With almost 1000 years of intense links, it comes as no surprise that Normandy is the most 'English' part of France (or is it actually the other way round): the stunning coastline made up of limestone cliffs, the quaint half-timbered houses, the preference for cider over wine and even the ubiquitous jokes about the weather would not be out of place across the Channel.

Nevertheless, make no mistake: Normandy is as French as the local camembert cheese. On our weekend in Normandy, the amazing local food and landscapes combined with unusually clement weather to make for an enchanting visit.

Honfleur marina

Most visitors will want to head straight for the Southern, "Lower" part of Normandy, which is richer in famous sights and includes the beaches where the Allied armies landed to start the liberation of Western Europe in June 1944, which are the region's main historic sight.

On the way there, however, be sure to stop off in Honfleur: this former pirate harbour surely draws the crowds, but it is definitely worth it. The waterfront is full of tourist traps, so it's better to explore a bit further into town for your first taste of Normandy's famous, hearty cuisine: we ate at the aptly named Le Corsaire (The Pirate, 22 Place Sainte-Catherine).

Art market @ Houlgate seafront

The central section of Normandy's coastline between the Seine and Orne estuaries is known as the Flower Coast (Côte Fleurie): as the nearest section of coastline to Paris, it saw a huge tourism boom during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before improved railway technology brought the Mediterranean coast within easy reach.

As a result, the Flower Coast now boasts a string of cute resort towns that seem lost in time. We made our base for the weekend near Houlgate, where we encountered a nice haphazard art market along the seafront as well as an amazing covered market selling Normandy's most famous produce: its cheese.

Houlgate covered market

Normandy's coastline is lined not only with cliffs, but also with the sort of amazing kilometre-wide beaches that are common in the rest of Northern Europe (and that offer a very good surface to land tanks and other heavy hardware): on this occasion, the sea at Houlgate beach was even a beautiful deep blue.

Houlgate beach

Aside from cheese, Normandy is prime apple territory: in the best French tradition (see also grapes in other regions), the apples are not usually eaten but transformed into a trio of interesting drinks. Cider, pommeau and calvados (in order of alcohol content) are all worth a taste, and are on sale everywhere in an amazing variety. You can sample all three, along with the delicious local cuisine - more undaunted eaters will opt for "Tripes à la mode de Caen" - at Le Normand.

An apple a day

Lastly, Normandy's beaches, marshes and sandflats sustain an underrated seafood tradition, whose undoubted top product are the oysters of Courseulles-sur-Mer, a town on the appropriately named Mother-of-Pearl Coast (Côte de Nacre), further West.

Mother-of-pearl in its original setting

If you're heading back up to Northern Europe, as we were, round off your time in Normandy with a visit to Étretat, yet another cute seafront town wedged between two enormous limestone cliffs: the Impressionist painters of the late 19th century made them into probably the most famous picture-postcard view of the time. 

A perfect place to inspire...a murder mystery?

A perfect place to inspire...a murder mystery?

Sunset impression

And then I did not even mention Normandy's catchy local anthem, Ma Normandie, which interestingly doubles as the official anthem of the British island of Jersey just off Normandy's Western coast, and whose most famous line ("J'irai revoir ma Normandie" - I will return to see my Normandy) appears on signs, napkins and cider mugs all over the region: we certainly will return. Will you?