Normandy is constantly compared to Devon, with Brittany being described as the Cornwall of Northern France. As a resident and one who has cycled lots of the roads in each area I heartily resonate with the comparison. It’s easy to see why. Normandy and its undulating hills, rustic farmland and lush, green meadows have famously given the world cheese and apple-based beverages. No prizes here for guessing which. And the beaches are beautiful, endless and sandy - locked in an endless embrace with the capricious ‘la Manche’ - and forming long, low dunes throughout the region. I have ridden thousands of miles along the coastline and marvelled at the wild splendour of its rolling glory. It's also quite forgiving on the legs – which after 60-70 miles of riding might need a bit of break. There are no massive, mountainous climbs in the region, à la Ventoux, and it is great for the cyclist looking for something just a little testing. My favourite time here is Printemps when all around you the countryside bursts into spectacular life and cycling in Normandy has no earthly rival.
There is also something of a gritty history here punctuated by the settlement of raiding Vikings in 920 AD after they were given Normandy by a French King, Charles the Simple, in return for their good behaviour. A century later the region begat William the Conqueror who encouraged his Normans to visit Anglo Saxon Britain. Almost a millennium later the Normandy beaches were the scene of one of Europe’s most bloody conflicts when allied troops landed to expel German invaders.
For those cyclists looking to combine cultural heritage, gastronomic delight and rural beauty - Normandy has few rivals. Spectacular coastal towns abound here – Etretat, Honfleur, Barfleur and Port en Bessin are just a few examples.
Along the Seine, there are sparkly, little hidden gems like the abbey of Jumièges, William’s castle childhood home of Falaise and Monet ’s stunning waterlillied gardens of Giverny. Throw in the magnificence of Bayeux – tapestry and cathedral - Mont St Michel and the citadel of Avranches and visiting cyclists are spoiled for choice.
Where I find complete joy as a cyclist is through the meandering roads of the region's rustic heartland and along the breathtaking coastal roads. Complete Nirvana is to found cycling south from Cherbourg to Granville or west from Ouistreham to Arromanches.
When I first cycled the region and discovered the virtues of the towns of Pont l’Eveque, Livarot and Camembert they all stuck a resonant but baffling chord – until I remembered that they all famous cheeses. C’est Magnifique! Getting here is easy too with a large choice of ferries to a selection of French ports. If you are flying - the local airports of Deauville and Caen Carpriquet do a brisk trade and should you require the train to take the strain, Paris is only slightly more than a stone's throw away. My favourite time of year is springtime when the hedgerows and bocages are a riotous explosion of life and colour. Any other time of year and you will surely not be disappointed. There is every reason to get Normandy on your cycling bucket list.