Rouen in Normandy is the region's former capital and has a distinguished history involving such figures as Richard the Lionheart, William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc - a richness of heritage that is also expressed in its outstanding medieval architecture.
Founded during Roman times, Rouen is a city that has seen some of the most important events in European history - it was the scene of WIlliam the Conqueror's death in 1087 and Joan of Arc's trial and execution in 1431, as well as being the final resting place of Richard the Lionheart's entombed heart at Rouen Cathedral and the home of the Dukes of Normandy until William the Conqueror relocated to Caen.
Many monuments in the town have links to Joan of Arc including the tower where she was kept during her trial, known as the Tour Jeanne d'Arc, and a monument in La Place du Vieux Marché marking where she was executed, now also marked by the contemporary Eglise Ste Jeanne d'Arc.
All the most important monuments are in the Old Town, a beautiful area of winding streets lined with half-timber houses and home to the stunning Gothic cathedral that inspired Monet, the splendid Gros Horloge (Great Clock) and the Abbatiale de St Ouen, an abbey church that belonged to one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in Normandy.
With such a strong historical past, Rouen, of course, has many fantastic museums including a Musée des Beaux-Arts that holds some of Monet's paintings of the cathedral, a Museum of Joan of Arc and a Natural History Museum (Espace des Sciences) as well museums dedicated to the history of ceramics, wrought-iron and medicine to name but a few.
An inspiration to many Impressionist painters, especially Monet, Rouen is also the home of post-Impressionism. Souvenirs using Impressionist artwork can be found at the tourist office where it is also possible to book themed walks andd tours in Rouen and the surrounding area, which are a great way of discovering more about this fascinating place.
If you're more interested in shopping then there is also much to explore with an excellent selection of shops selling antiques, traditional craftworks, furniture and home decor with dozens of art galleries and several chocolate shops.
Don't forget to buy some delicious local produce such as Normandy cheese, cider and seafood from the markets and sample some traditional terroir dishes and local specialities such as duckling à la rouennaise (duckling rolled in mustard and served rare with a sauce made from a base of Bordeaux wine and shallots) or splash out on a gourmet meal at one of the Michelin-starred restaurants in the city.
For food lovers, the best time of year to visit is during La Fête du Ventre, a food festival that takes place annually every third weekend in October. Local producers wearing traditional Normandy dress sell their wonderful seasonal fruits, vegetables, beverages, cheeses and dairy produce. Famous regional chefs also make local speciality dishes from every corner of the region.
Nearby are the towns of Elbeuf surrounded by woodland, the coastal La Bouille and the ruins of the Jumièges Abbey. Monet's home in Giverny is around an hour away whilst several châteaux can be found in the area.
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