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bee2travel Jul 15th, 2010 07:45 PM

Itinerary for Paris/Normandy in September
Our family of 4 will be driving to France from Germany the third week of September.
We'd like to divide our time between Paris and various sites in Normandy. I've tried to map out an itinerary for the days we have, but am struggling and could use a reality check from experienced Francofiles! Here's what I'm working with so far:
Day 1 (Fri) = Drive to Paris (arrive mid-day)
Day 2 (Sat) = In Paris
Day 3 (Sun) = In Paris
Day 4 (Mon) = Giverny/Rouen
Day 5 (Tues) = Rouen/Honfleur
Day 6 (Wed) = DDay Beaches
Day 7 (Thurs) = Caen/Mt St Michel
Day 8 (Fri) = Mt St Michel/Caen
Day 8 (Sat) = Versailles/Paris
Day 9 (Sun) = Drive to Germany
Is this a plausible plan? or would I be cheating anything/everything??
Years ago (as a single), I spent two weeks in Paris and got to see most major sites and many less frequented places (plus did day trips to Versailles & Chartres, but not Giverny). My husband and kids (13&10), however, have never been to Paris, so I'd love for them to at least see the highlights. Would 2 1/2 days be reasonable to give them a taste of Paris (Notre Dame, Ste Chapelle, Tuileries, Arc de Triomphe, Musee d'Orsay, Tour Eiffel, Montmartre)??
Regarding Normandy, I've always wanted to visit Mt St-Michel and my son really wants to do the DDay Beaches. My plan includes a day for each of those plus time for other sites I've read about that sound worth a visit enroute. Does this even make sense or is there too much jumping around?? I'd like to make sure that we allow enough time to enjoy MSM and to do justice to the DDay sites. It would be nice to be able to visit the other towns/sites listed, but not at the expense of our key desitnations: Paris, DDAY sites, and MSM. ANY feedback or suggestions you can offer to help me organize a plan (so I can make lodgin arrangements) will be GREATLY appreciated!!

Jean Jul 15th, 2010 08:51 PM

Plausible/possible, yes, but too rushed for me.

I would spend four nights in Paris, four nights in Bayeux (rather than Caen plus MSM) and the last night near Versailles. I like Rouen and Honfleur, but I'd skip them on this trip. I would get to Giverny when it opens, move on to Caen to see the Peace Memorial Museum and end in the day in Bayeux. Stay in Bayeux four nights, spend two full days exploring the landing beaches, cemeteries, monuments and one or two of the small museums dedicated to D-Day. (The Arromanches Museum would interest your son.) Others may disagree, but I would see MSM as a day trip from Bayeux.

Check the tide schedule for the day you want to visit MSM so that you'll know how to time your arrival, especially if you want to watch the tide rise.

If you really, really want to see Honfleur, you could make the small detour on your way from Bayeux to Versailles but know that any time in Honfleur is time you won't have at Versailles.

bee2travel Jul 15th, 2010 11:53 PM

Thanks, Jean, for your terrific feedback!

Just looking at my planned trek and thinking about hauling in/out of so many lodgings seemed overwhelming so I knew that probably wasn't a great idea. Thanks for the suggestion of dividing the trip 4 nites Paris, 4 nites Normandy. I'm sure we'll better appreciate Paris that way and there's certainly plenty to do! I very much like your idea of homebasing while in Normandy. Given location, I'd have probably picked Caen since it's a bit more centrally located so I'm curious why your choice would be Bayeux?? Do you prefer Bayeux??

Thanks, also, for the link to MSM. I'm still trying to figure out how to read/understand the tide info! I would like to maximize the experience there so I'd like to time getting there right....I'll have to look at that more closely. Am I right in deducing that we'd need to be there at either 6:27am or 6:43pm to see the whole tidal action of Friday, Sept 24?? If that's correct, then would it make sense to get there in the early evening and spend a night there?? (hard to imagine getting kids up and out early enough to "be" somewhere by 6:30 am!). If so, that would also give us more time there. Any thoughts on that??

Thanks again for your reply...I look forward to hearing more!

Jean Jul 17th, 2010 09:26 AM

Caen v. Bayeux. Whether Caen is "more centrally located" depends on what you plan to see. Obviously, the Peace Memorial is in Caen, and Pegasus Bridge is closer. Caen would also be the better base if you wanted to follow the invasion route to Falaise or explore Normandy towns that played a lesser (or no) role in the invasion. But Bayeux is closer to the landing beaches, especially Arromanches and Pointe du Hoc. Caen sustained heavy bombing during the war, whereas Bayeux is much the way it's been for centuries. Caen is a bustling city with traffic you'd have to negotiate morning and evening. Bayeux is a small town where you can leave the car at the hotel and easily walk to everything.

Visiting MSM. Yes, if you wanted to see the entire show of the rising tide on Sept. 24th, you'd have to arrive by 6:30 am. (The evening high tide that day will peak an hour after sunset.) Whether you spend the prior night there is your call. You might want to see what your available lodging options are in that area.

LauraLF Jul 17th, 2010 09:46 AM

I wondered if you plan to do a guided tour of the D-day Beaches. We were there first of July and did a guided tour which was wonderful. I can't imagine having any sense of the battles without a knowledgable guide. You might consider this in your planning. There are several groups that offer tours. We used Battlebus and were very pleased.

tom18 Jul 17th, 2010 11:37 AM

If you decide to stay in Bayeux, I suggest you check out the Aggarthi bed and breakfast at the following link:

bee2travel Jul 17th, 2010 02:11 PM

Thanks for the replies....I appreciate your time!!

Jean: I'd read (and seen photos) of Caen's near total destruction, but was trying not to be biased against "new"! Thanks for the feedback. I prefer quaint and charming over big and bustling any day, so I'll stick with Bayeux and not feel guilty, just enjoy it! As for MSM, I guess I need to ponder on the idea of staying overnight or not. In your experience, is a "day" at MSM enough time to properly visit? Have you visited MSM to see the tidal change and, if you did, do you think it was worth the extra time it might have required??

LauraLF: I think I responded to your post about your recent trip to Normandy with your teen boys?? I haven't had a chance yet to check into the place you thing on my list! I did recall your having done the tour with Battlebus and planned to look into that too. We typically like to research and make our own way around sites, but some places it just makes good sense to have a guide. We had a historian personally guide us around Gettysburg a couple years ago and I can't imagine doing that any other way. He totaly made history come alive for all of us and made it very engaging for the kids. Thanks for the reminder about the tour and for the lodging suggestion (it's always harder to find family lodging for short stays in Europe!).

Gretchen Jul 17th, 2010 02:23 PM

We did this several years ago. I would bypass Paris and go to Rouen for the night. it is worth an overnight, see the cathedral, and the Impressionist wing of the Beaux Arts museum was worth a look for us. Drive on the Abbaye Road from Rouen north toward Honfleur. See the harbor and continue on to Bayeux seeing the Pegasus Bridge en route. If you want a day in Caen and the museum, insert it here.
Stay in Bayeux as a base to see the American DDay beaches. The British beaches are near Caen. Don't forget the Tapestry. We did day trips to the beaches, using the Michelin Green Guide to Normandy, starting at St.Mere Eglise and working on around. I recommend Omaha, Arromanches, the cliffs (name escapes me) and the Cemetery. There are myriad small "museums", but believe me, there is a lot of repetition. Arromanches is UNIQUE, and St. Mere Eglise also, for the paratroopers (also Pegasus Bridge).
Drive to Chartres en route to Paris and see the cathedral. You could even stop at Versailles.
Then go to Paris.
The Hotel Bayeux is a sqeaky clean and very inexpensive hotel near the tapestry and the cathedral and the motorways out of town. It has a secured car park. The rooms are unusually large. We enjoyed it very much.
Mont St. Michel is sort of "out there"--a good little drive from Bayeux, and certainly NOT from Caen.
I think you have 4 days in Normandy and NEED at least 4 in Paris. have your parking worked out.

Jean Jul 17th, 2010 03:50 PM

bee2travel, I'm probably not the one to ask about MSM. It's unique and stunning from a distance, but I was underwhelmed by the atmosphere on the island. If you can focus beyond the souvenir-oriented shops and get through the hordes of tourists (although a weekday in September may not be too bad), the abbey, cloisters and island fortifications are interesting. There are a couple of museums, but I haven't visited them. I think the rising tide is interesting to watch, but friends of ours said that after the first 30 minutes they thought it was like watching paint dry. We visited MSM as part of a several-day drive in the area and on our way to the ferry to the Channel Islands. I wouldn't make a detour to visit MSM, but that's me and this is your trip.

We had a very enjoyable stay at Hotel d'Argouges in Bayeux, but it's been several years so you should look for recent reviews.

bee2travel Jul 18th, 2010 06:03 AM

Thanks EVERYONE for the great insight!!

Jean: I very much appreciate your honesty re MSM. One of my "worries" is usually being "underwhelmed" by things from which too much is expected. I recall learning about MSM as early as 7th grade French class and always thought it fascinating. However, I've learned (the hard way a few times!) that high expectations often end up in disappointment. Thanks for reminding me to keep things in perspective. Maybe we could visit MSM late in the day/evening and then stay overnight on the mainland. Then we could enjoy the view from afar and hit the road back to Paris via Chartres/Versailles. Thanks, too, for the additional vote for Hotel d' looks gorgeous and "oh, si francais"!

Tom18: Thanks for the suggestion for Villa Aggarthi. The rates are certainly attractive and I like the feedback folks had regarding the proprietoress. I know my kids would enjoy her pets...we stayed in VERY rural Hungary a couple years ago and they were sad to leave the animal friends they'd made!

Gretchen:'ve given me lots to think about. The idea of going straight to Normandy sounds good as long as we can make the drive without getting there too late. Everyone talks about the traffic through France and the tolls. Is that ALWAYS a worry and should we expect it to take longer than Google projections??
Thanks for the opinion on DDay museums; you read my mind! I was wondering if there was much repetition and how to prioritize so as not to miss the highlights and the unique things. Your and Jean's feedback is really appreciated!

I LOVED Chartres when I visited many years ago (had an amazing tour of the cathedral and found the town charming). I like the idea of sharing that with my family too, maybe 1/2 day there and 1/2 day at Versailles. However, everytime I Google directions, it seems that the "main drag A84/13/14" is routed. Have you driven from anywhere close to Mont St Michel over to Chartres/Versailles via a more southerly route?? We tend to like exploring the non-highway routes when traveling if possible, but I just don't know if that is realistic. If I can convince hubby to add a day to our trip, then maybe we could make all that happen! Any thoughts??

BTW....I just joined Fodor's Forum and this trip is my first time communicating with Fodor members. Thank you all for sharing your experiences and making my first time so fruitful. I hope I can be of such help to others in the future!!

Jean Jul 18th, 2010 09:55 AM

bee2travel, you're welcome. I'm always hesitant to give negative comments about a place so many people say they've always wanted to see. But it's OK as long as you know "your results may vary."

I lost sight of the fact you were driving from Germany, so you could definitely head first to Normandy. In fact, depending on where you're coming from, Rouen could make a good destination for the first night. But I'd be careful about adding too much, especially if you prefer slower secondary roads. Maybe Chartres or MSM, but not both. Versailles will be a bit more crowded on a weekend day. If you can add days, obviously your options open up.

Have a great trip, and come back and tell us all about it.

skibumette Jul 18th, 2010 11:24 AM

Personally I wouldn't miss MSM -- just the view as you approach is worth it. In the future when you see pictures, you'll always have that sense of "I was there!" We spent 4-6 hrs. there -- that included parking, the hike up the hill while dodging other tourists, visit to the abbey and cloisters, lunch. By the time we descended and left the difference in tides was suitably impressive. The contrast between arrival (low tide for us) and departure (higher) was sufficient -- would have to agree that watching the entire process might, indeed, be a bit like watching paint dry!

Gretchen Jul 18th, 2010 12:45 PM

We drove on no major autoroutes and the national roads were fast enough, and a LOT more interesting.
MSM is really a "hike" from Bayeux. We decided not to do it--I have seen it, back in the day it was really interesting with being cut off by the tide. The way it is described today just turns me off completely--unless it would be SO off season as to be empty. But, that's "me".

Scootoir Jul 18th, 2010 01:22 PM

Hi Bee,

Your trip sounds wonderful. My husband and I have made two trips to Normandy while staying in Paris and would go back again if we could. We stayed in Bayeux at the Hotel Churchill both times--highly rated on Trip Advisor. It had very convenient parking and fronted a pedestrian street. We fell in love with Bayeux's cathedral but suggest you skip the tapestry if your time is limited. For us it was one of those underwhelming moments.

MSM: There is a row of hotels on the mainland some of which have amazing views of MSM. I would choose one of those rather than a place on the mount if I were going to stay there. We drove from Bayeux to MSM on more secondary roads. We have driven through Normandy & the Loire without using toll roads.

We did Normandy without guided tours but we don't have children. We had read alot and brought Stephen Ambrose's D-Day book along with us. The gift shop at the Caen Peace Museum had a reproduction Michelin map from the 1940s that I regret not buying. We thought that museum was a good first stop before touring other D-Day sites. We also enjoyed the museum in Bayeaux and the film at Arromanches. We visited several cemeteries, including some small British ones out in the country. They were very moving however we found the German cemetery disturbing--it was all about peace and nothing to indicate the reason there were thousands of soldiers buried in Normandy. On our first trip we could go into the bunker at Pointe du Hoc but by the second it had been closed due to instability of the ground. I don't know the current status.

This map might interest your family:

I would reconsider trying to see Chartres and Versailles both in the same day (did I understand that correctly?). Or if I were to do both I would limit my Versailles visit to the grounds only and rent bicycles to tour the gardens, see the queen's village and smaller palaces. I know that will sound terrible to some who would not want to miss the hall of mirrors and the opulent interior but after many days touristing it might be a good change of pace.

Please post a trip report on your return and share your family's impressions.

Jean Jul 18th, 2010 02:53 PM

Scootoir, is this the map you regret not buying?

At the Peace Memorial in Caen, we found driving maps for self-guided touring of the D-Day sights. Very informative and easy to follow. In this post-internet age, there is probably an audio download. We didn't find the Michelin map of the Normandy invasion until we got to Cherbourg.

Scootoir Jul 18th, 2010 09:05 PM

Yes, Jean that's the map. Also tempting is this book which appeared on Amazon with the map.
I put them both on my Amazon wishlist.

We really should visit some places other than France but it has often drawn us back. I would love a cherry sorbet at a cafe near the Place des Pyramides right now.

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