The Calvados department of Basse-Normandie is a prim, unobtrusive pocket of France that I particularly enjoy. For Calvados apple brandy of course (a spirit I drink from time to time) but also for seaside resorts, manors and picturesque scenery.
The Calvados capital of Caen captures all these features in one fabulous package. The city of William the Conqueror and first city of Lower Normandy has a population of 115,000 people and is mere steps from the English Channel. With so many superb points of interest to discover, only ten can qualify as must-see.
10. Jardin botanique de Caen
The primary botanical garden and arboretum of Caen is historic. First built in the late 17th century, the public park and green space went through various remarkable transformations in tough periods like the French Revolution and Second World War. It remains however, the best place for a fragrant stroll within city limits.
9. Stade Michel d’Ornano
While a diminutive stadium by UEFA Elite standards, the Stade Michel d’Ornano is nonetheless a wonderful football destination in France. Whether home side Stade Malherbe Caen plays in top-flight Ligue 1 or Ligue 2, check out a match and soak up the local atmosphere.
8. Musée de Normandie
For the best history lesson on Normandy imaginable, run, do not walk, to the excellent Musée de Normandie. This foremost repository of every possible facet of Norman culture and history is a source of pride in Caen – for good reason.
7. Place Courtonne Sunday Market
Calvados is a remarkable agricultural region and famous for a wide variety of proprietary products. My favorite French spirit of course but so much more. Stock up in Caen then at the first-class Sunday market in Place Courtonne.
6. Church of Saint-Pierre
What would a thorough tour of a good French city be without a cathedral or church visit? Sorry and incomplete I dare say. With that in mind, stop in at the early 13th century Church of Saint-Pierre.
5. D-Day Memorials
D-Day and Normandy. Virtual metonyms for transformative World War II events. It would be wrong to visit Caen and not pay homage to some of the area’s more somber and profound landmarks. These include the Memorial and Museum for Peace and Juno Beach Centre, a museum in Courseulles-sur-Mer which chronicles Canada’s vast contributions on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
4. Château de Caen
Built by none other than William the Conqueror in 1066, the immense Château de Caen has been a Monument Historique in France since 1886. The castles contains both the Musée des Beaux-Arts and Musée de Normandie.
3. Château de Falaise
The small commune of Falaise, birthplace of one William the Conqueror, is worth the short drive from Caen even without a conspicuous castle. Still, the massive 12th century Château de Falaise helps make the trip worthwhile.
Caen’s two standout must-see attractions are a duo of late 11th century abbeys built on the orders of William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders. The Abbaye-aux-Dames was fully restored in the early 1990s and is a remarkable, dramatic Caen landmark.
The same hyperbole is equally apt with the Benedictine Abbaye-aux-Hommes. Awesome and extraordinarily photogenic, the abbey was the ultimate burial place for both William and Matilda. Both Caen abbeys rank as pinnacle milestones of Romanesque architecture in the world.
Check out superb hotel deals in Caen.