If my parents, my brother, and I are indeed able to pull off our trip to Putot-en-Auge to visit my uncle’s grave in June, Day 2 will probably be in Caen, the largest city nearby. Many special events are scheduled there this summer to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Normandy. Five million visitors are expected to visit during early June, so it’s a good thing we’re planning to go later in the month.
- Day 1: Paris to Giverny
- Day 2: Caen
- Day 3: Putot-en-Auge
- Day 4: Honfleur
- Day 5: Back to Paris
Caen was the home of William the Conqueror, known in French as Guillaume le Conquerant. His fortress was built in 1060, just a few years before he successfully invaded England. It survived the Hundred Years’ War and was used as a barracks in World War II. Today, it houses the musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen and the musée de Normandie. En trois temps is a special exhibit at the art museum featuring three artists from three different centuries, including a 17th century portraitist of miniatures on ivory.
Two other important sites in Caen are the Abbaye aux Hommes (Men’s Abbey, shown in the top photo and above) and the Abbaye aux Femmes (Women’s Abbey), now known as l’Église St. Étienne and l’Église de la Ste.-Trinité. They have an interesting history. The pope had forbidden William from marrying Mathilde de Flandres on the basis that they were distant cousins. The couple refused to obey and married in secret. The pope agreed to forgive them and recognize the marriage if William built two churches to make amends.
Another church, Saint-Pierre, was constructed over four centuries, starting in the early 13th century. The spire was destroyed during World War II, but has been rebuilt. Until the 19th century, it faced onto a canal that has since been covered over.
I know that my Mom will like le Jardin botanique de Caen. It was founded in 1689 as a university botanical garden, but after the French Revolution it was extended and turned into a municipal park. All of it was destroyed in World War II, but it was reconstructed in 1988.
Le Mémorial pour la Paix (the Memorial for Peace) was built in 1988 to trace the events of D-Day. Their exhibit for the coming months is entitled “On a tous 70 ans” (ohn a toos swahsahnt deese ahn), which means “We are all 70 years old,” looking back to the summer of 1944.
Of course, the two key questions are where to stay and where to eat. I’m thinking of booking Le Clos St. Martin, right in the heart of town. It’s a converted home that dates from the 16th century with four spacious rooms/suites (18, bis Place Saint Martin T. +33(0)07.81.39.23.67 E. firstname.lastname@example.org). Considering how few rooms there are, I’d better have a back-up plan. Au Passage Colas is a B&B with loads of charm, not far from downtown (24 rue Saint-Gabriel). Another option, l’Hôtel Astrid, looks a little soulless, but it’s central, gets great reviews, and has many more rooms, so we’re likely to get a place (39 rue de Bernières).
For dining, I’ll try to get us in at À contre sens, a chic Michelin-starred little beauty. There are prix fixe menus, as well as à la carte options (8, rue des Croisiers, T: 02.31.97.44.48 email@example.com). And because I love crêpes, I’m keen on trying Crêperie An Delenn. The reviews for their Breton-style crêpes made with locally-sourced, fresh ingredients are simply stellar (3 Ter Rue du Vaugueux, T: 02.31.93.64.75). I sure hope this trip comes off; I’m working up an appetite!