Have you ever had the chance to visit Normandy? It’s one of the most recognized regions of the world, even by those who have never visited France. While most people know it for the D-Day beaches and the seaside town of Deauville (which is to Paris what the Hamptons is to New York City), there’s honestly so much more to discover in this diverse region besides its beaches- and it’s one of the regions of France I had yet to explore in depth, despite its proximity to Paris. What exactly is it about Normandy that makes it special?
We started our adventure at none other than the department store Galeries Lafayette, right in the heart of Paris, to discover their Normandie Chérie campaign put on with Normandie Attractivité in the store this summer, running from July 5th to September 1st. Starting with the incredible window displays and the photographs shot around Normandy by Kourtney Roy, we then did a calvados tasting (all before 11am- living life on the wild side) and checked out the different Norman brands you can get in the store, from classic Saint James marinière shirts to creamy Norman butter over at Galeries Lafayette Gourmet.
You can even take cooking classes in English featuring Norman dishes every week (reserve here)! Check back after this weekend for the update- Leah from Leah Travels, who was also on this trip with me (you can read her blog post here) and I will be making stuffed camembert (yuuuum).
This partnership with Galeries Lafayette allows you to really get a feel for the tastes and talents of Normandy without ever having to leave Paris- but of course, it’s always more fun to go on a little trip, so we headed from the store up to catch our train and visit Normandy for ourselves.
4 Unexpected Reasons to Visit Normandy
1. The region is constantly renewing itself
The locations we visited were specifically chosen to show how good Normandy is at taking something old or broken and making it new again, a quality they developed during reconstruction as so many of the coastal cities were destroyed during World War II. They certainly did their job well, as did nearly every location we visited.
After stepping off the train, we were whisked off to discover the Cité du Chantier, a former steel mill in Colombelles just outside of Caen, which is in the process of being transformed into a massive space destined for use as an event space, coworking space, and restaurant, among other things. The smaller building, pictured above, is the temporary building, while the larger space will open in October 2019.
If you’ve ever visited Darwin in Bordeaux, the feel of the spaces is very similar!
Our next visit was to the Abbey d’Ardenne, a former medieval abbey turned home to the L’Institut mémoires de l’édition contemporaine, a research institution devoted to the preservation of important documents in French publishing and journalism. A church has been located on the side since the 11th century, and the abbey and grounds have been destroyed, abandoned and rebuilt many times over the year. It was classified as a historical monument in 1947 and the IMEC relocated there in 2004. Today, aside from the library located in the former church (pictured above), the other buildings on the campus are now used for meetings, art exhibitions, etc.
The next day, our last visit before heading back to Paris was to the Perret apartment, a model apartment shown by the local visitor’s bureau used to visually explain the modern, postwar layout of Le Havre and how the city rebuilt itself to be optimally habitable after being devastated by bombs in World War II. Designed by Auguste Perret, the architect responsible for rebuilding the city and pioneering the use of reinforced concrete, the apartment was optimally designed to re-house the city’s inhabitants, and the complex within which it is located designed to maximize the use of available space for businesses as well as private apartments.
2. There’s some seriously cool architecture
One of the things about taking something old and making it new again is that you end up with some pretty epic looking spots. My favorite was probably Les Bains des Docks, renovated from an old shipping hangar into the coolest, most modern pool I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to my fair share of water parks). Inspired by the Roman baths, the pools are both indoor and outdoor to be used year-round, and the white, boxy design is punched up by multicolored sections for kids and waterfalls for adults.
The Bibliothèque Oscar Niemeyer, pictured above, is another example of incredible modern architecture. It’s part of the Espace Oscar Niemeyer, which was designed by the Brazilian architect of the same name who was commissioned to rebuild the Maison de la Culture in the center of Le Havre. The original was disliked by the city’s inhabitants and not diligently kept up until 2010, when architects Dominique Deshoulières and Hubert Jeanneau were commissioned to renovate the interior spaces of the Maison de la Culture into the current library and the national theater located inside Le Volcan, the other large part of the complex. While I adored the impressive interior, I also quite enjoyed reading some really awful comic books that exemplified a number of stereotypes about the French, and made me glad that the girls I au paired for five years ago had much better books to read now.
3. Lots of local brands to shop from (and delicious local restaurants)
Throughout the trip, we were lucky enough to be introduced to some amazing local craftspeople and their businesses, often using resources from the region and sustainable production methods. Shopping local has become increasingly important to me, both as someone who works for a small business and as someone trying to live more sustainably, so I’m incredibly thankful to Normandie Attractivité for finding these brands whom I’d probably never have heard of otherwise and inviting them to come share their passions with us!
I found an alternative to my Lush solid shampoo in Les Savons de Joya, whose all-natural products also include solid carbon toothpaste and natural deodorant; luxurious skincare from Melchior Balthazar, who also make a candle that I would like to be the scent of my entire life; adorable on-trend net bags from Filt, locally made for cheaper and better quality than the ones you could get at Zara; the most comfortable linen shirt from Jeanne a dit and bed linens from Embrin, both of which have spoiled me for all other linen products; and a massive (and massively useful) linen tote bag from Grenouille rouge, whose creator graciously let me choose the sparkly bag (if you know you know) and swap out the orange leather handles for much-more-me blue ones.
We also met the creators behind Cherwood, who makes items personalized to 36 Norman cities, as well as general Normandy items; and LH Original, an American sports-inspired brand which makes cool T-shirts, mugs, magnets, etc. to show off your Norman pride no matter where you are in the world.
WHERE WE STAYED: Our home for the night was just 10 minutes outside of Deauville at the Manoir des Portes de Deauville, a brand new hotel (just opened June 2019!) which perfectly embodies the renovative spirit of Normandy. The main building, which houses the reception, breakfast room and a few guest rooms, dates from the 16th century and is classified as a historical monument in France. We stayed in the surrounding cottages, where the rooms were spacious, light-filled and clean. Next time I visit I want to test the pool and jacuzzi!
4. Easy access from Paris
Okay, this one is less unexpected than the others, but I think it still bears mentioning! The Gare Saint Lazare in central Paris is the “gateway to Normandy” train station- trains run multiple times a day to Norman cities like Rouen, Caen and Le Havre. Rouen is only around 1.5 hours by train, Le Havre at a little over 2 hours. Of course, if the beaches of Deauville are more your thing, the train to Deauville is also only 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s also easy walking distance from Galeries Lafayette, only about 10 minutes away, so you can stop by the store on your way, and check out the Normandie Chérie pop-ups around the store if you’re there before September 1st!
Have you had the chance to visit Normandy before? Tell me in the comments, what was your favorite place?
This post was sponsored by Galeries Lafayette. All opinions are, as always, my own.