There’s a lot of fun to be had in Normandy with kids. The wide, historic beaches, lush countryside and fresh, delicious food make this part of France a gentle alternative to the hot south or the craggy west of the country. We visited Normandy with Eurocamp, staying at La Vallée in Houlgate, on the Calvados coast. Here are some suggestions for things to do in Normandy for children and the rest of your family, if you’re staying anywhere near our base.
Visit a Calvados apple brandy farm
Calvados, the French apple brandy that shares a name with the part of Normandy where it’s made, is a strong liqueur not dissimilar to whisky. Like Normandy cider and the less strong, sweeter Pommeau, Calvados brandy is made with small, tart apples that would be no good for eating. Instead, they’re crushed and made into a cider, from which Calvados is distilled. After two years of ageing in oak barrels, the drink can be called Calvados, although it’s often aged for much longer. We tasted a vintage from the 1970s, which was mellow and delicious. It retailed at several hundred pounds per bottle.
Calvados AOP can only be produced in the verdant Pays d’Auge part of Calvados which is just 40km squared. The French are understandably proud of their product, and several of the Normandy cider farms that also produce Calvados are open to visitors. We went to Chateau du Breuil, which was remarkably child-friendly. On our tour of the distillery the children were entertained by a multimedia app that guided them through the Calvados-making process, a weigh-in to see how many cider apples would balance you out, and a splendid sound and light show, which illuminated one end of the cellar. They even got to taste some delicious apple juice while we were sampling the different Calvados vintages.
Visit the Normandy beaches
Utah, Juno, Sword, Omaha, Gold Beach and Arromanches. These are all codenames from the Normandy landings in 1944. In the D-Day Normandy landings, the Allied Forces, from the UK, US and Canada, sailed onto Normandy beaches in an attempt to defeat the Nazis who were occupying France in the Second World War. Massive casualties were inflicted on the 6 June 1944, with over 425,000 Allied and German troops killed, wounded or missing.
If you visit a Normandy beach today, the wide, sandy shores give no clue about their bloody past. They make a good place to spend a day with the family. Very close by, though, memorials commemorate the dead, so if you did want to visit, they’re close at hand. War Cemeteries lie near Juno and Omaha Beaches. The Musée du Mur de l’Atlantique, at the pleasant seaside town of Ouistreham, overlooks Sword Beach. Away from the pretty gardens, restaurants and cafes along the promenade, the museum is set inside a former German bunker, and tells a story about what life must have been like for soldiers in battle.
See Mont Saint Michel
The fairytale-like Mont Saint Michel is set on an island in the west of Normandy. The town’s beginnings stem back to the tenth Century, with construction running through medieval times. Mont Saint Michel was a place of pilgrimage for Christians even before the striking abbey was built, on top of the mount.
Today, Mont Saint Michel is all narrow winding streets, decent restaurants and shops selling kitsch souvenirs. Visitors can reach the island via a causeway. Shuttle buses transport visitors from the car parks a mile and a half away, to the mound itself. For more information see the Normandy Tourism website.
Taste some fresh seafood
Mussels, cockles, oysters and scallops. They’re all in plentiful supply in Calvados, Normandy. The department as a whole is famed for its fresh, delicious seafood, and if you like fish or shellfish, it’s a wonderful thing to try, with some lemon or a creamy sauce, and a glass of something cold.
Look at the Bayeaux Tapestry
The Bayeaux Tapestry was on tour when we last went to Normandy. But from my previous visits, it’s a 70-metre long depiction of the 1066 Battle of Hastings that’s cartoonish enough to captivate youngsters. The Tapestry was woven in the 11th Century and is set in the first French town to be liberated after the D-Day landings of 1944. Bayeaux itself is a pretty place, with cobbled streets and striking manor houses from the 16th to the 18th Century. You can find out more about visiting the Bayeaux Tapestry, when it returns to its home, on the Bayeaux Museum website.
Spend time in Houlgate
Houlgate is a small, elegant seaside resort set about mid-way between the ports of Caen and le Havre. This part of the Calvados coast is know as the Côte Fleurie, because of the pretty floral displays that spring up everywhere, in the wild or in well-groomed gardens. Houlgate’s wide, sandy beach hosts a kite festival in late Spring, and a bouncy castle marks the spot of a regular beach kids’ club in Summer. With the town’s pretty main drag set back just one pace from the seafront, Houlgate is a mellow, easy seaside spot for children to enjoy without becoming overwhelmed.
Houlgate was a 15-minute walk from our base at La Vallée. For more on our week there with Eurocamp, read my blog post.
Go horseriding in Normandy
Normandy is France’s leading horse breeding area. 40% of French racehorses are bred there, and with 300 riding centres, visitors can take their pick. For families that enjoy being on horseback, it’s a lovely way to see Normandy with kids. Trekking routes pass through lush, verdant countryside, and often include a hack across a beach. See the Normandy Tourism website for more details.
Sample some Normandy cheese
Ooh La La. Lush grass fuels Normandy’s dairy cows, whose caramel-coloured, or spotty brown-and-white flanks you’ll see grazing peacefully all over the place. And the cheese produced from their milk is beyond good. Farmers’ markets, or even the larger supermarkets in Normandy, sell the most delicate, moreish Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l’évêque and Neufchâtel. Paired with tangy apple slices, or on bread smothered in salty Normandy butter, these Normandy cheeses are a delicious treat. And you can even visit the towns that give the cheeses their names, which are all in Normandy.
See and be seen in Deauville and Trouville
Deauville, and its laid-back neighbour, Trouville, are sometimes called the ‘Parisian riviera’. In the summer months, wealthy socialites flock there from the capital, to wine, dine and hang out in the busy casinos. With splendid beaches lined with vibrant restaurants and an Olympic-sized swimming pool filled with seawater, Deauville has more than enough for families looking for a bit of stylish seaside action. Parents can enjoy the regular film festivals, yachting regatas and jazz concerts. If the holiday wardrobe’s not up to scratch, there’s the option to top up in Deauville’s designer stores. Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Cartier and Dior all have outlets in the town’s immaculate streets, offset by grand half-timbered houses, and elegant Belle Époque villas.
Normandy France weather
The weather in Normandy is similar to that in the south of the UK. A decent amount of rainfall keeps the region’s greenery verdant and lush. Summers and Winters and both mild, with average temperatures of 17.1°c and 3.6°c respectively.
Normandy campsites and holiday parks (holiday parcs)
Like the rest of France, Normandy is blessed with well-designed campsites and holiday parks. Lots of these have family-friendly facilities, like swimming pools, water slides, kids’ clubs and play areas. Our holiday parc, La Vallée, where we stayed with Eurocamp, was well-situated. It was only 22km from the port of Caen, and a 15-minute walk from Houlgate. Calvados tasting, cheese-making farms and the beautiful coastline were all within easy access.
Have you been to Normandy?
You can see some of Normandy in this Youtube video we made of our stay:
We stayed at La Vallée as guest of Eurocamp. All views are my own.
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