Ouistreham. Photo: Fabien Mahaut

With miles of unspoilt coastline and dramatic landscapes, the birthplace of the famous apple brandy is the beating heart of Normandy. The glorious rustic fare is just the cherry on top…

FROM OUISTREHAM TO CAEN

With its stylish villas, azure sea, casino and swanky marina, Ouistreham on the Côte de Nacre rivals the chicest resorts of the Riviera. Wash off the nine-to-five grind with a spot of thalassotherapy, venture into the harbour to glimpse the colourful rows of traditional fishermen’s cottages, or simply amble past the emblematic beach huts: the seaside nook is a peaceful oasis for weary city-dwellers. But it’s by no means a sleepy resort. Thrill-seekers from around France flock to its attractive shores for their action fix. With catamaran sailing, kayaking and kitesurfing, Ouistreham is a watersports’ haven.

After a spell away from the hubbub, rejoin the thick of it with a visit to historic Caen, the city of William the Conqueror. The Ducal Castle, Abbaye aux Hommes and Abbaye aux Dames are among the many unmissable landmarks as is the World War II Memorial. Harmoniously blending medieval and post-war architecture, every half-timbered street and modern avenue bears witness to the sweep of history.

Photo: Calvados Tourisme

NATURE A GOGO

Vast forests, atmospheric heaths and dramatic cliffs rising above the shoreline, Calvados’s wealth of picture-perfect landscape is ripe for the taking. Head out in search of Vire’s waterfalls bursting forth from a granite wall, scale the rocky escarpments of Les Rochers des Parcs in the Suisse Normande or stroll amid the hides and dunes of Pointe du Siège – whatever your destination, surprises await at every turn. Nature abounds, even in the most unexpected of places. Caen’s Botanical Garden is sure to capture and fuel visitors’ imagination. The tantalising ‘living museum’ boasts more than 8,000 species and was awarded National Collection status. The exotic greenhouse alone is worth the detour.

BACK IN THE SADDLE

It is a little-known fact beyond the Hexagon, but Calvados is a hugely popular equine destination. Known as the land of horses, to the French anyway, the département is a firm favourite with horse riders. With countless riding centres and stud farms dotted around its luscious countryside, it’s no wonder. Cantering amid the stunning wilderness is a memorable – and suitably regal – way to take in the magnificent panoramic views, for proficient riders and rookies alike. Little ones can get their own taste of adventure by meandering along some of Calvados’s most charming pathways astride a trusty donkey.

Arromanches. Photo: Grégory Wait

BOTTOMS UP

Calvados is home to some of Normandy’s finest rustic fare. With flowing cider, more cheese than anyone can dream of scoffing in a lifetime and charcuterie aplenty, it is a foodie’s paradise. The département’s eponymous drink needs no introduction. Whether quaffed as a digestif, cheeky remontant or enjoyed in a Trou Normand, that is served with a floating scoop of apple sorbet, Calvados never fails to warm the cockles. An acquired taste no doubt for the squeamish, but no less of a treat, Andouille de Vire (chitterling sausage) made from smoked pork offal and Tripes à la Mode de Caen draw epicures from miles around. The seemingly humble département gives nearby regions a run for their money on the culinary stakes with no fewer than eight Michelin-starred eateries and counting.

À BICYCLETTE

Get into gear and weave gently (or at breakneck speed) along Calvados’s colourful lattice of cycle paths. Hopping on a bike is the ideal way to explore and revel in a multitude of ever-changing landscapes; from the region’s verdant bocage to the unspoilt coastline and D-Day Landing beaches. For an easy family tootle, a convivial vélorail (bicycle-rail) ride is just the ticket. Downloadable maps are available to help visitors draw up their own journey and discover the beating heart of Normandy at their own leisurely pace.

From France Today magazine

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