Tour De Normandy
Normandy has been a popular tourist attraction in France for many years, attracting hundreds of thousands from all around the world. Normandy is not only known for its battlefields, but also for its rich history, charming towns and villages and enthralling Heritage Sites. There are beautiful beaches and landscapes. Normandy is also home to some of the world's most picturesque and interesting port cities.
Located in the northwest of France, Normandy has been the site of various battles for more than eight hundred years. The region has a conflict filled history, which has had a part in shaping Europe over the centuries. Normandy is, of course, most famous as the site of the D-Day landings near the end of the Second World War. Today, more than sixty-five years after the D-Day invasion, the Normandy coast is historical, peaceful and picturesque.
There are dozens of D-Day sites to see that stretch from the landing beaches along the Calvados and La Manche coast, from Ouistreham all the way to Cherbourg, and inland to various towns and villages. They include museums, cemeteries, memorials, outdoor displays and historic structures. There is even a forty-kilometer historic trail that passes through thirteen sites that were critical points in the WWII battle for the town of Carentan. There are many local tourist offices that can help you as well as numerous experienced tour guides and companies to choose from. You can use guides or follow your own itinerary. What you see will, of course, depend on how much time you have.
Many of the sites to visit are along the different beaches that still carry the names they were designated on D-Day. Here's a partial list of sites and towns starting from the beaches to the east:
Sword Beach (British troops landed there and it stretches from Ouistreham to Luc-sur-Mer)
Mémorial Pégasus, Ranville - Benouville, the Pegasus Bridge, captured by British airborne units, has been replaced. But the original is on display at the nearby Pegasus Bridge Museum. Among the other displays at the museum is a Horsa Glider.
Ouistreham, a seaside resort town with fortifications, memorials, museums and military cemeteries. The Atlantic Wall museum is a “must-see”.
Ranville War Cemetery, final resting place of 2,235 soldiers who were members of the British 6th Airborne Division and other units.
Juno Beach (Canadian troops landed on this five mile wide section of beach)
Centre Juno Beach (Juno Beach Centre), Courseulles-sur-Mer, has exhibits commemorating Canada's role in D-Day operations and the war effort on the Canadian home front.
Graye-sur-Mer is a town of many monuments to the Canadian troops
Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, Reviers. 2,044 Canadian soldiers are buried here surrounded by the fields where they fought
Gold Beach (British troops landed on this five mile stretch of beach)
Musée du Débarquement (The Landing Museum), located in the town Arromanches. This museum is devoted to Mulberry Harbor, the artificial harbor built by the allies to disembark soldiers and equipment immediately after the landings. Parts of the harbor are still visible.
Batterie de Longues, Longues-sur-Mer The only preserved German artillery battery along the coast that still has it actual guns.
Bayeux War Cemetery in Bayeux is the largest WWII British cemetery in France and has the graves of 3,843 British soldiers. The town of Bayeux is also home to the Bayeux Cathedral and the Bayeux Tapestry, a unique historical document that tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England.
Omaha Beach (American troops landed on this of beach that has 150 foot high bluffs)
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer, overlooks Omaha Beach. Its 17 acres contains the graves of 9,387 American soldiers. There is a very nice visitor center that focuses on the lives of the GIs.
Musée Memorial d'Omaha Beach (Omaha Beach Memorial Museum), Saint Laurent-sur-Mer is located in Saint Laurent-sur-Mer on Omaha Beach.
La Pointe du Hoc is the site of a monument to the American Rangers who scaled a 100 foot rock wall under withering gunfire from German defenders. After overtaking the Germans, the Rangers moved inland to silence German artillery in the area
Utah Beach (American troops landed on this westernmost beach)
Ste-Mère-Eglise is perhaps the most famous D-day village of all. Monuments and street panels explain and honor the 82nd Airborne Division that landed in and around the village the night before the landings. Don't miss the stained glass windows in the church, depicting the parachutists.
Musée du Débarquement (Utah Beach Landing Museum) is opposite the beach and has exhibits as well as film presentations. 3
Musée de la Batteries de Crisberg (Crisbeq Gun Battery Museum) in Saint Marcouf has exhibits on the Crisbeq Gun Battery that was one of the largest German coastal artillery batteries on Utah Beach. There are trenches and restored buildings at the site, and you can go through underground connecting tunnels just as the Germans did.
Another site that deserves a visit is the quiet and somber German War Cemetery at La Cambe. It is the final resting place of over 20,000 German soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
Other (non-battlefield) sites in the area
The town of Etretat is another popular tourist destination; small and pretty, with the most spectacular and unusual white rock formations that are sure to leave you bedazzled. If you plan on visiting the Northwestern region of France, you should certainly pay a visit to Haute Normandie, home to the world-renowned ports of Dieppe and Le Havre. Dieppe is arguably the most beautiful port in France. It is known for its mesmerizing surroundings as well as its popular markets. Also, the port hosts one of France's best and biggest bazaars every weekend. The city of Le Havre, apart from being the second largest port of France, is also the most preferred port for imports of goods from around the world. Honfleur, in Calvados on the southern bank of the Seine estuary, has a beautiful 17th-century harbor that is still active as a fishing port and marina. The town has many interesting historic and traditional buildings and houses as well as museums, churches and monuments.
The Côte d'Albâtre is located about 100km south of Dieppe and is most popular among international and local visitors for its pebble beaches and tall, white cliffs. The small villages and resorts established along the coastline are well planned and offer the perfect retreat for tourists. In the Swiss Normandy you will find breathtaking views of steep mountains and a collage of fields and hedges with timber-framed houses and vibrant orchards. You can trek along an endless expanse of wooded hills and limestone mountainsides.
Perhaps the pearl of Normandy is the Mont Saint Michel, a UNESCO world heritage site built on a small island off the coast of southwest Normandy. The Mont Saint Michel has housed a monastery since the 8th century, and has been considered a national monument since the 19th century. It is visited by 3,000,000 people each year.
The Normandy Tourist Board website has a lot of good information in English.
Where to stay
There are many types of accommodations ranging from 4-star hotels to B&Bs. Two B&Bs that are located quite close to Omaha Beach that have American and English speaking proprietors are:
La Ferme aux Chats
Awarded best B&B in France 2010 / 2011 by Bedandbreakfast.com The main building was built in 1750 and is located 4 km from the D-Day landing beach of Omaha Beach and 15 km from the city of Bayeux. All the bedrooms are furnished on the highest standards with private bathrooms. There is a flower garden and large park on the property. Breakfast is served frrom 07.00 to 10.00am. Free WiFi Internet via Spotcoffee.
The Salamander at Le Vermont
The Salamander is a new B&B renovated for comfort and practicality, located at our farmhouse, Le Vermont. Private garden, flowered courtyard. Next to the Pointe du Hoc, we are a good jumping off point for all the D-Day beaches and battle sites as well as Bayeux, Caen, Le Mont Saint Michel. The Salamander has a family suite with main bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette, wheelchair accessible on the ground floor. There is a mezzanine bedroom with two beds and half-bath. Child gear available. Free Wifi. Satellite TV. Breakfast.
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