When it comes to food, fun and festivities, Caen in Normandy ticks every box! Situated in the Calvados département, famous for its epomymous apple brandy, cider and cheese (Livarot and Pont-l’Evêque), this lively student town boasts fantastic restaurants (three of which are Michelin-starred), bars, medieval landmarks and much more.
This time last year, I was lucky enough to be invited on a segway tour of Caen as part of foodie-themed group press trip. The sun had set and the Christmas lights had come on, which made for a really festive atmosphere. Anyone who has been on a Segway before will know that it takes a little while to acclimatise but once my journalists and I had got the hang of it, we were ready and raring to go! We were going to visit some Caen’s biggest sites with David and Clément from Com’On Gyro, before making a pitstop to enjoy some of Normandy’s best culinary specialties.
Starting at Caen Castle, we head to the spectacular Men’s Abbey, commissioned by William Duke of Normandy to appease the Pope, who opposed his decision to marry his cousin Matilda of Flanders. William the Conqueror’s tomb lies in the abbey’s Church of Saint-Etienne, and is well worth a visit, although it is unclear as to how much of him is actually buried there as his grave, along with many others, was looted during the Religious Wars in the seventeenth century.
The abbey church, which sits proudly next to the vast Hôtel de Ville (town hall), is a glorious example of Norman architecture at its finest and remains in a superb condition to this day. December is a particularly good time to enjoy this part of Caen as there is a big wheel on the Espanade Jean-Marie Louvel, from which visitors can enjoy stunning views of the Church of Saint-Etienne, the Hôtel de Ville and the ruined Church of Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux across the road, a symbol of Caen and a poignant reminder of the devastation in Caen during World War II.
We continue on to the beautiful Place Saint-Sauveur just around the corner. Every December, Caen hosts a popular Christmas market on this square where visitors can enjoy festive mulled cider, crêpes with Camembert and assorted French sweet treats like nougat, macaroons and toffee-dipped nuts. The smell of apple and cinnamon fills the air.
We then turn right down the Rue Froide, so-named because this was apparently the road down which William had Matilda tied to a horse by her hair and dragged kicking and screaming after he found out that she had been unfaithful. She was allegedly treated with indifference by the street’s inhabitants, which led her to comment on what a ‘cold road’ it was. Our tour guide David responds that it could just as easily be named Rue Froide because the road runs from south-east to north-west and is a bit of a wind tunnel. Not wanting our view of William the Conqueror to be tarnished, we agree that it must surely be the latter explanation and are led into La Boîte à Calva, a shop specialising in Norman products including calvados, cider, locally-brewed beer, regional cheese and Isigny caramel. Inside, steaming cups of mulled wine, crusty baguette with Camembert and creamy teurgoule (Normandy rice pudding) are waiting for us. We tuck in and wash everything down with a delicious digestif of calvados.
Suitably fed and watered, we get back on our segways (on which we’re now quite the experts) and headed back to Caen Castle. Quite how my journalists and I would now manage the next stage of our press trip, namely a three-course dinner, was beyond us! One thing we were sure of, however, was that Caen was certainly tapping into its true potential as a foodie destination…
Learn more about Normandy food and drink on the Normandy Tourism website
Cover photo © S. Maurice | Photos © S. Maurice / Caen la Mer Tourisme / Calvados Tourisme / Normandy Tourism