D-Day Beaches in France

Jul 10th, 2000, 03:58 PM
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D-Day Beaches in France

Hello everyone:

I'm trying to plan a surprise trip for my husband's 35th birthday, and I know he really would like to visit the D-Day beaches in Normandy.

From what I've read in guide books, you have to take a train to Bayeaux, and from that point there is fairly limited bus service to the beaches. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has done this and how they traveled there -- I'm not too keen on renting a car in France, but perhaps it would be worth the hassle in this case (?) Personally, I feel like one of the best parts of vacation is not having to drive anywhere. I commute long distances every day and am only too glad to be out of the car for a while. I love the train systems in Europe, and am hoping to take advantage of them. Anyway, I'd be happy to hear from anyone who has done this and how they traveled.

Also, any particular areas or museums that you really felt were outstanding? I admit I'm not as well versed on the subject as DH, but I can't ask him because I want to surprise him.

Thanks fo your help.
Jul 10th, 2000, 04:19 PM
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We were on a tour of Paris, Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley, but I did notice how very easily we could have driven it and I felt, except for our lack of knowledge of the French language, we would have been better off. One little quickie idea that someone gave us was to take a little film cannister and fill it with sand from one of the beaches...we filled ours with sand from Omaha. We labeled it and put it with a bottle decorated bottle of wine we got when we went to the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Of all the areas, we liked Normandy the best, very picturesque area.
Jul 10th, 2000, 04:56 PM
Mary Ann
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Driving in France is really not bad at all (Paris can be a little harried but Italy is the toughest). If you rent, rent before you leave home. Maybe you can take the train to the outskirts of Paris or whatever city then drive to the Beaches. We stayed in Bayeaux then went to them including the Point, Omaha, The US cemetary and the inland German cemetary. The maps they give you show all the possible areas to visit. Otherwise, check out some of the tours detail to see what they may cover if you do not self drive.
Jul 10th, 2000, 07:04 PM
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You can drive it, but it's at least 3 hours. We thought we wouldn't have enough energy, and we only had one day, so we took one of the bus tours. It was fine for the first time---we could have easily stayed a few days. I don't know how a train would work, because the sights are not near each other. So drive or take the bus tour.
Jul 10th, 2000, 07:11 PM
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I would highly recommend a car to provide you with a liesurely drive around the Normandy beach area. Don't be afraid of driving in France, especially there. (Paris is another story). I did not plan enough time, but at least I had a car, and could go where the mood and time took me. I could stay and take in the places that really grabbed me, like the semitary, and the 5th Eng Btn monument. In my opinion, (yes, you can do it in a day)if you really want to absorb the beaches, get a car and plan a couple of nights minimum.
You can stop in the little village bakeries, and load up on cheeses, breads and wine, and stop along the way for your midday meals. There are some really nice chateau in the Normandy countryside, that can only be reached by car, and will give you some wonderful dining and lodging. Since the 50th anniversary, there are some great guidebooks and maps out, but it sounds like if you just get him to the area, he'll know where to go. Good luck, I will return to Normandy some day. After the beaches, it is an enchanting area.
You will love Hon Fleur, and the other lovely cities. Have fun.
Jul 10th, 2000, 07:56 PM
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We've done the D-Day beaches via train to Bayeux, and also with a car.

Across the way from the train station is a hotel; the owner's son has a nice van, and does private tours of the beaches. His English is excellent, and his knowledge of the area and the landings is encyclopedic. His prices are very reasonable.

The Battle of Normandy museum is extraordinary (everything from communiques among the high command to love letters carried by GIs into battle; if you walk away without a lump in your throat, you are made of steel).

Bring a plastic film canister to scoop up a little sand from the beach.

It is also very easy to drive to the beaches; lots of parking areas at all the spots, good roads, pretty good signage (have a good map, though).

We stayed at a Novotel just outside Bayeux (not a lot of charm, but very clean, comfortable, reasonably priced, plenty of parking, easy trip to the beaches).

Jul 10th, 2000, 11:37 PM
charles henry
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we are the owner of a private chateau in normandy, our family home, we open our home to guest and we organise some trips on d day beaches .feel free to contact us if you are interested or you can visit our web site:
hope to show you the best of our country soon
Jul 11th, 2000, 05:48 AM
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I'd strongly recommend spending at least one night in Normandy so that you have sufficient time to do all the sightseeing that you want. We spent the first two nights of our France trip in Bayeux and, due to fatigue, didn't get started early either day. We got to Omaha & Utah beaches and Point du Hoc (before heading to a town famous for its copper pots) but didn't get to any of the museums due to time considerations. So if you're really into the history, stay there a night and have time for it all. You can take the train out to Caen or Bayeux and rent a car there if you don't want to drive from Paris. Or as others have suggested, use local tour services. One that hasn't been mentioned yet is the Peace Memorial in Caen which does tours. Didn't do any tours so can't comment--we had a car. Normandy is lovely and the food is terrific.
Jul 11th, 2000, 06:59 AM
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We were in Normandy and Brittany last month. It is a beautiful area. We rented a car, and and driving was fun. I have a personal dislike for tours. Too many people, too structured etc. You could rent a car in any of the near by towns. (Try www.gotoday.com ) Pick up car in one city drop of in another. The D-Day beaches, Museum of Peace in Caen, American cemetary, Ste Mere Eglise should not be missed. There are beautiful places to lodge in the area, great food, inexpensive wine. We stayed at the Chateau d'Audrieu. Check out Honfleur is you have time. Also Le Mont St. Michel is nearby. Do try to stay one night there. It is magical. Have fun.
Jul 11th, 2000, 08:33 AM
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The Museum of Peace in Caen is excellent! Allow about 3 to 4 hours to go through the museum and to see the three video/slide presentations. If at all possible, you should visit the Museum before you travel out to the beaches (either by car or bus tour). I would also recommend Pointe du Hoc. The German bunkers, the bomb craters and the barbed wire are eerie.
Jul 11th, 2000, 09:00 AM
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Just wanted to recommend visiting Pointe du Hoc. I was in Normandy last month and of the different beaches I visited, Juno, Gold, Omaha and the Pointe, I was most impressed with the sights at Pointe du Hoc. All of these places are nice to visit, but the Pointe should not be missed. The Memorial Museum in Caen is really a good one. Don't miss the Nobel Peace Prize exhibit on the lower level, or the gardens in the back.

Jul 11th, 2000, 10:47 AM
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Kylie, In May of this year we toured the Channel Coast, from Grandcamp to Honfleur. Two museums we toured were at Bayeux and the better of the two at Arromanches. We stayed in Bayeux, the tapestry is very much worth a visit (rent earphones). Two things tightened my throat, seeing a Schlegelmilch (my Mom's maiden name) listed in the German ossuary near Mont St. Michel, and the playing of America the Beautiful just as we were ready to leave the American
Cemetery. We appreciate the difficulty the GI's faced after reaching the beach, the climb up the bluffs is tough.We did it with 40 lbs. of gear on our bikes, they did it with the gear on their backs. If at all possible, do the tour on bikes, really get a feel for the countryside that you can't get in a car. We're 63 and 52 so it should be a breeze for you and DH.
Jul 11th, 2000, 10:58 AM
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Once you get out of Paris, driving in France is not bad. The museum in Arromanches was worth a visit. They showed an interesting film in English (the audience that day was mostly older British folks, probably some veterans and their wives).
Jul 11th, 2000, 01:25 PM
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FYI: As may have been stated, there are guided bus tours of Normandy and the beaches from Paris in the peak season. Last year when we were in Paris in the off season the tours were not running. My father really wanted to see the beaches, so we sent my parents by train to Caen. In Caen they had to catch a taxi or bus to the Peace museum. If you contact the Peace museum they operate a small tour bus that hits some of the highlights. Anyway, my parents were able to do all of this in one exhausting day from Paris. If you choose to tour with the museum's bus, you may want to make a reservation; it is more like a van than a bus. Having said all of that, I would echo the other posters who have suggested spending a night. My reading indicates that there are some beatiful sights in the region . Good luck.
Jul 11th, 2000, 02:11 PM
Brenda Breslin
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This whole area is beautiful the houses you pass by are so impressively designed. It is a very underestimated part of France. For general sightseeing Honfler and Mont St. Michel are unforgetable. For D. Day information in my view the following were the sights to see: The Caen Memorial has various exhibits including actual log books where details were entered by the Germans of the Jews entering the concentration camps. It makes your blood run cold to see the names entered knowing that these people were subsequently gassed. They have some very dramatic film footage on large screens. It can leave you very choked up as it really show the futility of war. Pegasus Bridge and the first house liberated in France. This is now a little museum with lots of fascinating memorabilia and photographs. Arromanches beach. A beautiful little town and beach. Walk up the hill out of town and get the view that appears on all postcards of the area. Attend the circular cinema on the hill where they show films of the invasion on large screens which completely envelop you. The sights and sounds are so intense you feel a part of it all. The museum at Arromanches is not particularly good after the Caen Memorial but if you can get or tag along with one of the guided tours in the museum you will learn some incredible facts about the battle that will take your breath away. There are minature models on display there and when the whole strategy and the outcome is explained to you you will get an understanding of the events that will change your whole view. After all of this be sure to return to the beach one more time and look along its length. Look at the beauty of the area and the peace of it with the waves washing the shore and seagulls overhead. You will get a real understanding of the importance of peace and how many lives were wasted on those shores.

I hope I haven't gone on too long.

Jul 11th, 2000, 04:40 PM
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WOW!! Everyone, thank you, thank you, thank you!! You have given me more detailed information than I ever could have hoped for, there's certainly nothing like all this in any guide book I've read. I SO appreciate the time you all took to detail your experiences for me, this is all SO helpful!

I can see now that I have a lot of choices here (more than I thought) and many sights to see, so I think I'll definitely arrange to stay a couple of nights. Thanks for helping me decide that. DH's birthday is in April, so I still have some planning time left, if you have any other thoughts or experiences I welcome all suggestions.

Thanks again, you are all very kind.
Jul 12th, 2000, 09:29 AM
Beth Anderson
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hi Kylie,

I tried a few times to post a (long) message for you - to no avail. I was successful when I broke it up, as a test message to Fodor's - it's under a different post with your name in the title. I was going to mail it to you directly but I don't have an email for you. If you can't find it, email me and I will email you back. Or, if you need additional help, email me... I am a WWII buff too and really enjoyed my time in Normandy.

have fun!

Jul 12th, 2000, 11:45 AM
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I feel the same way about driving on a vacation because I commute in horrendous traffic 1-2 hours a day so really won't step foot in a car on vacation. Just a couple thoughts, there are more organized tour choices within Bayeux than from Paris, so you could go to Bayeux by train and then hook up with a tour there, give you more time seeing things, and stay in Bayeux a day or two. There is a very good tourism web site for that area that lists several good tour companies, some headquartered in Bayeux, and many English-speaking. The URL is www.normany-tourism.org (got to the D-Day Beaches button, then there are descriptions of tour operators such as Bus Fly tours). There is lots of other good info on that web site. I think that company also has tours to Mont St-Michel from Bayeux so you could combine a couple things with that stay.

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