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Coasting by on its solemn history

Coasting by on its solemn history

If the land could speak, the area around Caen would rumble with the sounds of conflict and freedom. No one will forget the soldiers who fought on the nearby beaches on June 6, 1944 and the solemn days after.

Today, the Battle of Normandy remains in the hearts of residents, and is on display at the award-winning Caen Memorial Museum. It is regarded as the best World War II museum in France and only 15 minutes away from the D-Day beaches. Thanks to this proximity, the museum runs guided tours. Also on display are exhibits of other failures and triumphs of peace, such as the Berlin Wall and was the first museum outside of the United States to display artifacts from 9/11.

Getting to the area is quick and easy by train. SNCF France operates near-hourly service along the Paris-Caen-Bayeux-Cherbourg corridor, taking just under two hours from Paris St Lazare station to Caen. It is also connected to the south of England by the Caen Ouistreham-Portsmouth ferry route.

About France

History of a different era is displayed at nearby Bayeux, a short 15 -minute train ride beyond Caen. The Bayeux Tapestry is an incredible work of medieval craftsmanship and shows the events leading up to the Norman invasion of England on October 14, 1066. Crafted by Reine Mathilde, wife of William the Conqueror, it is one of the oldest, complete tapestries in the entire world.

The only battle that now rages on the beautiful beaches of Normandy is perhaps deciding which seaside city to visit. Deauville is regarded as the “Queen of the Norman Beaches” and is one of the most prestigious beach resorts in all of France. With a race track, international film fest, gorgeous harbor, Grand Casino and luxe hotels, it is the spot for the upper class.

Less than an hour away by train from Caen, and decidedly more down-to-earth, With your France Rail Pass, travel to Trouville, famous for its fish market. It burned down in a fire a few years ago and is currently being rebuilt as an exact replica in the neo-Norman style. The market is still here in a temporary building, and you can still get terrific moules frites at restaurants in town.

Rouen, just 90 minutes away by train from Caen, is the historic capital city of Normandy and where Joan of Arc was burned in 1431. It’s gorgeous Notre Dame Cathedral was the subject of many Claude Monet paintings, many of which stand in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

You’d be remiss if not to visit a very special island while in Caen. Mont St-Michel lies at the mouth of the Couesnon River in Normandy. The medieval, Benedictine Abbey and steeple church occupies much of this half-mile in diameter rock that seemingly juts out of the water of the English Channel. Connected to the mainland via a thin, natural land bridge, Victor Hugo described the tides here as à la vitesse d’un cheval au galop, "As swiftly as a galloping horse."

In other words, come quick. History is waiting.

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