Lower Normandy is the western part of the ancient province of Normandy. Created in 1956, it has a population of 1,422,193 inhabitants and covers 17,568 square kilometers. The region, whose county seat is Caen, has three departments: Calvados (14), Orne (61), Manche (50).
The province, originally inhabited by Celtic tribes, was conquered by the Romans in 51 BC. It was then divided into several cities such as Vieux-la-Romaine, and today many traces of that period can be found around Caen, Lisieux or Bayeux. With the fall of the Roman Empire the area was taken over by the Franks and was subsequently taken into the Carolingian Empire. As from the eight century it was devastated by various invasions, notably by the Vikings, then by the 100 years war and the wars of religion. The Middle Ages left their mark on several towns such as the ancient mediaeval city of Falaise and the famous Mont Saint-Michel, which has been an important place of pilgrimage ever since that time and today is a major tourist attraction.
It was in the twentieth century that Lower Normandy took its place in international history, as the Allied forces landed to liberate Europe from the Germany occupation. These Norman beaches were the site of ferocious fighting that was to prove decisive for the future of France and the rest of of Europe. The cities of Saint-Lô and Caen, among others, were devastated and more than half a century later the beaches still bear the battle scars: bomb craters, concrete blockhouses and underground shelters. There are a number of museums devoted to the landings, such as the Musée du Mur de l’Atlantique at Ouistreham and the Musée du Radar at douvres-la-Délivrande. The Mémorial de Caen, created as a cultural center dedicated to peace is a now a magnet for visitors, like the many military cemeteries such as Colleville-sur-mer, near Omaha Beach.
In addition to the wealth of its past and its historical heritage, Lower Normandy also reaps the benefit of a perfect position between the sea and the French capital, making it a major center for trade and meetings. Bordered by the English Channel the region has a variety of beautiful coastal landscapes.
To the North, from the mouth of the Seine to the mouth of the river Orne, is the Côte Fleurie (the blossom coast), with its sandy beaches, flower lined terraces and fabulous villas that provide the setting for a highly sophisticated social life. Towns such as Deauville or Honfleur, with casinos and luxury hotels, gala evenings and festivals are particular favorites with Parisians.
The Mother of Pearl Coast runs from Ouistrham to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and its name comes from the huge expanses of pale sand, sometimes broken by chalk cliffs. These beaches, called Sword, Gold, Omaha or Utah, were the scene of the Normandy landings and numerous museums, military cemeteries and the famous artificial harbour of Arromanches all bear the marks of this period of history. As for the beaches, they are now given over to seasonal tourism and are ideal for a variety of water sports.
The Cotentin peninsula has wild cliffs, barren moors and wetlands to the north and sandy beaches to the west. Protected from the wind and warmed by the Gulf Stream, this part of the coast has a sprinkling of family style seaside resorts such as Barneville-Carteret, Pirou or Granville, and ends at the famous Mont Saint-Michel.
Inland, the typical Norman countryside is one of grazing cows, apple orchards, woods and forests – peaceful landscapes which in turn are divided into various districts, each with its own personality.
The Cotentin, between Mont Saint-Michel and the Pont de Normandie, has a unique rustic charm. Between the barren moors and the wetlands, the sharp contrast of the valley of Vire and the rolling hills of Coutances, the countryside is at its most beautiful in the Regional Park of the Marais du Cotentin and Bessin.
South of the river Orne, between Domfront and Alençon, the last foothills of the Armoricain Massif (mountain range) are timeworn slopes covered in woods: beech, oak and pine trees spread over more than 24,000 hectares.
Slightly to the East are the undulating landscapes of the Perche. This succession of wooded crests and slopes has preserved an important historic heritage of Renaissance manors and country houses. Nature is displays its beauties and is protected in in a National park.
On the way back to Calvados there is one steep valley after another. Between Vire and Aunay-sur-Odon, the rivers and wonderful panoramas make these woods particular favorites of fisherman and hikers.
The wild landscapes continue into the Orne Valley, known as Swiss Normandy. Here the high cliffs and fast flowing river waters are for climbing, canoeing, fishing or hiking. Finally the Auge district is notable for its rugged terrain, crossed by plateaus and steep slopes, valleys and glens. The Auge is a region of stock breeding and apple orchards, attracting those who want peaceful walks in a countryside of contrasting colors.
Lower Normandy has more to offer than its beautiful scenery and attractive beaches. It is home to a rich and vibrant culture It can even pride itself on having it own regional language which is still very much in use today. Similarly it has preserved its literary culture: the region was the cradle of such famous writers as Guy de Maupassant, Marcel Proust and Gustave Flaubert.