Love history? Love exploring historical sites? Then northwestern France is for you! This region of France is steeped in a rich, and long standing history, just waiting for history buffs to explore. And non-history buffs will enjoy these sites too!
But what if your time is limited to only 5 days? Can you really make a trip to northwestern France worth your while? Absolutely! Here are seven awesome examples of historical sites that will surely please history buffs and non-history buffs alike.
1. D-Day Sites of Normandy
A visit to Normandy isn’t complete without exploring it’s World War II D-Day sites. D-Day, June 6th, 1944, marked the beginning of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France. This pivotal moment in history dramatically altered the way our world is today.
Walk along Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Juno Beach. Imagine what it must have been like on these beaches as invading armies landed upon their treacherous shores. Walk between rows and rows of crosses at The American Cemetery – over 9,000 of them! The loss of life to secure a world’s future took an unimaginable toll, left scars yet healed.
Don’t be surprised of the unexpected emotions that might surface while exploring sites of this infamous day in modern world history. Read more about D-Day sites in Normandy at 5 Must-See D-Day Sites in Normandy France.
2. The Bayeux Tapestry Museum
Step into the Bayeux Tapestry Museum, and step back in time to another pivotal moment in world history, to a time when epic battles raged for control between England and France. Witness first hand a medieval interpretation of one such moment in time – the Norman conquest of England – as depicted in the incredible Bayeux Tapestry.
The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of William The Conqueror and Harold, Earl of Wessex, 11th century leaders of the Norman and Saxon armies. It was at the infamous Battle of Hastings in 1066 where William defeated Harold. The battle’s outcome shifted the balance of power, ensuring the success of a Norman invasion of England.
This legendary moment in history is captured on linen, where images of this epic struggle for supreme control was embroidered by hand – more like many hands – in the 1070’s. That’s over 940 years ago! It is truly astounding to stare upon this expansive document created so very long ago.
Even the kids will be transfixed by the incredible story-telling of the Bayeux Tapestry. My 11-year old still talks about his experience here. The Bayeux Tapestry can be seen in person in Bayeux, France, at the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.
3. Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel sits on an island just off the coast near Avranches. Though small in size, it is long on history as far back as the Romans who once invaded this land. It was the arrival of Benedictine monks in the 8th century that set Mont Saint-Michel on course to it’s current existence.
From it’s strategic position just off the coastline, Mont Saint-Michel has watched centuries pass it by relatively unscathed, including Viking raids, revolutions and the ravages of two World Wars. Generations of people have walked up and down the Mont – monks, lay people, merchants, and even prisoners. In the late 18th century, the Mont was converted into a French prison, which it served as until the prison’s closing in 1863.
Today, begin your own pilgrimage with the winding trek uphill through ancient buildings housing modern-day shops and quaint cafes. Climb all the way up to the top to reach the 11th century abbey, much the same way as generations of abbey visitors have over the centuries. This is one UNESCO World Heritage Site not to be missed.
4. The Walled City of Dinan
There’s just something special about the medieval walled city Dinan. Stroll down the very same cobbled streets, past half-timbered houses, as peasants and merchants did over 700 years ago! Though carts laden with medieval goods have been replaced with store-front windows hawking modern-day trinkets, the main square itself, Place du Guesclin, looks much like it did centuries ago.
Meander past city walls designed to protect Dinan from hostile medievel times. Scramble up ancient ramparts for incredible city views. Imagine life as it might have been when these walls were being built. Walking through this quintessential medieval village is like walking through a time warp. Sections of Dinan date as far back as the 13th century!
Be sure to explore the Chateau de Dinan, the town’s castle built in 1382. It’s open to the public, and worth the entrance fee. Soak in the history – and the views of a time long ago, yet very much in the present.
5. The Rock Sculptures of Rotheneuf
Just outside of St. Milo, up along France’s famed Emerald Coast, exists a vastly unknown, nearly secretive little adventure worth your while. So take the detour to the little town of Rotheneuf to walk among the amazing Les Rochers Sculptes. Their creation alone is an incredible story. What they depict is fascinating!
These whimsical, almost magical carvings set upon an ocean-front cliff were carved in the late 19th century, and depict the lives and legends of the rich and powerful Rotheneuf family who controlled these coastal lands between the 15th and 18th centuries.
The rock sculptures can easily be combined with a day trip to Mont St. Michel, as well as a scenic drive along the Emerald Coast. Read more about these amazing rock sculptures at Exploring The Whimsical Rock Sculptures of Rotheneuf.
6. Abbaye de Jumieges
Outside Rouen, along the Seine River, sits Abbaye de Jumieges, a ruin steeped in so much French history. Much like Mont Saint-Michel, since it’s initial foundations were laid, the abbey has been witness to countless pivotal moments in French history. Unlike Mont Saint-Michel, it did not survive unscathed, and sits today in ruins.
The abbey has seen Viking pillages, 11th century kings and dukes, English invasions, and wars of religion. Until the French Revelution brought on it’s demise, Abbaye de Jumieges was the seat of immense power and prestige. It’s haunting beauty is sure to affect all who walk along these 1000 year old paths.
Abbaye de Jumieges is claimed by many to be the most beautiful ruin in France. Whether or not you agree, it is a site to be seen. Learn more about these astounding ruins at Explore 1000+ Years of History at the Ruins of Abbaye De Jumieges, France.
7. Chateau de Falaise – A King’s Home
The ancient town of Falaise is the birth place of William the Conqueror, who was destined to become the first Norman King of England. Remember the Bayeux Tapestry? Yep, that William began his quest for power here, inside the walls of Chateau de Falaise.
This 12th century castle was the seat of Norman power for many years. Though only small traces of the castle as William the Conqueror knew it remain today, his influence upon the castle still exists, beginning with enhancements to it’s fortifications and ramparts by his youngest son, Henri. But hey, that’s still pretty darned old!
Pay the entrance fee and climb to the top of Talbot Tower for a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. Though much of the town was destroyed during World War II, Falaise has been lovingly restored to it’s present day appearance. And the drive through nearby quaint French villages has the makings of a perfect afternoon drive.
Have You Been to Northwestern France?
The key to maximizing a 5 day adventure in northwester France? Location – location – location! Choose a centrally located base that will allow for easy day trips to the sites on your wish list. Our residence was a bed and breakfast outside of Bayeaux. All our adventures were easily reached by day trips.
How about you? Have you explored the northwestern regions of France? Walked through history at the D-Day sites, within the walls of Dinan or Mont Saint-Michel? What historical site would you include if you only have 5 days in the region? Do share!
Images of C.Biederman