Visit Normandy for its rich history and sigh-worthy cheeses

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The Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux is an imposing structure. (Shutterstock)
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It is impossible to miss the abbey of Mont St. Michel as you drive toward it.
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What is left of a World War II landing port is visible off the coast of the town of Arromanches.
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Normandy is home to blissful beaches and stunning scenery.
Updated 01 October 2017
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Visit Normandy for its rich history and sigh-worthy cheeses

BAYEUX, Normandy: Normandy is blessed with stunning landscapes, a rich history and some of the best cheese and cream in all of Europe. Sprawled across France’s northwestern corner, the spectacular cliff-lined coast and rolling green fields have inspired centuries of creative talents, including Impressionist painter Claude Monet.
Lapped by the Channel, Normandy is home to a sandy coastline and was the site of the D-Day landings in World War II, when US, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along the heavily fortified coast in 1944.
Despite the tall, wind-rustled grasses and peaceful dunes, memories of the brutal episode in the war reveal the grittier side of Normandy, an area that was home to the Viking warriors who conquered England in 1066 and were said to have terrorized parts of Europe.
For visitors who wish to understand more about this fascinating history, and enjoy gastronomic delights at the same time, Normandy is well worth a visit. From the Bayeux Tapestry to the magnificent island commune of Mont St-Michel, there are plenty of attractions to visit in the area.
If you are planning a trip to Europe’s cream capital — Normandy is famed for its dairy ventures — look no further than this guide. Be sure to pack a raincoat, however, as the area is known for its almost-constant drizzle. Temperatures remain mild throughout the year, and range between 10 and 25 degrees Celsius.
The D-Day landing beaches
A visit to the landing beaches in Normandy will prove a sobering start to your trip, but it is crucial if you wish to understand how the largest seaborne invasion in history was carried out. The June 6, 1944, operation sparked the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe, which eventually led to an Allied victory on the western front of the war.
Wartime planners divided the stretch of golden coastline into five sectors, which are still known by their code names. Sword, Juno and Gold were stormed by British and Commonwealth troops, while the Americans came ashore on Omaha and Utah.
One of the most visited sites is the poignantly huge American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which houses the graves of 9,387 US military personnel. Visitors can also stop at the town of Arromanches, where Mulberry harbor, which facilitated 2.5 million men in coming ashore, still lies exposed offshore.
Bayeux
The 1,000-year-old town of Bayeux, with its medieval cobbled streets and Norman-Gothic cathedral, is breathtaking. Tourists can flock to the overpowering Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux, wander the history-dipped streets, then pay a visit to the undisputed jewel of the area, the Bayeux Tapestry.
The 70-meter-long embroidery, on show at the Bayeux Museum, depicts the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066. William insisted he was the rightful heir to the English throne after the death of King Edward the Confessor, and when the Anglo-Saxon Harold Godwinsson was anointed instead, an irate William stormed the beaches of England and conquered his detractors at the Battle of Hastings on Oct. 14, 1066.
French legend has it that the tapestry was created by his wife Queen Matilda with her ladies in waiting. Although scholarly analysis has not dug up any evidence on exactly who sewed the epic embroidery, it is sometimes called “La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde” (“The Tapestry of Queen Matilda”) in France.
The Pays d’Auge
Normandy’s reputation for cream, cheese and apples rests on the meadows and orchards of the Pays d’Auge. This idyllic slice of rural France is dotted with hungry cows chewing on long grass, dairy farms, and long stretches of tree-topped hills and deep valleys. The tiny village of Camembert is worth a visit due to its important place in history — and our diets — as the home of the deliciously pungent cheese created there during the days of the French Revolution.
Half-timbered houses and farms can be seen throughout the area, one that is perfect for bicycle rides ending with a visit to Pays d’Auge’s principal town of Lisieux. The town is France’s second-ranking Roman Catholic pilgrimage destination after the town of Lourdes, due to the Basilica of St. Thérèse, which was opened in 1937.
Rouen
Rouen is Normandy’s largest city and is home to a major port, which is the closest to Paris. The bustling city straddles the Seine river and boasts a medieval core, with tangled streets that are both authentic and restored — Allied bombing during World War II ravaged the city and led to many of the riverbanks and pathways being obliterated.
For history buffs, the city is most recognizable as the place where Roman Catholic St. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431, and as the home of the awe-inspiring Rouen Cathedral. Built over three centuries, the cathedral has seen the crowning of various dukes of Normandy.
Several are buried in the cathedral, which also houses the heart of England’s King Richard I, who ruled in the 12th century. The famed king was known as Richard the Lion Heart, and is remembered for battling the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, Saladin, during the Crusades. Fast forward to the 19th century, and the much-loved artist Monet made it his mission to document the beautiful facades of the cathedral in a series of paintings completed in the 1890s.
Mont St. Michel
It is impossible to miss the abbey of Mont St. Michel as you drive toward it through twisting country lanes — it is awe-inspiring even at a distance. The abbey was built on the highest point of a tiny island near the frontier between Brittany and Normandy more than 1,000 years ago.
What began as a religious sanctuary, built on a rock in 708 AD by the bishop of the nearby town of Avranches, was developed into the megastructure we see today between the 11th and 16th centuries. It quickly became one of the most important places of medieval pilgrimage, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Nowadays the site is a busy tourist trap, so make sure to visit early in the day or be prepared to climb the stone stairways in order to escape the hubbub below. Whether you arrive by car or coach, you will park in a set of car parks about 20 minutes away from the island, and can choose to travel by a free shuttle or pay a fee for a horse-driven cart.
Normandy is a mere three-hour drive from Paris, so jetting into the capital and organizing a car or coach trip is the best way to soak in the delights of this food, history and art-rich stretch of France.


World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018
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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Moscow

Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.

Grozny

Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.

Voronezh

Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to Halalguide.me, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.

Essentuki

Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.

Kaluga

It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.