Exploring Normandy, France: The Harbor Town Of Saint-Vaast-La-Hougue

The land of Calvados, Pont l’Evêque cheese and World War II history, Normandy, France, is one of those places that manages to pack almost everything into one region. Coastline, farmland, history, culture, food – in a trip to Normandy you can get it all.

Well known for some of its larger cities and the World War II beaches like Utah and Omaha, an often forgotten gem of Normandy is Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, a small fishing village just east of Cherbourg. A tiny village in the off-season, during the warmer months it explodes with French and Brits descending upon their vacation homes. Which makes late spring or early fall the perfect time to explore: the weather is nice and the streets are quiet.The first harbor to be freed by the Allied Forces in 1944, the village is also home to the La Hougue Fort and Tatihou, part of 12 groups of fortified buildings across France that have UNESCO World Heritage classification. Built by King Louis XIV’s famed engineer Sebastian le Prestre de Vauban, the Vauban fortifications include citadels, urban bastion walls and bastion towers. In Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue you’ll find one just east of town and the other on the island of Tatihou, both built after naval Battle of La Hougue saw twelve French ships sunk in the surrounding waters. Go to La Hougue Fort early in the morning and have the place to yourself, the waves crashing on the rock wall that surrounds the fort and, if you’re up for it, an excellent promenade.

In town you’ll find the infamous Maison Gosselin, a family-owned store that’s been in operation since 1889. It’s still set up like a classic store – you take your produce to be weighed before you pay for it – and it’s complete with regional products like Sel Guerande sea salt and plenty of options for Calvados. In fact the wine cellar almost seems bigger than the store itself. Foodie heaven.

From here you are a short drive to the WWII beaches, Utah Beach and the Utah Beach Museum being the closest. Omaha Beach, which houses the Normandy American Cemetery is just a little further east.

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When in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue:

Eat:

Le Pub le Creperie – Owned by an ex-Parisian named Philippe, this is the place to go for good crepes. You can also get the traditional serving of moules frites (mussels and fries). Be sure to accompany with the rose. 36 rue de Verrue.

Oysters – One out of four oysters in France come from Normandy, and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a hub of oyster production. You can visit a local oyster production complete with a tasting at Ets Lejeune.

Shop:

Snag a classic striped mariniere French sailor shirt. Check out local boutique Cap Saint Vaast Marine (12 rue de Verrue) for the classic brand St. James. While you’re at it, stick to the maritime theme and pick up a few jars of flavored sea salts at Maison Gosselin.

Do:

Get up early and check out the La Hougue Fort; you’ll have it to yourself and the fortified walls are beautiful in the early morning light.

Go to Ile Tatihou. The island is limited to 500 people per day so make sure to book a time on the local ferry that shuttles visitors to the island.

Get outside. In the summer Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a hub of activity, from cycling to sailing.

Photo Of The Day: Le Mont Saint-Michel

annegbt, Flickr

Across the Cherbourg Peninsula from the infamous Omaha Beach in Normandy is one of France‘s most striking landmarks, as well as one of the most popular outside of Paris, Mont Saint-Michel. Dominating the the landscape of this tidal island turned commune is the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey, a place so beautiful Victor Hugo lobbied to preserve it. Over the millennia and a half that the island has been inhabited, it has seen quite a lot of history, from being in British hands to being a prison for over 70 years.

This shot of the Le Mont Saint-Michel, which shows off its beautiful symmetry against a perfectly blue sky, was captured by Flickr user annegbt. If you have a great travel photo, submit it to our Gadling Flickr pool and it may also be featured on as our Photo of the Day.

Impressive Normandy Festivals To See This Year

Normandy

The Normandy region of France is host to a number of festivals and events, some of which attract travelers from around the world. For many Americans, Normandy brings to mind D-Day landings, World War II and the Normandy beaches, but there is a whole lot more to know about.

The Armada- June 6-16, 2013
Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, “L’Armada de la liberté” – “The Sails of Freedom” brings millions of visitors to the Port of Rouen for concerts, gigantic fireworks and plenty of other entertainment.

But the stars of the show are more than 50 of the largest sailing ships in the world. Also featured are modern warships, all of which have sailed up the 120 kilometers of the River Seine through the beautiful landscapes of Normandy.

Cirque Theater
One of the last surviving permanent circus rings in France, the theater in d’Elbeuf is the only one to have a 13-meter-wide ring, exactly like the ring under a big top in a traveling circus, plus a proscenium stage.

Normandy Impressionist Festival- April 27 through September 23, 2013
All over Normandy, called “the birthplace of Impressionism,” preparations for the second Festival Normandie Impressionniste are under way.

With water as its central theme, the festival brings to the fore an eclectic program across the arts with exhibitions, concerts, films, modern art, literature and picnics like Manet’s “The Luncheon on the Grass.”


To find out more about Impressionism in Normandy, watch this short video:


[Photo Credit- Rouen and Seine Valley District Tourist Office/JFLange]

African-American Military Aviators On Hand To Tell Their Story

African-American Military Aviators

They were our nation’s first African-American military aviators. The Tuskegee Airmen peaked at 1,000 pilots and 15,000 ground crew during World War II. Now, only 40 pilots and 200 ground crew are alive today. Florida’s Fantasy of Flight aircraft collection continues to honor the airmen with a series of symposiums coming up in 2013 as well as their annual student essay contest.

“Reading the student essays last year, it was clear how much the participants were influenced by the Tuskegee Airmen, both by the men they met in person at the ‘They Dared to Fly’ symposium, as well as through the research they conducted on their own,” said Kim Long, General Manager, Fantasy of Flight in a statement.

Dedicated to preserving historic moments in aviation history and inspiring future generations to greatness, Fantasy of Flight is inviting students to help with this mission by sharing their impressions of the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII in essay form.Themed “They Dared To Fly,” the contest invites central Florida students in grades 6-12 to enter the contest, referring to the L.E.A.D. values that put the Tuskegee Airmen in the history books – Leadership, Excellence, Advocacy and Determination.

First place winners in each of two categories (grades 6-8 and 9-12) will take home $500; two second place winners each will receive $300.

Fantasy of Flight’s 2013 Legends & Legacies Symposium Series continues with several open-forum/question-and-answer sessions as well as meet-and-greet autograph signings with some of the original Tuskegee Airmen Feb. 7-9, 2013. The event will be held in celebration of Black History Month and marks the first of six symposiums.

Other topics scheduled for 2013 include Beyond the Battlefield, March 8-9; The First World War, April 6; D-Day: Normandy & Beyond, May 3-4; Espionage: The Cold War, Oct. 4-5 and Veteran’s Day Salute: A Celebration of Service, Nov. 9-10, 2013.

Symposium events are included in the price of Fantasy of Flight general admission and are free for annual pass holders.



[Photo Credit- Flickr user Suzanne_C_Walker]

Photo of the day – Cliffs of Etretat

cliffs of etretat

The cliffs of Étretat in Normandy in northwestern France are impressively colossal. The more melodramatic among us might even call them breathtaking. And yet the cliffs, despite their incredible beauty and their magnetic power over generations of French artists and writers, are hardly among France’s first tier of tourist sights. This image of the cliffs, taken by Flickr user toffiloff, is especially delightful; the human specks at the top of the image put the awesome scale of the cliffs into perspective.

We’d love to be able to consider your favorite image as a potential upcoming Photo of the Day. Upload your photos to Flickr’s Gadling Group Pool and you might just end up spying your own work on Gadling.