The Normandy region in northern France holds an integral place in French, British, and American history.
Vikings began raiding the coast in the 8th century. In 911 AD, the French king, Charles III, signed a treaty with the Viking chief, Rollo, which allowed these “Norsemen” — who became known as Normans — to settle the territory. A descendant of Rollo, William the Conqueror was born in 1028. William became the Duke of Normandy and, in 1066, invaded England and won the British crown at the Battle of Hastings. William served as the king until his death in 1087.
Nearly a millennium later, another invasion of the Normandy coast reshaped history. On June 6, 1944, thousands of Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day Landings. The 60-mile stretch of coastline had been chosen not only for its flat beaches but also for the element of surprise.
While the Nazis had heavily fortified the Normandy coast, they had actually anticipated an attack further north — near Calais — where the Allies would have a shorter journey across the English Channel.
Despite coming under heavy fire and suffering heavy losses on D-Day, the plan worked. Allied troops took control of the coast, which served as a catalyst in the campaign that led to French liberation and Victory in Europe.
There are several D-Day museums and monuments that you can visit in Normandy today. It’s a moving experience and a powerful way to honor the lives that were lost during the war.
In addition to its historical significance, Normandy also offers picturesque landscapes. Serene beaches and coastal resorts give way to rolling green hills, pastoral farms, and country villages.
Nearby Rouen was the medieval capital of Normandy and its historic quarters remain intact, including the Gothic cathedral that Claude Monet captured in a series of paintings. Rouen is the city where Joan of Arc was tried for witchcraft and heresy and ultimately burned at the stake at age 19; a new museum recently opened in her honor.
Because the Seine River flows from the coast through Rouen and Giverny — where Monet’s home and gardens are located — and into Paris, a Normandy river cruise is the perfect way to explore the region’s cultural treasures and natural beauties.