Haute-Normandie is the Eastern part of the old province of Normandy.
Created in 1956, the region is home to 1,780,192 inhabitants and covers and area of 12,317 km2 (7653 square miles). It is made up of two districts, or “departments” of France, Seine-Maritime (76) and the Eure (27), and has Rouen as its chief town. Relatively small in terms of size, it occupies a key place in the French landscape, thanks to its prime location between Paris, the sea and the Seine.
Haute-Normandie is characterized by the diversity of its “countries”, each with its own identity and history.
First of all, there is the country of Caux, which is located at the north of the Seine, part of the Paris basin. The Gallic people of Calètes, whose chief town was Caracotinum, (modern-day Harfleur) gave this area its name. Excavations uncovered their existence here, as in several other Gallo-Roman towns such as Lillebone and Marguerite-sur-Mer. Also to be found in this part of the region are a great number of grand manors made of local materials such as limestone or flint. These lordly houses, which often have dovecotes in their courts, date back to just after the One Hundred Years War, when fortifications became obsolete.
The Country of Caux is characterized by its geological form: a chalky plate, whose corrugated surface is furrowed by valleys and dry gullies. Covered with silt, its ground is particularly fertile, making it a prosperous agricultural area. Mixed farming is practiced here, with fields of corn, wheat, flax and potatoes butting up against cow pastures. The landscape of Caux is set apart by hedgerows that surround its fields, whose purpose is to slow down the water run-off during rains and to protect the crops from wind.
Northeast of Rouen is the country of Bray. Here the landscape is green, with ore-rich soil and beautiful national forests. This region is known for its “buttonhole” shape, a geological phenomenon due to a small reversed anticline of the Paris basin. With its moist, well-fed meadows and its clay soil, Bray is ideal for pastureland and the breeding of dairy cattle. Its agriculture has given rise to a number of local officially branded products of France (AOC) like the famous Calvados apple-brandy and Neufchâtel cheese as well as many other cheeses including the birth of “Baby Swiss”. Neufchâtel-en-Bray, Forges-les-Eaux and Gourmay-en-Bray are the principal cities of this area of iron-rich soils and water sources, the origin of a number of Seine feeders.
The Valley of the Seine crosses the region before emptying into the English Channel. The river banks display varied landscapes and well-fed vegetation. The “loops” of the Seine found here are bordered alternately by marshlands, peat bogs, forests, fields of grain and orchards. This major traffic axis, connecting Paris to the English Channel while passing by Rouen, naturally possesses a bustling river commerce, but it is also notable for its rich heritage in the history of France. Echoing its flourishing past, the valley is marked out by remarkable historic buildings like the abbeys of Jumièges, Saint-Wandrille and Saint George de Boscherville, and also many castles. Most of the latter were originally built on old fortified sites and were rebuilt later in various architectural styles: Etelan speaks of the French Renaissance while Yville bespeaks the Classical period.
This mosaic of original natural areas is preserved and development in the Regional Natural Reserve of the ”Boucles de la Seine Normande.” In this park, the old traditions and cultural heritage are preserved and developed, and the Norman landscapes are protected. Among these are the lower valley of the Seine, the national forests of Brotonne and Roumare, a principal part of Caux and the Marais Vernier, a true natural amphitheatre.The 60,000 km2 (37282 sq. miles) this park covers is also home to a rich variety of fauna and flora native to Normandy.
Lastly, the coast holds an important place in the diversity of Haute-Normandie’s landscapes. The 120 km (75 miles) of coastline from Tréport to the estuary of the Seine bears the name “Alabaster Coast”, in reference to its typical white chalk cliffs. These high limestone walls range from 60m to120m in height. The best-known cliff, subject of countless postcards, is probably that of Etretat. The cliffs are intersected by dry valleys and dotted with small ports like Fécamp, Dieppe, whose medieval castle overlooks the sea, and Saint-Valéry Caux. The beaches are covered in stones but still make inviting sites for famous seaside resorts such as Yport and Veules-les-Roses.
The coast ends in Le Havre, whose center, destroyed during WWII, is now registered on the list of UNESCO World Heritage of Humanity sites thanks to the restoration led by Auguste Perret.
With its rich history, architecture and delicious local fare, Haute-Normandie is one of the most interesting regions to visit in France. And its location makes it an easy and most pleasant day-trip for the tourist from Paris who wants to see more of France.
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