Normandy, France – Mix War History With Vacation!

Settled in Europe, in France’s north west, Normandy is famous for its rugged natural landscape, its local foods and wines, and perhaps most of all, its history in connection with World War II. The white chalk cliffs, sandy beaches and green interior are split into two regions: Upper Normandy and Lower Normandy. The “Lower” of the two regions are further split into three counties or “départements”: Calvados with its capital Caen, Manche with its capital Saint-Lô, and Orne with its capital Alençon. “Upper” Normandy encompases two départements, Eure and its capital Evreux, and finally Seine-Maritime and the city of Rouen.  

Normandy beaches

Normandy beaches

Given it’s stunning stretch of coastline that goes on for over three hundred fifty miles of varied beaches and cliff sides encasing a rich, lush interior of wooded hills and grassy valleys. Normandy has plenty of different options on the table more than other holiday destinations in the world, especially if you are an outdoors enthusiast. Consider the incredibly rocky hills of the Suisse Normande or France’s Norman Switzerland in comparison to the neat orchards and cozy cottages of the Calvados.

Being that Normandy was the site of the invasion of German-occupied France during World War II, the largest landing of military personnel in history, it comes as no surprise that the first things that come to many people’s minds upon hearing Normandy’s name are war memories. So many people all over the world have a connection with the site; families of military members who fought during the war make up a good portion of those who come to Normandy to tour the historic sites. Others are drawn to the fascinating history.

On the 6th of June, 1944, the Allied Forces of Britain, Canada, America, and France attacked the German forces on Normandy’s shore. The Allies force of more than one hundred fifty thousand battled until victory, a victory that went down in history as being an incredibly dramatic and critical moment for World War II in Europe. This famous turning point is referred to as D-Day (although some will be quick to inform you that D-Day is a military term for any date an attack is planned) or more specifically, the Invasion of Normandy.

Paratroopers jumped in, being the first wave of the invasion. They jumped at night, using the darkness and cloudy skies to help them get in – also using thousands of dummies which were dropped to confuse the enemy and absorb some of attention once spotted. The job of the paratroopers was to destroy key targets as well as to capture bridges in order to further the main invasion force’s invasion of the beach.  During the next stage, bombs were dropped on the German defenses, and warships began to destroy everything along the beaches from the water. While all this bombing was taking place, underground members of the French Resistance managed to cut telephone lines and destroy railroads. Soon after, more than six thousand ships carrying troops, tanks, weapons, all the necessary equipment arrived at the beaches of Normandy.

The American troops landed at “Omaha” and “Utah” beaches, Canadians landed on “Juno” beach, as did British who landed at “Gold”. The D-Day Landings on the coast of France took place along about 62 miles or 100 kilometers of Normandy coastline. This coastline was further divided into five separate landing sectors given the names from the west to east: Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach. Each of thee “beach” sectors are between 5 and 18 miles (8 to 30 kilometers) apart from each other.

Today, visitors wishing to learn more about the historic event or get a little closer to the place the have a connection to, can travel to beautiful Normandy, France, and see these places for themselves. Quite often the visitors are following in the footsteps of a lost relative, and the tour helps answer questions they may have wondered about all these years. It’s the type of thought provoking tourism that inspires quite a lot of reflecting and can be very healing for anyone coming from a family who suffered in any way connecting to the historic event.

Visiting Normandy to see the historic WWII battle sites is a fulfilling and fascinating journey for traveling history buffs, without any known connection to the beach themselves; it’s also an eye opening experience for anyone young or old, wishing to learn about the history of the region for the first time or find out a little more about it.

One thing to take into consideration when planning a Normandy holiday is travel time. If you are planning to take advantage of the wealth of World War II historic sites and tours that the region has to offer, you’ll need to plan for the amount of time it takes to get between each site. Although Normandy may seem like it’s a small enough region in relation to the map of Europe, it still takes hours to get across Normandy from east to west.

If your priority is to get as much historic sight seeing into your Normandy vacation as possible, flitting from site to historic site is something that needs to be organized to cover the course of several days, and slowed to a pace that allows you to absorb the thought provoking experiences. There are impressive day trips leaving from a variety of places all over the region, each specifying on a different place in Normandy and the the events relative to that area.

Keep in mind that although Normandy experiences a decent amount of tourism, it’s still a quiet rural area. It’s network of roadways are indirect narrow rural roads. If you’re traveling from the east non-stop, it takes an hour and a half to drive from Sword Beach to Utah even using all main roads.

Most D-Day tours depart from the town of Bayeux, as it is the most central town to the vast array of Normandy D-Day historic sites- not to mention it’s location is only six miles or ten kilometers away from the coast to the north. Bayeux also has the convenience of the main-line railway station, with regular trains leaving to and from Paris. Bayeux happens to be on the main Paris-Cherbourg highway, another reason many of the Normandy tours start in this particular town.

Le Lion d’Or, located at 71 rue Saint-Jean, 14400 Bayeux, France, is a beautiful old hotel that has been around for more than two hundred years. Conveniently located in the heart of Normandy, it’s worth considering if you’re planning on taking any of the numerous historic tours that use Bayeux France as a home base. Le Lion d’Or, translated to The Gold Lion, is situated in the centre of the town, giving you the option to sight see around the old neighbourhood as well.

Manoir des Doyens

Manoir des Doyens

You can find Manoir des Doyens located at Chemin des Mares St. Loup Hors, 14400, Bayeux France. It’s an impossibly charming farmhouse with ducks and a pond and lots of character. You’ll find things like fresh breads, pastries and homemade jams with your continental breakfast, and the manor itself is close to town.

Hotel de la Gare, located at 16, Place de la Gare, is another Bayeux France option, giving you the opportunity to stay at their wonderfully quaint hotel with excellent service. Hotel de la Gare is a common hub for many tours in the area and it’s very reasonably priced.

When traveling to Normandy, take into account the climate and the region’s different seasons, which may affect the different activities you wish to pursue. Normandy has a maritime climate, with mild winters and warm summers – just look out for those rain showers. Given the right season, it can rain days on end. Nothing like a bit of atmospheric crummy weather to really bring life to your WWII historical Normandy tour, nevertheless it’s a detail that’s best left out of the experience if you can help it. It rains more in the winter in Normandy than it does in the summer, however rain is part of the climate year round. Dress appropriately, and plan ahead. Pay attention to the forecast and plan your days accordingly.

Enjoy the locally grown and produced food and drinks while you’re in Normandy. This region is well known for its abundance of delectable seafood dishes, as well as hard cider. Normandy is where the majority of France’s hard cider is produced. You’ll also find that Normandy plays a major role in the beef and dairy industry as well, which of course results in excellent cheeses and terrific Normandy beef dishes served up in the region.

This region of France is also famous for its pastries. It’s the home of the brioche, a delicious sweet egg bread, and also a recommended region to try various confections ranging from caramels by Isigny, apple sugar from Rouen, mint chews from Bayeux and marzipans from Le Havre.  Normandy cheeses you can’t miss while you’re in the area include Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, Boursin and Petit Suisse. Typical Normandy cuisine is influenced not only by its fertile farmlands and rolling green hills of its interior, but is also by its proximity to everything the sea has to offer. It’s in Normandy where you’ll find the freshest oysters, the best scallops and most magnificent mussels on the menu.

Normandy is famous for its cheese and cider

Normandy is famous for its cheese and cider

When thinking of France we might think of wine before cider, however Normandy is one of the few parts of France that does not produce as much wine as they do hard cider. Cider is in fact the main beverage produced in this region, distilled from the apples grown in the Normandy orchards. Apple brandy is also a popular in this part of France. You can make a Kir Normande cocktail from a black currant liquor called crème de cassis topped with Normandy’s hard cider. The apples that grow in Normandy can be found in orchards that are grown all over the region. They’re used in everything from the regions famous hard apple cider to a wide variety of cuisine including main dishes as well as desserts. Moules à la normande is a dish that uses some of the best and freshest ingredients Normandy has to offer: mussels from the sea cooked with apples from the orchard and cream from Normandy’s dairy farms. You’ll also see apples working their way into tarts and pastries, liquors, chicken dishes, pork dishes and any dessert you can imagine.

When in Normandy, take the time to savor the region’s unique take on maritime traditions and the way of life for the inhabitants in the peaceful rural counties. Explore Normandy’s historic towns and monuments, take a walk down a country lane and enjoy the fresh air. Treat yourself to the authentic local dishes and enjoy the experience to the fullest in picturesque French villages, and gaze out over one of the old ports as the sun sets on a wonderful day in Normandy.

Visit the European destinations category to learn more about other places to visit in Europe!