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

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.


The deluxe delights of Mandarin Oriental Jumeira

The hotel is located on Jumeirah Beach Road across from Mercato shopping mall. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2019

The deluxe delights of Mandarin Oriental Jumeira

  • New arrival justifies its place in Dubai’s already packed luxury hotel roster

DUBAI: Does Dubai really need another luxury hotel? If you had to pause to think about it, then you’re not Dubai. Four Seasons? We’ll take two, please. One&Only? Go on, give us two more. Ritz-Carlton and Waldorf Astoria? Oh why not, we’ll take two each. 

And yet, until earlier this year, one might say there was a gap in Dubai’s collection for a Mandarin Oriental, a hotel for all great hotel cities. 

It’s here now, located on Jumeirah Beach Road across from Mercato shopping mall and beside a drive-through Starbucks. It’s easy to miss the modern low-rise building perched just off the sidewalk because of its subtle (possibly a new addition to Dubai’s dictionary) daytime presence.

The seafront suite at Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai is one of a kind. (Supplied)

It is only after dark that it becomes more remarkable, when a forest of crystal trees lights up its lobby, and it sparkles like a jewel box through the glass from the sidewalk right through to the beach. 

There are further design delights in my deluxe sea-view room, which has a balcony overlooking the pool area. The centerpiece is the soaker tub in its expansive marble bathroom — which is almost the size of the sleeping area that it opens onto — complete with handily placed heated towel rack. My enthusiasm for the bath is momentarily dulled when sand-colored water gushes from the tap, but this is fixed by a few technicians who respond immediately when I call.

The hotel has luxurious bathrooms and interior. (Supplied)

Although I’m not usually impressed by hotel-room technology — too often fancy light switches only complicate a simple matter — this room has a few stand-out features. The curtains open and close automatically not only with a bedside button, but also when I go to part them; the lights in the walk-in closet turn on automatically upon entering; and even the blow dryer is touch-activated. 

It’s not just the technology that demonstrates attention to detail. The closet contains a yoga mat and beach bag. On the desk, there’s a small stack of books, including Peter Frankopan’s  “The New Silk Roads.” There’s also a box of coffee-table-sized books that turns out to be four hefty room-service menus: Middle Eastern, Asian, International and Healthy. All of which meant there was little reason to leave the room, if it wasn’t for a dinner reservation at Netsu, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant.

The curtains open and close automatically not only with a bedside button, but also when you go to part them. (Supplied)

An event in itself, Netsu is equipped with a glass-walled warayaki cooking theater, where chefs grill wagyu beef on a 900-degree fire. My friend and I are seated at a bar facing the glass, where we watch them stoking the fire with rice straw brought in from Japan. The tender meat is uniquely flavored, proving that it’s more than just a show for Instagram.

It would be hard to find more self-assured service than the kind shown to us by our waiter, Nick, who is definitive in his starter recommendations. “I won’t take no for an answer,” he tells us, and we’re pleased he didn’t. The Korean fried chicken, corn tempura and yellowtail tiradito are all worth their place on the signature tasting menu.

Netsu is equipped with a glass-walled warayaki cooking theater. (Supplied)

Breakfast in The Bay, the hotel’s brasserie-style restaurant facing the beach, makes less of an impression. While there was nothing wrong with the buffet, the staff seem oddly perplexed by my request to order à la carte. 

And while a peaceful day by the pool was threatened by a few loud teenagers throwing balls, the adult-only infinity pool on the rooftop, for hotel guests only, provided much-needed escape. At first it seemed odd that it was stationed outside the windows of Tasca, the Portuguese restaurant by Michelin-star chef José Avillez. But as the kitchen prepared for dinner, a waiter brought out small tasters, including avocado tempura, for the sunbathers to enjoy on our cushy daybeds with a vast view of the sunset over the Arabian Gulf.

So while Dubai might not need another luxury hotel, it can certainly use this one. To borrow the Mandarin Oriental’s slogan, I can definitely say: “I’m a fan.”