Half-term in Caen
PUBLISHED: 11:00 07 September 2015 | UPDATED: 17:23 08 September 2015
Olivier Rault - Fotolia
This city in Normandy has a rich history and is just the right size for a family break, as FRANCE Magazine shows
A quick hop across the Channel on a half-term break will bring you to a location that’s full of interest for all the family: Caen in Normandy. Outside of the school holiday week, it’s also a great place if you fancy just dropping everything and taking off for a weekend of history, good food and drink.
Caen was founded by William the Conqueror, who built the mighty Caen Castle and the Abbaye aux Hommes, where he is buried. The castle is one of the largest medieval fortresses in western Europe and dates from 1060, just before William crossed from Normandy to the south coast of England to defeat King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. The castle now houses the Musée de Normandie, which tells Caen’s social history from prehistoric to industrial times. From the battlements you get fine views of the town and countryside beyond, and they’re the perfect place for children to imagine themselves as soldiers defending the Duke of Normandy from his enemies.
To the south-west of Caen you’ll find the Musée de Vieux-la-Romaine, set on the site of a Roman town. Children in particular will love the interactive displays and reconstructions bringing the period to life. The most important museum in the area, and a must-see for all ages, is the Caen-Normandie Mémorial: Cité de l’Histoire Pour la Paix. This tells the story of World War II in France, with many personal accounts of those harrowing times and vivid exhibits that take you on a journey from 1940 right through to the Cold War. You gain a much deeper understanding of what led to the conflict, how it developed and how it affected everything, not just in France but worldwide. It is immensely moving.
If the family needs to let off steam after all those museums, the tourist office has produced two trails around the town with booklets full of clues, puzzles and activities. There is also the Parc Floral de la Colline aux Oiseaux, which features a large playground, maze, petting farm and mini-golf. For those without young people in tow, the park offers year-round plant life, lakes, formal gardens and panoramic views of the city. Keen gardeners will also enjoy the Jardin des Plantes et Jardin Botanique in Place Blot – 5,000 square metres of green in the heart of the city with more than 8,000 plant species.
To continue a wartime tour you could take a trip to the Normandy beaches and see the remains of German guns and bunkers, and the pontoons used by Allied troops on D-Day in June 1944. Just a short drive away is the famous Pegasus Bridge spanning the Caen Canal. At the visitor centre you can see how crucial it was for the British forces to secure this crossing point, and there is a replica Horsa glider, used to land the advance party of paratroopers who took the bridge.
The other famous attraction in the area is the Bayeux Tapestry, on display a 25-minute drive from Caen. Close up to this amazing piece of needlework you appreciate the skill of the seamstresses; how, with just a few strands of thread, they gave their figures life, movement and facial expressions. The story of William and Harold unfolds as you walk slowly along the 70 metres of cloth panels, listening to the audio guide.
If all that sightseeing leaves you in need of sustenance, Caen is full of great places to eat. For a flavour of Normandy specialities to take home, visit the Friday market on the Fossées Saint-Julien, or the Sunday marketplace at Place Courtonne, stocking up on regional cheese and Calvados apple brandy.
For more information on where to stay and what to visit, see www.caen-tourisme.fr
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is the quickest way to the continent by car. Book early and get the best fares to explore Caen. Visit www.eurotunnel.com or call 0870 850 8133 to book your crossing.