Caen, in Normandy, is one of the oldest university towns in France. Bustling with activity, it is a vibrant and attractive city on the River Orne.
Brimming with exquisite art and fashion boutiques alongside superb markets selling fine wines and fresh produce, Caen provides an indulgent shopping experience. The rich tastes of Normandy can be experienced not only in the dairy and seafood dishes served in Caen's excellent restaurants but also at the street side crêperies and pátisseries. In particular, the Vaugueux quarter has a number of excellent restaurants. Veal and pre-salé lamb, reared on the salt marshes of the Mont St Michel area are local specialities.
What to do in Caen
Plunge into Caen's fascinating history by visiting the last resting place of William the Conqueror at the fairytale Abbaye aux Hommes (the 'Men's Abbey'). It now contains only his thigh-bone, having been destroyed by a Calvinist mob in the 16th century. You can also explore William's Chateau de Caen, an 11th century castle that is one of the largest medieval complexes in Europe and an impressive piece of military architecture. Surrounded by a dry moat, the Chateau de Caen is now home to the Musée de Normandie which explores the region's history from the Gauls and the Romans to the Vikings and Saxons, with exhibitions about the landscape of Normandy and the everyday lives of the Norman peasants.
Caen is a fantastic starting point to explore the sites of the Normandy Landings with guided beach tours, and the emotive Caen Memorial Museum, dedicated to peace, is renowned as one of the best WW2 museums in France. The museum focuses on a theme of reconciliation whichs you through the many collections about modern wars and acts of warfare but is particularly centred on WW2. Do not forget to visit the Gardens, especially the British Garden opened in 2004 by Prince Charles.
Things to do nearby
Pegasus Bridge and its memorial are a short drive away whilst the British and Canadian Landing Beaches, Juno and Sword are also very close by for those wishing to unearth more about this important part of European history. Nearby St Lô was almost destroyed during the war and although it was considered that it should be kept as a memorial, it has been largely rebuilt. Other attractions close to Caen include Festyland, a popular theme park for young children where they can learn all about William the Conqueror, the Vikings, pirates and much more whilst having lots of fun! You can also see Bayeux Tapestry itself in Bayeux, less than an hour away.