Formerly a French province, Normandy [Normandie], with its old capital at
now divided into two regions bordering on the
English Channel: Upper Normandy [Haute-Normandie] and Lower Normandy [Basse-Normandie]. During the Roman period, the region formed part of Gallia Lugdunensis (Celtic Gaul). With the Frankish invasions it was made a constituent part of the kingdom of Neustria.
Ten centuries have passed since the Vikings invaded the province of Normandy. The early Scandinavians might have come to ravish the land, but they stayed to cultivate it. It came to be known as Normandy about 911, when Charles III, king of France, turned it over to Rollo, the leader of a menacing band of Viking raiders.
The Normans produced great soldiers, none more famous than
William the Conqueror, who defeated the forces of King Harold at Battle Abbey in 1066. In 1066,William II, duke of Normandy [a descendant of Rollo], led an invasion of England and established himself there as William I, king of England. Consequently, Normandy remained an English possession until conquered in 1204 by
Philip II Augustus, king of France. During
the Hundred Years’ War, the region was held at various times by both French and English forces; it was finally recovered by the French in 1450. The Channel Islands, which were once a part of Normandy, remained in the possession of England. The English and the French continued to do battle, on and off for 700 years, from 1066 to the decisive Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
From Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon, Normandy remained at peace until June 6, 1944 when it was ravaged in the 1944 invasion that began early in the morning when airborne troops parachuted down into Ste-Mère-Eglise and Bénouville-sur-Orne. The largest armada ever assembled was responsible for the beginning of the reconquest of continental Europe from the Nazis. Today many come to Normandy just to see the D-Day beachheads.
Much of this province is reminiscent of a great landscape painting, with cattle grazing sleepily in verdant fields. But the rustic wood-framed houses are contrasted alongside the nearby modern buildings. Not far from the Seine, a mere hour drive from Paris, is Giverny where Monet painted his water lilies. Here and there you can still find stained-glass windows and Gothic architecture miraculously spared the bombardments; however, many great buildings were leveled to the ground. And Normandy’s wide beaches may attract families, but in August the Deauville sands draw the choicest of the chic from Europe and North America.
Normandy is the land of Calvados brandy and apple cider [bon bere]. It is well known for its rich butter, cream and other dairy products. The region is world renowned for its culinary tour de force: sauce Normande, tripe a la mode de Caen, sole Dieppe, canard a la Rouen, and soufflé like omelets from Mont-St-Michel. Poule d’Auge, poule de Bresse, andouillet (tripe sausage) de Vire, moules d’ Isigny, hueters de Courseulles, fuite de mer d’Honfleur, and the highly prized lamb (pré salé) that is raised on the salt meadows of Normandy.
Supple Camembert, which is made from cow’s milk, has been sold in a wooden box since 1880, is well known. Lesser known cheeses of the area, are equally tasty. These include Pont-L’Evêque and Brillat-Savarin. The latter with a high fat content of 75%, was invented in the 1930s by the cheese merchant Henri Androuët. His family established the once famous restaurant Androuët, on rue d’Amsterdam, in Paris, which specialized in sauces made from cheese.
Normans consume cider at nearly every meal. Bon bère is the term for true cider, and sometimes it’s so strong that it must be diluted with water. It takes 12 to 15 years to bring Calvados to taste perfection (in America Calvados may be called apple jack).
Many a Norman finishes a
meal with black coffee and a glass of this strong drink, which is
also used to flavor main courses.
The region of Lower-Normandy
is composed of the northwestern French départements of Orne , Calvados , and Manche . It was formerly western Normandy . The capital is
Caen. The region is bounded by the Départements of Ille-et-Vilaine, Mayenne, and Sarthe to the south and Eure-et-Loir and Eure to the east. Manche and Calvados border the English Channel.
History of Lower Normandy
Normandy takes it's name from the
Normans during the early middle ages. The Normans were a
mixture of Gauls and Vikings who laid siege to Paris under the
leadership of Rollo, thus he was given the area of Normandy in
return for his defense of the area against pirates.
William, the Duke of Normandy was Rollo's descendent, and in 1066 he
invaded England [the last to successfully invade England] and became
King William I of England. The area remained under English
rule until 1087. Several battles from 1106 through 1214 took place,
and during the
Hundred Years War Normandy was occupied by the English.
after the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion, due to the
fact that several major towns joined the Reformation, and more
battles ensued throughout Normandy. Normandy during the
French Revolution tended to support the Federal Republic rather than
that of the Jacobins in Paris.
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Normandy was the turning point during World War II, with the
successful [but very costly in soldiers lives] D-Day invasion
of German occupation of France, by allied troops. To visit the
Normandy D-Day memorials and battlefield areas,
Geography of Lower Normandy
The uplands of the Massif Armoricain extend into Manche and western Calvados and Orne; eastern Calvados and Orne are a part of the Paris Basin. A humid climate prevails, with annual precipitation in the Cotentin peninsula of Manche approaching 35 inches (900 mm).
The Culture of Lower Normandy
Basse-Normandie is sparsely populated. The process of rural depopulation, which characterized much of France in the 19th and early 20th centuries, was especially pronounced in Basse-Normandie, whose population declined by more than 38 percent between 1851 and 1946. It has subsequently grown, and most of the recovery has occurred in Calvados, which has benefited from the growth of
The Gastronomy of Lower Normandy
The gastronomy of Normandy in general tends to run to the
fish and seafood dishes, since it is fresh and abundant. However,
they have some wonderful lamb, chicken and duck dishes that are
Normandy is famous for it's butter, there is no match in American
butters. Then the following four cheeses are well noted
worldwide. Each is quite distinctive, and should be sampled -
you're sure to find one or more become a favorite of yours.
The great Normandy cheeses are Camembert [it's been around for
hundreds of years], and between that and Brie are the two most
consumed French cheeses worldwide. Then there is
Brillat Savarin, a wonderful
triple cream fhat Andouet created, Neufchâtel
[similar but creamier and lighter, with a more distinguishing taste,
than regular cream cheese], and the two 'stinky' cheeses of Livarot
and Pont L'Evêque. These French cheeses are unsurpassed as far
as quality and taste compared to similar cheeses made in the U.S. or
Economic Activity of Lower Normandy
Animal husbandry dominates agriculture. The regions of Auge in Calvados and Perche in Orne are major producers of beef. Camembert cheese is produced in Orne; Pont-l’Évêque and Livarot in Calvados also produce fine cheeses. Large numbers of horses are raised in Manche. Port-en-Bassin in Calvados and Cherbourg are major fishing ports. Industries are concentrated around Caen, whose manufactures include electronic goods and
Citroën automobiles. The production of iron, which is concentrated around Caen in May-sur-Orne, Soumont, and Potigny, is in decline. Orne has benefited from the decentralization of Parisian industries since 1950. Tourism is being developed along the coast of Calvados between
Honfleur and Cabourg.