When people think of visiting Normandy, the region in northern France along the English Channel, they remember it as the landing site for World War II soldiers. It does have a very important history in that respect; however, there is much more to see in the region of Normandy than the many beach memorials and museums. This article touches on two of the highlights in Normandy: Rouen and Clécy.
Rouen is considered the capital of Upper Normandy. It is full of history and architecture. Its three major attractions are the Vieux Marche, the Rouen Cathedral, and the Gros Horloge Clock.
The Vieux Marche (Old Market) is an important place in French history. Joan of Arc was burned here at the stake in the early 1400s. On one side of the main square lie the ruins of St. Vincent’s church. Heavily bombed during World War II, it was never rebuilt. Instead Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc’s Church) was built after the War. This building is fascinating, made to look like an upside down Viking ship. Some say its wavy walls also symbolize the very flames that engulfed one of France’s favorite martyrs. A visit inside the church does not disappoint. The stained glass that makes up one full wall is breathtaking. If you look closely enough, you’ll see pictures of the other churches of Normandy in the glass. When you are done with your history lesson, there are plenty of shops and restaurants to keep you busy during the rest of your time in the square.
The Rouen Cathedral is a gothic masterpiece that was started in the 12th century. This church became famous after Monet’s series of paintings, but it has been important in Normandy culture for many years. It is currently the seat of the archbishop of Rouen and Normandy. It contains the tombs of historical figures like Richard the Lionheart. Its architecture must be viewed to understand just how amazing it is. Be sure to talk to the locals about the Rouen Cathedral’s fascinating history. You will learn whimsical facts, such as how the butter tower got its name: It was paid for by indulgences the church sold its congregation to allow them to eat butter.
The Gros Horloge Clock is a large astronomical clock in the middle of Rouen. It has become a major symbol of the city, as it has been around since the 1600s. If you take a walk on Gros Horloge street, you can’t miss the clock.
Clécy: Normandy’s Little Switzerland
After your history lesson in Rouen, you will be ready to take a train ride to the village of Clécy for some quirky fun. This is a village like none other you have ever seen, a world in miniature, and one of Europe’s largest scale models. The miniature town includes over 460 meters (over 1,500 feet) of railway track and 650 buildings. Now before you turn up your nose at this idea, read on to understand that this place offers much more to do than just look at model trains. There are plenty of activities for the whole family on the grounds, including a 20 meter (65 foot) inflated train for kids to jump on. You can tour the old lime kiln, sample the delicious crepes and homebrewed cider, ride the (real-life size) train through the gardens, shop in the local boutiques, and more.