Chez Moi in Normandy
1 Normandy Landscape
5 En Famille
Normandy, a region of northern France, has a varied coastline which includes white cliffs and beachheads. Omaha is one of the beaches famous for the D-Day Landings in 1944.
Inland, the city of Rouen on the River Seine, where I was born and where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, is dominated by its cathedral highlighted in a series of paintings by Claude Monet.
Bayeux is the home of the celebrated Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered cloth, 70 meters long, which recounts the tale of the conquest of England in the 11th century, led by William Duke of Normandy.
Soon the tapestry will leave France for the first time in 950 years, to be displayed at The British Museum in London.
Since the 19th century, Deauville has been a fashionable seaside resort for the international upper class. It’s well known for its racecourse, film festival, Gran Casino and sumptuous hotels. In the twenties, Coco Chanel opened her first boutique there.
Honfleur, on the Seine’s estuary, is one of the prettiest harbours in France and has long attracted artists whose pictures are hanging in museums worldwide.
Another attraction is the Christian Dior Museum in Granville, the childhood home of the designer, a Belle Epoque style villa overlooking the sea. The garden, designed by Christian Dior’s mother is one of the rare remaining gardens of the period.
Just off the Atlantic coast is Mont Saint Michel bay and its medieval monastery which gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England.
Normandy has a rich tradition of painting and gave France some of its most important artists, as well as a myriad of notables writers.
And let’s not forget, another important attraction is Normandy cuisine which is based on four regional products – apples, milk, meat and seafood.
In the 17th century, some major painters were Normans, like Nicolas Poussin and Jean Jouvenet.
Later, Romanticism drew painters to Normandy. JMW Turner, Richard Parkes Bonington… crossed the Channel from Great Britain, attracted by the landscapes and the light. Theodore Gericault, a native of Rouen, was a notable figure in the movement, as well as Eugene Boudin and Jean Francois Millet.
Father and leader of the Impressionist movement, Claude Monet, is one of the best-known painters. His house and gardens in Giverny are one of the region’s major tourist attractions.
As well as many local landscapes, Monet painted thirteen versions of Rouen’s cathedral at different times of day. They are hanging in museums all over the world.
Normandy landscapes and scenes of daily life were immortalised on canvas by a myriad of artists, such as William Turner, Eugene Boudin, Gustave Courbet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Signac, Gustave Caillebotte, Georges Seurat, Pierre Bonnard, George Braque, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt… to name but a few.
Among the great figures of French classical literature are Guy de Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert, Barbey D’Aurevilly, Pierre, Thomas Corneille and André Maurois who has written a lot about England, including ‘The Silence of Colonel Bramble.” Also more recently, Patrick Granville and Philippe Delerm.
I studied at the Lycée Corneille in Rouen where the brothers were born.
Marcel Proust helped make Cabourg famous, for its role in “A la recherche du temps perdu” – In search of lost time.
Normandy’s rich pastures benefit dairy cattle and apple orchards. Camembert, Livarot, Pont L’Evèque, are some of the most popular cheeses and best exports.
Normandy butter and cream are lavishly used in gastronomic cuisine.
Fish and seafood are appreciated at top tables. Normandy is the chief oyster cultivating, scallop exporting, and mussel raising region in France.
Normandy is a major producer of cider and Calvados – an apple brandy, appreciated by the connoisseurs.
“Le Trou Normand “ (Normand Hole) is a drink between courses in which diners partake in a glass of Calvados in order to improve the appetite and make room for the next course.
Normandy is the native land of Taillevent, the cook of King Charles V and Charles VI. He wrote one of the earliest French cookbooks.
Some of Normandy’s signature dishes:
Moules a la Normande, mussels cooked with apples, cream and cheese
Salade Cauchoise, salt meadow lamb and seafood
Poulet au cidre, apples, and Calvados
Canard a la Rouennaise, also named as bloody duckling
Tripes a la mode de Caen
Tarte Normande, apples and Calvados (see recipe)
Tatin de pommes au Camembert (see recipe)
Teurgoule spiced rice pudding
Brioches were originally created in Normandy
One of many reputable restaurants, La Mère Poulard in Mont Saint Michel is known for its giant omelette, which resembles a soufflé rather than a traditional omelette, and made in large copper bowls and cooked over an open fire.