By Courtney Hall
Normandy, a region in France, consists of alabaster coastlines, famous beachheads, Gothic abbeys, and the burial site of the region’s founder. It’s also filled with well-preserved history. Here are the places my family and I explored a few weeks ago while traveling through Normandy.
The Rouen Cathedral
The region’s founder was none other than the famous Viking, Rollo, who through a treaty with the Frankish king, King Charles the Simple, became the first Duke of Normandy. The area was called Normandy because in Scandinavian languages it meant, “Northman,” which was another name for the Vikings.
Rouen Cathedral is stunningly beautiful and houses the burial site of Rollo. Rollo named Rouen as the capital of Normandy, and the cathedral is where he was baptized into the Christian faith. The city is known for more than just one historical figure. Rouen is also the city where the military leader and martyr Joan of Arc was executed. There is a memorial cross in the spot where her execution took place; that’s a short walk from the cathedral.
This gothic hilltop abbey is stunning. There’s no other word for it. The abbey sits upon a lonely hill located in the middle of the beach. While the tide is out, visitors can bus into the outskirts of the hill and climb into the city. When the tide comes in, the city becomes unreachable and those on the hill must stay there until the water recedes and buses can access the road again.
It’s easy to see why this location was chosen for an abbey. The peacefulness of the area is undeniable. The city streets are crowded and small, but if visitors can scale their way through the streets and just keep climbing up, the view from the top of the abbey is breathtaking–horizons and only horizons for as far as the eye can see.
This place will stop you in your tracks. Not only is it a beautiful beach, but if one finds themselves in the surf and turns to face the beach, it’s easy to imagine what those men faced on D-Day. . . and it will shake you to your core. This was my most favorite part of our trip not because it was beautiful–which it was–but because I don’t get to live in my home. I found myself on Omaha Beach, seeing all of the memorials the people of France had put in place for my country and I felt immensely honored and humbled. Some of the memorials we saw had fresh flowers on them, from people in the area who still respect and are grateful for the sacrifice our country made for them.
After Omaha, we drove over to the American cemetery. The French have done an immaculate job of preserving and honoring those of ours who fell on D-Day. Not a single blade of grass was out of place. The building housing live stories and memorabilia was beautiful and moving. Once through, you walk down a path to the first of six cemeteries. As we turned the corner I was almost brought to my knees. The rows of white crosses stretch and stretch through the valley. It is humbling to see the resting place of so very many brave men who gave their lives to fight insurmountable evil. I hope that they may always rest in peace and their sacrifice never be forgotten.
The Alabaster Coast
Two hours away rests Côte d’Albâtre or the Alabaster Coast. This French coastline is famous for its chalk white cliffs and white pebble beaches. The town of Etretat is a great stopping place to see these cliffs and also houses the famous coastline arches. With the blue water stretching as far as you can see and the waves crashing against the beautiful alabaster cliffs, it is the epitome of relaxation.