This Veterans Day, go to Normandy and pay tribute to the brave men who fought and sacrificed their lives for our many freedoms. Travel by train from Paris to Rouen or Caen, and then pick up a car to tour the beaches of Normandy. Using a France Rail ‘n Drive Pass gives you the flexibility to travel by car and train.
If you’d prefer not to drive in France, a France Rail Pass provides you with unlimited travel on the entire French rail system. With services such as the TGV, trains can take you where you want to go.
It’s best to take the train from Paris to Rouen or Caen. Rouen can be reached by TGV in about an hour and a half. Caen is just over a 2-hour trip by train.
Rouen is the capital of Normandy, and the 5th largest port in France. Victor Hugo once called Rouen “the city of a hundred spires”. Most of these spires were destroyed during WWII. After the war however, crafts and talents from the Middle Ages once again emerged and aided in the reconstruction of the city.
The Rue du Gros-Horloge, in Rouen, is the “street of the Great Clock”. This street is named for the ornate gilt renaissance clock that can be found mounted on the arch. The clock is Rouen’s most popular monument.
Pay a visit to Place du Vieux-Marche, site of Joan of Arc’s execution. She was killed for heresy. Joan was tied to a stake and burned in 1431. Her ashes were gathered and spread in the River Seine. Visitors can pay homage to a monument in her honor, it can be found in the square. Be sure to take note of the bronze cross on the statue, the cross marks the position of St. Joan’s stake.
Don’t miss the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen. This Cathedral has been immortalized through Monet’s paintings. Notre Dame is a gorgeous cathedral which underwent some reconstruction after WWII. Inside this revered house of worship you will find entombed, the heart of Richard the Lion-Hearted. It was given to the cathedral as a token of his affection for the people of Rouen.
Caen is situated on the banks of the Orne. This port city suffered great damage in 1944 during the Invasion of Normandy. About three-quarters of the buildings in Caen were destroyed during the war, 10,000 in total. Today, Caen has been built back up and is a very cosmopolitan city. Be sure to stop by the Caen Memorial, it can be found 10 minutes away from the Pegasus Bridge and a mere fifteen minutes from the landing beaches.
Honfleur, Deauville, and Trouville are some other stops along the Normandy coast that you will want to make.
Honfleur is a quaint and charming port. It is a nice place to stop and have a look around. Many boutiques and galleries can be visited in this city. A perfect setting for an afternoon lunch.
Deauville has been dubbed as Paris’ 21st arrondissement. Located on the Touques River, this very rich and hip city is where Coco Chanel launched her career. Take some time and have a look around the city, once you’ve seen it all, cross the bridge to Trouville.
On the other side of the Touques River you will find Trouville, neighbor to Deauville. This city is much more low-key and less expensive than it’s neighbor. Trouville has more the feel of a fishing port, similar to Honfleur, but containing fewer boutiques and art galleries.
You certainly can’t visit Normandy without making a trip to Mont-St. Michel! This island Abbey is surrounded by massive walls that measure more than half a mile around. The island masterpiece is connected to the shore by a causeway, crowning the rocky islet at the border of Normandy and Brittany, standing 256 feet high. You can explore this amazing island on your own, or check with the local tourist office for guided tours available. If you go, make sure you visit La Mere Poulard. It is a must especially if you are a fan of the omelet! Established in 1888, the omelets made here are tantalizing! They are more like soufflés.
And probably the most sought-after destination in Normandy is of course, the infamous D-Day beaches. Most of us are, in one way or another, related to someone that stood on these beaches in 1944.
Start your tour of the D-Day beaches at Arromanches-Les-Bains. See where the 50th British Division took over.
Move along the coast and arrive at Omaha Beach. This beach is probably the most notable. Still visible today on this beach, is the wreckage from the invasion. Men of the 1st and 29th American Divisions occupied the shores of Omaha Beach. Take a moment to pay tribute to the monument commemorating the heroism of the invaders.
On 173 acres of Omaha Beach you will find the Normandy American Cemetery. Here the ground is filled with Crosses and Stars of David in Lasa marble. The remains of 9,386 American soldiers can be found here. The cemetery is now owned by the United States, it was a gift from the French Nation. You can pay your respects at the cemetery daily, from 9am-5pm.
Continue along the coast until you reach the jagged lime cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. Here you will find a cross honoring a group of American Rangers. These men scaled the cliffs using hooks to get at the gun emplacements (pillboxes). The wounds of the war, here, are more visible than on any other point along the beach.
Just go a bit farther down the coast and you’ll arrive at Utah Beach. This is where the 4th U.S. Infantry Division landed early that morning. They landed just under two miles south of their intended landing destination. The Infantry had cleared the beach by midday, and today on the beach you can find a U.S. monument commemorating their heroism and victory.
The other three beaches involved in Operation Overlord (Normandy Invasion) were Juno Beach, Sword Beach, and Gold Beach. These, along with Omaha and Utah beach, are all found on the shores of the Normandy coastline.
Normandy is rich in history, history that not only remains in US books, but worldwide. If you have not been to this region yet, go today. Don’t let another day go by. Visit the beaches, and see where history was made. Pay homage to those who fought, and those who lost their lives. Though the exact number of those killed during the invasion will never be known, visit Normandy today to pay your respects to all.
Stand on the somber shores where Operation Overlord occurred; open your mind up to places you have only read about in history books. Take a walk through Normandy’s ominous past, then indulge in all the beauty and culture that thrives throughout the region today.
Those Veterans who returned from Normandy after the war have taken trips to the region to see it once more, on better terms. It is a very emotional journey for them, for obvious reasons, yet many find comfort and closure in the visit.