conqueror, sailed from the coast of France across the English Channel where his army was victorious at the Battle of Hastings; an event that altered the course of history.

William’s triumph at Hastings brought an end to Anglo-Saxon rule in England. As a Frenchman, his ascension to the throne virtually wiped out English aristocracy, establishing a completely different culture and, in the process, eliminating English control over the Catholic Church in England.

With the creation of the “Domesday Book,” which was for all intents a census that meticulously documented the land and property holdings of English landowners, William systematically dispossessed his previously wealthy English subjects and conferred their property to his French counterparts on the continent.

William the Conqueror was crowned king of England at Westminster Abbey on Christmas day in 1066. For centuries afterward, wars, arranged marriages, treaties and alliances between England and France dominated the political and cultural ideologies of both countries. Situated on the northern coast of France facing the English Channel, Normandy’s strategic geographical position has played a significant role in the evolution of both French and English culture for the past ten centuries.

Nearly 1,000 years after the Battle of Hastings, the world’s largest military invasion, commonly known as D-Day, changed the world again by liberating Europe from the grip of tyranny. Perhaps William Zinsser described Normandy best when he wrote “death in battle is an old story here.”

During the centuries between Hastings and D-Day, other familiar names have passed through Normandy’s timeline in a panoramic parade of the past. Richard the Lionheart, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc are among the familiar names associated with the constant struggles between England and France.

Samuel de Champlain and Cavalier de La Salle sailed from Honfleur to usher in the age of exploration.

As the Age of Enlightenment and Renaissance swept across Europe, Charlotte Corday and Alexis de Tocqueville played integral roles in the rise and fall of French aristocracy and the French Revolution.

Later, Claude Monet and other Impressionist artists discovered the brilliant changing patterns of light in Normandy that led to an artistic movement that still captures the imagination in the 21st century.

As the 19th and 20th centuries dawned, Normandy returned to its rural agricultural heritage. Nearly half the dairy output of France, including the country’s most popular cheese, Camembert, comes from the region. Normandy’s cows are distinct and easily recognized by the dark circular markings around their eyes. The breed, which has only been in existence since the late 19th century, is the combination of three regional cows that deliver the highest quality meat and milk.

The Contentine cow is large and heavy. The Augeronne is smaller but produces excellent meat, and the Cauchoise is of Flemish stock. Togther they blend to create an animal that is adaptable to the region, produces large quantities of milk with an abundance of curds and excellent meat. Little wonder Normandy’s dairy products are the finest in France. Yet, oddly enough, it is the only region of the country that produces no wine.

Apples are also a staple of Normandy with Calvados being the most popular local aperitif while the famed Normandy apple tartis  the preferred dessert of the region.

Suddenly, ten centuries after William’s victory at Hastings, the serenity of Normandy was once again disrupted by war as the largest amphibious military operation in history known as D-Day came to its shores in June of 1944. American General Omar Bradley was among the military entourage who stormed the beaches in yet another major historical event. Now on the eve of 2014, Normandy will soon honor those who fought and perished during that momentous occasion some seventy years ago.

Normandy is a place where the spirits of time are a chronicle that beckons visitors to savor its history. A place where veterans and their families can relive personal imprints that are indelibly woven into the fabric of world events and the legacies of their own lives.

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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

 His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

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