Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

Normandy & Flanders - WWI & WWII focused trip

Normandy & Flanders - WWI & WWII focused trip

Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 07:49 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Posts: 24
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Normandy & Flanders - WWI & WWII focused trip

My husband and I are planning to go to Normandy and the Flanders region of Belgium in May 2020. Our focus is WWI & WWII sites, but I also want to see Mont St. Michel and Bruges if possible. We had initially hoped to tour Normandy without a car, but it's becoming obvious that if we don't want to go on a tour bus, that's pretty much impossible (or at very least aggravating and slow). For those who have done a self tour of the area, what do you recommend? I've heard take the train to Caen, and pick up the car there, which seems sound (and likely to avoid some of the crazier, big city driving).

I also am wondering if a car is needed or worth having in Belgium. Seems like train travel is easier there, since the cities are fairly close together. My only concern is how easy it is to get to sites that aren't museums located in cities. We don't have a huge amount of time, so we're trying to maximize as much as possible. Sometimes I feel that this should really be 2 trips!

For what it's worth, we'd be flying from Chicago to either Paris or Brussels and then continuing the trip from there. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
cancankant is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 08:36 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,933
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Having visited the French sites a number of times and the Belgian sites less frequently, I would agree that you really need a car or to take organized tours-at least in France. My cousin is coming to visit us in France this spring and really wants to see the French WWII sites and what we are looking at for her is to land at CDG. She will spend the night at the airport probably at the Hotel ibis Paris CDG Airport at Roissypole. I would recommend you sleep overnight rather than trying to rent a car and drive even though the flights isn't as long from Chicago as the west coast where she will be coming to. The advantage of that hotel is that it is right across the street from the little shuttle called CDGVAL that takes you to the CDG TGV train station. From there you can take the TGV to Le Mans without having to go into Paris St Lazarre station-which is a huge advantage.

You could either rent you car and then drive to Caen or Bayeaux (our preferred base for that area) or you can switch to a regional TER train to go on to Caen and rent a car there. The drive from Le Mans to Caen is around 1h45 or so and the train takes usually longer around 3 hours. Le Mans isn't huge around 150,000 population so it shouldn't be too hard to drive out from the train station.

You don't say how long your trip will be but if you rent a car be sure to look at the price difference for picking up in France dropping in Belgium if you decide to fly open jaw, because it could be a big difference. And from Mont St Michel to Bruges is really only 6 hours so you could easily with 10-16 days start the trip like I outline above-explore Normandy WWII areas, Mont. St Michel then drive to Belgium, explore there and then return the car to CDG the night before your flight-drop off there is easy. So it really depends on how much time you have and if you mind backtracking a bit-although there is enough to see between those two areas to route you stops to some different places on the way there and back.
jpie is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 09:07 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 4,366
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
We rented a car for Normandy and have done both car and guided tour in Flanders. Our guided tour was great in Ypres as we were not wanting to rent a car when we were in Lille. We found him on trip advisor but sugarmaple could not find him so he might have gone back active duty. He was in the army. She has a good trip review. Ypres is a great base. I will see if I can find his info.Flanders Battlefield Tour Good thread

Last edited by Macross; Jan 22nd, 2020 at 09:13 AM.
Macross is online now  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 09:15 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 4,366
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
https://www.2xplore.be/
Macross is online now  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 10:00 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 26,182
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We also drove from CDG to Normandy this past summer (we were coming from Dublin so on arrival at CDG, we drove straight to Giverny). We overnighted in Giverny and Honfleur (and spent lunch and a couple of hours in Deauville) before basing ourselves in Bayeux for the WWII sites, which we did on our own. Bayeux was very convenient, and we did drive to Mont St. Michel on our last day there. We visited Omaha Beach, Arromanches, Colleville-sur-mer, St. Mere Elise, and other spots along the way. We loved that trip (and learned so much).

If you have the budget for it, the Villa Lara in Bayeux is beautiful and right in the middle of town (it was sold out when we were there, so we stayed at a Novotel - not exactly the same level!)
sf7307 is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 10:45 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Mar 2019
Posts: 216
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Originally Posted by cancankant View Post
My husband and I are planning to go to Normandy and the Flanders region of Belgium in May 2020. Our focus is WWI & WWII sites, but I also want to see Mont St. Michel and Bruges if possible. We had initially hoped to tour Normandy without a car, but it's becoming obvious that if we don't want to go on a tour bus, that's pretty much impossible (or at very least aggravating and slow). For those who have done a self tour of the area, what do you recommend? I've heard take the train to Caen, and pick up the car there, which seems sound (and likely to avoid some of the crazier, big city driving).

I also am wondering if a car is needed or worth having in Belgium. Seems like train travel is easier there, since the cities are fairly close together. My only concern is how easy it is to get to sites that aren't museums located in cities. We don't have a huge amount of time, so we're trying to maximize as much as possible. Sometimes I feel that this should really be 2 trips!

For what it's worth, we'd be flying from Chicago to either Paris or Brussels and then continuing the trip from there. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
i hAd a car for both and found it necessary. I hate guided tours and on WW's I know more than most guides so it irritates me to listen to them. Plus I allocate my time differently.

ahbonvraiment is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 10:46 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,485
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I thought the museum in Caen was a good introduction to WWII sites. https://normandy.memorial-caen.com/
AGM_Cape_Cod is online now  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 11:57 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,933
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Mentioning Lille made me think of another option if you decide to fly in and out of Paris CDG. You could land at CDG and take the train from CDG to Lille and spend the night there-it is a nice city these days-nicer than in the old days. Then when you are ready to leave Lille, pick up the car and do the tour of Belgium including Bruges-go down into France and then either drive back to CDG or leave the car in Le Mans and take the TGV to CDG.
jpie is offline  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 12:02 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jun 2016
Posts: 4,366
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
Originally Posted by ahbonvraiment View Post
i hAd a car for both and found it necessary. I hate guided tours and on WW's I know more than most guides so it irritates me to listen to them. Plus I allocate my time differently.
Patrick was a local and a soldier who was excellent. We had one day to explore and he was amazing. My husband and he both worked with NATO so hit it off and his English was perfect. We saw things my husband wanted to see and he took us to places only a local would have known about. We still say it was the best-guided tour ever. In Normandy, I liked going at my own pace and we took several days. We did the Verdun area on our own but icy roads restricted us as they were closed so mussed a few things.
Macross is online now  
Old Jan 22nd, 2020, 03:08 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 305
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
If you happen to decide to do a guided tour for Flanders, I heartily second https://www.2xplore.be/. Patrick gave us an excellent tour.
dreamer320 is offline  
Old Jan 23rd, 2020, 12:40 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Mar 2019
Posts: 216
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
No need for me to have an English speaking guide 😇
I r commend the museum at passchendaele where they recreated some trenches.
ahbonvraiment is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2020, 05:57 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 3,579
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
We have visited both France and Belgium war sites without a car . One time we travelled by train to Amiens , stayed there 3 nights , had a guide pick us up and take us to what we wanted to see on 2 days . Traveled by train to Lille - 3 nights there , used the same guide again for one day (he lives in Lille) , then by train to Bruges .

another time from Bruges I did a one day with Quasimodo tours of Flanders and finished up at Menin Gate . .
both times we had quite specific sites relevant to Australia to visit and the guide was able to do this - his knowledge was amazing .
northie is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2020, 09:30 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 22,438
Likes: 0
Received 6 Likes on 1 Post
The Memorial in Caen is indeed one of the best places to go for WW2. And, a car makes everything 10 times easier for choosing your own destinations and your own schedule; Just don't forget that if you rent a car, you don't want to leave it in a different country due to the drop off charges. But it is very easy to leave car in one place, take a train across the border and pick up a new car on the other side. (Of course if you are driving from France and just doing a loop in Belgium before returning to France, you should keep the same car.)

As for WW1, the possibilities are vast and are not at all limited to Belgium obviously.

Here is a report I made in northern France: World War I cemeteries of the Pas de Calais | Any Port in a Storm

You might even want to see one of the more unusual cemeteries on your way to Flanders: The Chinese cemetery of Nolette and a bit of Le Crotoy | Any Port in a Storm

And of course in Belgium, nobody should miss Ypres: Ypres with the blood wiped away | Any Port in a Storm


kerouac is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2020, 11:01 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: May 2016
Posts: 509
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
kerouac thank you for posting the links to your visits to WW1 cemeteries and Ypres. Once again I will be using your information. Beautiful photos and very haunting.
cheska15 is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
arabianjedi
Canada
7
Oct 23rd, 2008 05:42 AM
marlo
Europe
7
Jul 5th, 2008 06:16 PM
Clifford
Europe
9
Aug 25th, 2005 05:10 AM
snorkelcat
Mexico & Central America
4
Aug 10th, 2004 04:40 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information