Heaven from the saddle
You will know that Normandy was the place from where William the Conqueror sallied forth to smite his cousin Harold to claim the British throne. You will also know that the region hosted the landing of the Allied forces during WW11 from where they delivered an equally compelling blow to the Third Reich.
What you may not know is that there is a whole load more compelling history - between 1066 and 1944 - to be found here although I am not even going to attempt to cover it during this brief blog. Suffice to say that Normandy and Brittany are littered with history and stories and you need not dig too deeply to unearth either. The castles, chateaux and rural hamlets of Normandy and Brittany provide a rich tableau for the visitor which will guarantee an absorbing visit. What better platform is there to view from than perched on two wheels?Fast enough to imbibe the changing landscape ahead yet slow enough to see everything unfold. Our most recent trip saw the party start at Pegasus Bridge near Caen, a recreation of the original bridge captured by the British airborne forces from the Nazis towards the end of World War II.
From there we cycled along the beach taking in the famous names of Sword, Gold, Omaha. At Arromanche – the destination of the Mulberry Harbour that served as an important bridgehead during the same war – we turned inland across rolling countryside and through villages that had not changed much since the Revolution and before. As lovers of cycling and history the next stop had to be Bayeux - not only home to the tapestry – but also the home of a magnificent medieval cathedral. If you choose to overnight in this town it is quite lively in the evening and all-too-easy to ensure a late start the following day. Next on the list was St. Lo (the City of Ruins) within its own city walls and complete with a (rebuilt) cathedral. The cathedral includes one of the very few outdoor pulpits in Europe. In the nearby village of Dangy we were advised to look into the village hall, which is still adorned by a picture of Robert Capa and Ernest Hemingway as they accompanied the allied advance toward Berlin.
On we went towards our evening stopover close to Mont St Michel – the magnificent gravity defying structure that can now be reached by bridge. The church atop this island citadel was actually completed by Viking or Norse builders who later morphed into Normans. Finally we reached our destination, the walled coastal city of St Malo, once the home of European pirates but now the destination of choice for anyone looking to dramatically punctuate their Norman/Bretton odyssey.
To be able to take in these sights and more from the vantage point of a bicycle saddle is my favourite way to enjoy this region. From its huge variety of notable dining stop-off points to the multiple choices of accommodation be it chateau, auberge or gites means the traveller is spoiled for choice. The sights, smells and sounds to be experienced as you cycle from place to place are simply breathtaking and the choice of fayre to rejuvenate the hungry adventurer is just reward for any hard day in the saddle.
This wonderful region of France is not only a delight to cycle but is fully complemented by its wonderful backdrop of historical and scenic context. Just set the pace at medium in case you miss any of it.