Old May 18th, 2011, 06:10 PM
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We are going to Normandy next week for 3 nights, driving directly from CDG. We would like to visit the D-Day beaches. Should we do a tour or visit on our own? Since we don't have a lot of time in the area, what is a 'can't miss'? Also, does anyone know if the Ipad navigation system replaces a GPS in the car rental, or should we spend the extra money for the rental system?
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Old May 18th, 2011, 08:17 PM
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When we visited the D-Day beaches last year, we didn't take an organized tour. Instead, we relied on a good guide book (Rick Steves and Frommers are good) and a good French road map and did it "our way." "Must-sees" in my opinion are Arromanches-les-Bains and the museum there, Omaha Beach and (if you're an American) the American cemetery at Colleville -- beautiful grounds, museum and, of course, hundreds of white crosses and Stars of David. We also enjoyed the Ranger museum in the village of Grande de Camp Maisy (sp?), a well-done, small museum detailing the scaling of the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc using actual footage as well as clips from the movie "The Longest Day" which was filmed on site. Utah Beach is also interesting. Nearby is the village of Ste-Mere-Eglise where paratroopers landed. Away from the beaches is Bayeaux with its tapestry museum and a historic cathedral. On another day you might want to drive to Mont St. Michel. Driving in France can be a pain due to the toll roads which do not take American credit cards and many are unmanned so you must have correct change (or else put in something big and get no change back). Remember to have lots of cash (coins and small bills) handy. I know nothing about the ipad navigation system. We had a GPS which was handy although there can be errors there. Whatever system you use, a good road map will come in handy.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 08:30 PM
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My husband and I did the 2 day American Experience tour offered by Battlebus tours a few years ago and felt this was one of the best things we had ever spent our money on. Battlebus is no longer in business as the owners retired, but all the guides are now in business for themselves. We had always wanted to go back and do the British Experience and the Canadian Experience tours, but will now have to find another company. I think Overlord and Victory tours both have good reputations too.

I really think it is money well spent to hear personal stories about the places you are seeing, to get the background on places you might just drive by not knowing what happened there. I think just using a guide book, one would miss a lot.

The museum in Bayeux is excellent and the whole town is perfect for staying in for a few days. Great for strolling around, and lots of beautiful B&B'S.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 05:07 AM
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I think I read in one of your other posts that you will be staying in Honfleur - is that correct? Honfleur is a very pretty town but if I remember correctly it's about an hour away from most of the D-Day sites you will want to visit. Just be aware that a couple of hours each day will be spent getting there and back. If you are in Honfleur, you will have to drive past Caen and I would recommend stopping at the Caen Memorial first. It will give you a very good overview of the area and the events which will help you plan which sites you want to visit. crckwc1 has listed some very good sites - a couple more that we really enjoyed are the Pointe du Hoc Ranger Memorial and the gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer. We bought some very good maps and guide books in the gift shop at the Caen Memorial and planned our visit from there. That worked very well for us.

I don't know if an iPad will work to replace a GPS but we had a GPS in our rental car and it is well worth it in my opinion. It is not difficult to drive in Normandy but the convenience of just plugging in the address of where you want to go and not have to deal with maps and road signs is nice.

We are going to Normandy at the end of June (2 nights in Etretat and 3 nights in Sully near Bayeux). I am interested to hear about your experiences so I hope you post a trip report before we leave.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 05:28 AM
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Mont Saint-Michel is one of the coolest things I've seen in Europe, and I would recommend it as a can't-miss to anyone visiting France or Europe. It's a picturesque, imposing castle, surrounded by rings of people who around it, on a rock formation on a tidal plane in the sea. Pretty outstanding and unique. Just don't get sucked into the quicksand!

Also, while technically in neighboring Bretagne, Saint Malo is a walled fortress city very close to Normandy. It was a very important port, and the raised boardwalk surrounding the town, right on the ocean, is pretty cool to walk through. It's kind of like Toledo in Spain, imo.

And not far from that, is Cancale/la côte d'Emeraude. It's a very green, lush, almost tropical beach city...I stayed and went running there two summers ago and have pretty beautiful memories of it. It certainly felt like an Emerald coast to me...I walked to the point, and there were people playing strange, beautiful celtic instruments and music. Enormous oyster fields out on the sea.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 05:59 AM
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Ditto what Mainhatten Girl said. Dale Booth, then with Battlebus Tours, did a super job; I have read that he now runs his own tours. You could google his name.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 06:32 AM
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Stay in Bayeux. Get the Michelin Green Guide to Normandy, as well as the Michelin map for Normandy. MSM is a "sight" but I don't think it is in the cards for 3 days.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 07:08 AM
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I've made several trips to Normandy and never taken a tour, though I'm sure there are good ones. The green Michelin guide and map are all I've ever used.

I would recommend you begin with a morning at the Mémorial in Caen for a fabulous overview of the area. Then Arromanches (I don't think the museum there is a must-see, especially if you've been to the Mémorial), Omaha and Juno Beaches, the American Cemetary, and Pointe du Hoc. I think Ste. Mer Eglise is nonessential.

Le Mont St-Michel is a bit out of the way, so I would put it on the list only if you cover the rest of the territory quickly and thoroughly. And I'm sure you know this, but it's not a "castle," or anything like what is described above.

I don't know if it's correct that you're staying in Honfleur, but if that's the case, I'd reconsider that and stay in Bayeux. Honfleur's a delightful town, but not a good base for visiting the D-Day sights. Stop there on your way for a couple of hours; otherwise, you're wasting precious time going back and forth to the sights.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 10:47 AM
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I see that no one has mentioned the German cemetary so I will mention it and suggest you add it to your list. It was recommended to me by the hosts at the B&B where I stayed near Arromanches, and for me it was one of the most touching WWII sites I visited.

The German cemetary is located in La Cambe which is a 20-minute drive from Omaha Beach. Over 21,000 German soldiers are buried here, some as young as 15. It doesn't have the grandeur of the American cemetary but it is no less powerful - it's just a very different experience.

I'm Canadian so my must-sees in Normandy were the Canadian and American cemetaries, but I'm sure glad I got a chance to see this one too. It gives a person a better picture of the losses on a global scale.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 12:31 PM
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Normandy Visit
My wife and are are also heading to the area in the fall and staying in Honfleur, fully realizing that we'll have some daily traveling to do to get to the historic sites but also looking forward to visiting the small towns along the way.
My son and I did a tour in May 2009 and it was certainly well worth it. As I've noted on a previous post, there seems to be a bit of a restructuring going on in the types of tours offered, for a variety of reasons, and private tour companies which cater to the broad US market also seems to be the way things are going.
Headstones in the Canadian cemeteries (and the British too I believe) differ from the American ones in that they have personal inscriptions-verse, scripture, familial quotes and make them, to me at least, more personal.
Just walking on the same beaches and soil where so many sacrificed their lives is worth the trip and enough enticement to return.
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Old May 19th, 2011, 12:34 PM
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FYI, Mont St-Michel is NOT a castle. It's an ancient abbey with a history worth reading about. It's one of the oldest pilgrimmage sites in France and a fascinating place to visit.
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