An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983
The city of Caen, with a dramatic history spanning from the time of William the Conqueror to the D-Day Landing, is a highlight of any Normandy tour. A tour of Caen in this part of Normandy should also include Bayeux, Colleville sur mer, as well as the landing beaches of Omaha beach, Juno Beach, Utah beach and Sword beach.
Caen was the capital of Normandy.
Caen rose to prominence under the rule of Norman dukes in the 10th and 11th centuries, and was the capital of Normandy during the reign of William the Conqueror. William established Caen’s most important medieval site, the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men’s Abbey) to gain absolution for marrying his cousin, Matilda of Flanders. The abbey is a masterpiece of Norman Romanesque, with an intricate Gothic facade. William’s final resting place – located within the abbey – was destroyed in the 16th century by Calvinist mobs, restored, and then destroyed again during the French Revolution.
Not to be outdone, Matilda established her own abbey, known as the Abbaye-aux-Dames (Women’s Abbey). Look for her simple tomb in the Église de la Trinité, which has remained intact since her death. Though the abbey is now home to government offices, the church remains open to the public and tours with a private guide are offered several times a day.
The Conqueror’s legacy can also be seen at the Chateau de Caen, which looms above the centre of the city. While William’s residence, the 12th century donjon (keep), remains only in ruins, visitors can tour the oldest civic building in Normandy, the Échiquier, and the Jardin des Simples, a garden of aromatic and medicinal herbs dating back to the Middle Ages. The chateau is now also home to the Musée de Normandie (Normandy Museum), which explores the region’s history from the Gauls and the Romans to the Saxons and Vikings, with exhibitions about the landscapes of Normandy and the daily lives of medieval peasants.
Another medieval highlight of your Caen city tour is the Église Saint-Pierre, a beautiful Gothic church built from the 12th century to the 16th. The soaring spire (76 metres tall), hit by shells during World War Two, has since been restored. Make a point of looking for the engravings in the nave, which are carved with characters from the Arthurian epic poems.
Caen’s history would remain turbulent throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. The city was captured by the English twice during the Hundred Years War, and remained under English occupation until 1450. The University of Caen Normandy – one of the oldest in France – was founded by an English Duke, John of Lancaster. During the Reformation, Caen became a centre of Protestantism, especially Calvinism, while the city was linked to the Girondin faction of revolutionaries during the French Revolution.
Caen and the Battle of Normandy
Caen would be one of the most important sites of the Normandy landings of British and Canadian troops during World War Two. Though the initial intention of the Normandy D day landing in the battle of Normandy had been to take Caen on the day of the landing on the Normandy coast, the Allied forces were held up on the four key beaches of Omaha beach, Juno Beach, Utah beach and Sword beach, so German forces retained hold of the city. Caen became a major battlefield, as Allied forces took the Western suburbs and Germans retained the centre, with the city only liberated on August 6, two months after the initial landing. Caen bore huge losses during the campaign, with 70% of the city destroyed by Allied bombing – including the spire of Saint-Pierre and the University of Caen – and over 2,000 civilian casualties.
Today, the history of the War is explored at the Mémorial de Caen, one of Europe’s most moving World War Two museums. The memorial museum includes a superbly designed interactive exhibit telling the story of the Normandy landings. Officially designated a ‘museum for peace’, the message here is one of hope, with extensive exhibits telling the story of post-war peacemaking.
Located only two hours from Paris by train, Caen is a great base for exploring Normandy and Northern France. The British and Canadian D-Day Beaches and the Pegasus Bridge War Memorial are only short trips away, while medieval history buffs will enjoy journeys to Bayeux and the monastery of Mont St Michel.
Articles about France published by Odyssey Traveller:
- Questions About France
- Historic Loire Valley
- Southwest France
- The Elegant Arcades of Paris
- Five Women of the Renaissance
- The Ten Best Art Galleries in Europe
- Living at Versailles
- Conserving Versailles
- Highlights of France: Normandy Beaches
- 10 Books to Read about France
- Things to do in France
- Monet’s Giverny Garden
- Monet’s Water Lilies
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Normandy and France:
- Why You Should Skip the French Riviera and Head to Normandy Instead
- 48 Hours in Normandy
- 1,300 Years of Living History
- 75thAnniversary of the Battle of Normandy
- Pictures of Utah Beach
- Photos of the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer
- The strange tanks that helped build D-Day
- A cycling tour of the Normandy D-Day Beaches
- Where to Buy Fresh Food and Drink in Normandy and Brittany
- 21 Regional French Foods to Try
Our 21 night program has daily itineraries with plenty of authentic experiences provided by passionate local guides in the key destinations in France, Channel Islands and England for this small group of like minded people. For Solo travellers minimal single supplement applies for this European tour.
This small group tour for couples and solo travellers is centred on the North West corner of France: Normandy, where the peaceful landscape belies a turbulent past; Brittany, where a strongly separate Celtic culture is still evident; Poitou, famous for its rich farmlands and historic ports; and the Loire Valley, replete with royal châteaux.
Travelling with like minded people on this small group we visit several culturally significant and picturesque regions of France, including Provence, Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux regions, where we sample wine and learn more about the tradition of wine-making. We also visit the Loire Valley to see its many castles. Finally, we travel to Bayeux, from where we we visit Mont St Michel and spend time up on the Normandy landing beaches with local guides.
This small group program explores the remote mountain plateaux, perched villages and dramatic gorges as well as the Mediterranean coastline.Travel with like-minded people on this tour especially designed for the mature traveller. The villages of Alsace provide an introduction to the diversity which is France. In Burgundy we explore the local villages. Then onto the Jura Mountains, a region rarely visited by tourists. Finally, Provence and the Côte d’Azur, regions of inspiration for artists such as Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso.
On this small group Rural France tour, we spend 24 days exploring France beyond its bustling cities, travelling off the beaten track. We will explore the pastoral and provincial splendour of French rural towns which have resisted the dual siege of the automobile and the property developer. Our small group will visit many of France’s beautiful towns where within their walls the villagers conduct their daily lives much as they have done since Napoleonic times.
Our small group tour designed with the mature traveller in mind, gives you the chance to see eight different locations over 25 days while experiencing local culture, trying regional cuisine, exploring breathtaking architecture and admiring beautiful scenery. From Zurich the tour will move south towards Sare before returning north to Paris where the tour finishes, for a significant part of our journey we will be following old pilgrim pathways, taking the group deep into the villages, valleys, shrines and ski resorts.