The department of Eure in Normandy claims to have a coastline, and even boasts a resort called Berville-sur-Mer; however, that coastline is in fact the southern bank of the widening River Seine, just before it opens out into the English Channel between Le Havre and Honfleur (neither of which belong to Eure!). But the department certainly makes up for its lack of coastal scenery in many other ways. Eure is a lush region and Normandy's most wooded department. As such, it has hundreds of miles of rural pathways for ramblers, cyclists and visiting explorers. It is also an area packed with charming little towns and villages, many of which hide away architectural and historic treasures.
Through no fault of its own, apart from its geographic position - less than 60 miles west of the country's capital - the department's principal town of Evreux seems to have attracted misfortune for the past 1500 years. In the fifth century, the Vandals attacked and destroyed the town, and four hundred years later it was the turn of the Vikings to plunder and pillage. On an annoyingly regular basis in the Middle Ages, both French and English royalty organised local skirmishes which all too often left Evreux in ruins. In 1940, the Germans bombed the town, leaving it to burn for almost a week; four years later, as part of the Allies' invasion of Normandy, the town was once again razed to the ground.
Since that time, the population of Evreux has doubled to more than 50,000 and, undeterred by the rubble and ashes of an unfortunate past, Evreux has grown into a modern and prosperous town.
Because it is almost land-locked, Eure is somewhat sheltered from Atlantic and English Channel weather fronts. Wind-chill is therefore not such a problem as it may be for its coastal neighbours. Winters are generally mild with temperatures - even wind-chill temperatures - rarely dropping below freezing point. But as can be judged from the lush countryside, rain, throughout the year, is not in short supply. However, the summer months can usually be relied upon to provide an adequate number of days to enjoy Eure's outdoor attractions and the glorious beaches of its neighbouring departments.
Average temperatures (Celsius)
The only seaside resort within the department of Eure is Berville-sur-Mer which (as we have already established) is actually on the banks of the River Seine. However, a short distance over the departmental border into Calvados, are some of the finest beaches and best-known resorts in the whole of northern France.
From east to west, those resorts include the quaint and truly picturesque fishing town of Honfleur, the colourful town of Trouville, the fashionable resort of Deauville - known for its casino and horse racing, and the elegant beach resorts of Houlgate and Cabourg.
However, Eure does indeed have several inland beaches which, during the summer months, always prove popular with visitors. Perhaps the best known is within strolling distance to the centre of Brionne, a charming little town built on the banks of the River Risle. Here, at a lake formed by the river, is a wide stretch of fine sand and clean, safe, shallow water which can keep the children amused for hours on end.
In Evreux, the administrative capital of the department, is the magnificent and several times reconstructed Cathedral of Notre Dame, with its origins going back to the 12th century. Twenty-five miles north west of Evreux is another significant religious site, Bec-Hellouin, a small monastic community which became the centre of Anglo-Norman religious development during the eleventh century. The community produced many notables, including two Archbishops of Canterbury and several popes. Although still home to a Benedictine order, Le Bec-Hellouin Abbey and the well-preserved Saint Nicholas Tower are open to the public on most days throughout the year. Nearby, in the pretty little village of Bec itself, is a fascinating vintage car museum, again open to visitors throughout the year.
The jewel in Eure's crown must be 'Monet's Garden' in Giverny in the east of the department. On the banks of the Seine, Giverny is where the widely-acknowledged father of impressionist painting Claude Monet lived for more than 40 years until his death in 1926. His house, studio and stunning walled gardens - featuring its famous lily pond and Japanese bridge - is nowadays one of France's top cultural visitor attractions, open most days between April and November.
Family entertainment and sports
With some 2000 kilometres of pathways and trails through some of northern France's most picturesque countryside and dense woodland, the department of Eure is a paradise for ramblers and hikers. However, Eure is also dissected by many small and several large rivers, not least of all, the Seine. So fishing and most water sports are well catered for. In fact, the 162-acre Lery-Poses Regional Leisure Park, near Elbeuf, north of Evreux, offers a host of activities - from horse-riding and cycling to canoeing and windsurfing. And, of course, there are the department's six golf courses to explore.
Another favourite attraction of Eure are the specialist markets, selling everything from fluffy day-old chickens to some of the country's finest wines and cheeses. One particular event which has grown both in size and status over the years is St Michael's Fair in the medieval town of Louviers. Founded in 1806 as a livestock market, the annual three day event - held during the last weekend of September - is now a huge festival which includes exhibitions, funfairs, markets and an agricultural show.
Food and drink
Eure shares many of its specialities with other departments of Normandy. The whole region is particularly famous for its dairy products - especially butter and the many varieties of cheese. Although the department is almost land-locked, its close proximity to the coast means that seafood is also plentiful. Chefs in the department's restaurants and bistros - four of which have Michelin stars - take full advantage of local specialities found in the weekly food markets. These include a huge variety of fruit and vegetables, foie gras, snails and even ostrich meat. And as an accompaniment they will be proud to serve locally-produced cider or a glass of Calvados, Normandy's powerful but smooth apple brandy.
Ease of access
Although Eure has no ferry ports of its own, it is only a short hop over the Seine estuary, via the Pont de Normandie at Honfleur, to Le Havre from where ferry operators LD Lines have regular sailings to Portsmouth and Newhaven (new for 2007). Slightly further, but still very manageable, is the Port of Caen from where Brittany Ferries operate daily sailings to Portsmouth. Air travel is also down to neighbouring departments. Deauville has its own small airport from where some budget airlines sometimes offer a high season service to and from southern England. However, Eure is close enough to Paris for visitors to take full advantage of regular scheduled flights to more or less every country in the world from the capital's main airports.
Value for money
Eure can cater for all types of holiday - from low-cost family fortnights to luxury chateau breaks. If anything, the average cost of hiring accommodation in Eure may be slightly cheaper than neighbouring departments, taking into account that it has no seaside rental property to offer. However, there are many stunning properties available in some of northern France's most picturesque countryside and the glorious beaches on the Calvados coast are only a stone's throw away. Being so close to Le Havre, visitors to Eure can also benefit from some very reasonable ferry fares.
The department of Eure can offer something for everyone - from a huge range of sports and wonderful countryside pursuits to a hectic timetable of cultural pastimes and culinary pleasures. But if that isn't enough, Eure is ideally placed, without having to travel too far from airports or ferry ports, to use as a touring base. The whole region has an enormous amount to offer and should the visitor get restless for city life, Paris is only a short distance away and very easily accessible by both private and public transport.