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

Normandy, Champagne, and Alsace in May, 2022

Normandy, Champagne, and Alsace in May, 2022

Old May 30th, 2022, 10:34 AM
  #1  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Normandy, Champagne, and Alsace in May, 2022

Travelers: Myself (55 y/o male) and my Sister (57 y/o female).

The Plan:

The primary objective was to see the D-Day battle locations and other sites in Normandy, before moving East to Champagne and Alsace over the course of 16 days. Having made several trips to Paris before, we were going to skip it this time, just using CDG as our entry and exit point. We decided on late May for several reasons; it was close enough in time to be similar to the conditions on D-Day, but also early enough that we beat the wave of American tourists who would be expected once school lets out over here at the end of May.

Transportation:

For the flight over, we opted for premium economy on American Airlines. The seats in this class are pretty much the same as domestic first class seats. You canít lie flat, but at $1,900, it provides a sufficient level of comfort compared to double (or more) for business class. I believe that economy would have run us about $1,300 on the same flights. When we booked the flights back in August, our outbound flight was originally scheduled to depart around 4:30 p.m., which is what Iíve experienced every other time flying to Europe. But, several months after we booked, I got a notice from American that our inbound flight would depart at 9:00 p.m. instead. This was significant because I had originally planned to take a train to Rouen on arrival day, spend the night there, see a little bit of Rouen, then pick up a rental car there, or in Caen, before proceeding on to Port-en-Bessin. Now, with a mid-afternoon arrival, I decided that we would be better off picking up a rental car at CDG, spending the first night nearby, then driving to Port-en-Bessin the next day.

For transportation in France, we booked a car through AutoEurope. I needed an automatic transmission (Iíve never owned a manual, and have only limited experience driving standardĖnot enough to feel comfortable trying to drive and navigate). We were supposed to get a Toyota Corolla, but ended up being given a Toyota Yaris cross over SUV hybrid. We liked this car, and it got good gas mileage for us. Cost of the rental was $892, and we didnít buy any extras from Europcar when we picked it up at CDG. We returned it 15 days later at the railway station in Strasbourg. We used 78 litres of gas at a cost of 161 euros.

After dumping the car in Strasbourg, we caught a TGV from Strasbourg direct to CDG. I booked this through the Trainline app. First class cost us $97/each.

Lodging:

Our first night was spent just outside the town of Senlis, about 25 minutes north of CDG, at the Best Western Hotel Escapade. This was a modern, functional hotel located right next to an Amazon distribution center. Not exactly European charm, but for our first nightís stay, we wanted some place predictable, with easy parking, and perhaps some sight seeing opportunities. Senlis has a medieval town center, and Chantilly, just a few miles down the road, has a chateau with impressive gardens, but we didnít take advantage of either. Cost for 2 rooms for one night was Ä222.50, total.

The desire to see Mont Saint-Michel was a bit of a planning quandary, as it was at the extreme western end of our itinerary. If Iíd known that American was going to change our flight, I might have started our trip with a train trip to Rennes, then picked up a car there. But, with the initial plan being to start out in Rouen, I deiced that we would simply take a night away from our rental in Normandy to make an overnight trip to Mont Saint-Michel. So, we booked a house on the waterfront in Port-en-Bessin through VRBO. Iím not sure the listing is still on VRBO, as I canít seem to find it now, but when you look for it on Google Maps, it is listed as Gite Les 3 Mousillons. This house has a living/dining area/kitchen on the ground floor, along with a bathroom (separate toilet), then a bedroom and bathroom on the first (second American) floor, and an attic bedroom. My sister took the main bedroom and I had planned to take the attic, but the stairs up to the top had a very low clearance, and I didnít look forward to a middle of the night trip down the stair to use the bathroom. So, I ended up sleeping on the sofa downstairs (I think this actually made out into a bed, but it was big enough that I just slept on the sofa) this gave me my own bathroom close at hand. The view of the tide coming in and out of the harbor was entertaining in and of itself, and with dining and essential shopping within easy walking distance, the location was excellent. For parking, you just park on the street in front of the house (unless there is a big storm at high tide, in which case you need to park somewhere a little higher). We loved this location, not only for its situation in the town, but also, for how convenient Port-en-Bessin was as a base. We made a couple of trips into Bayeux (where I looked at several other VRBO properties), and I was glad that we chose this location instead. Cost of six nights was Ä1076.20.

For our overnight trip to Mon Saint-Michel, I opted for the Mercure hotel on the mainland, next to the large parking area. I looked at some options on the Mont, but these were very expensive, not highly rated, and would have been difficult for my sister to manage. The Mercure, was easy. We parked near the front door, and the shuttle bus that takes you up to the Mont stopped going and coming nearby (going, about 50 yards up the road, and coming, directly adjacent to the hotel). This meant that with a mid-afternoon arrival, I got to make several trips up to the Mont to see the tide at various stages. Rooms here were not cheap, so we opted to share a room for the night. Cost was $177.54.

In Honfleur, I wanted something in the old town, with an elevator, and access to parking. The Best Western Hotel Cheval Blanc fit the bill. We parked in the large parking lot just 50 yards or so from the hotel, and had an easy walk to the sites in Honfleur. Rooms were nice as well. Cost was Ä488.20 for 2 rooms for 2 nights.

For Reims, we went with another Best Western, this one a Premier hotel, the Hotel de la Paix. This was a really nice modern hotel, centrally located (you could walk to the cathedral from here, and there were plenty of dining options within a block of the hotel). We reserved a space in the hotel parking garage, but there is also a public garage across the street that is available at the same price if you do not get in the hotelís limited space. Cost was Ä780 euros for 2 rooms for 2 nights, plus parking (Ä16 per night).

In Verdun, we opted for the Hotel Montaulbain, a small hotel in the center of town. If you only come to Verdun for the WWI battlefield sites, you might prefer one of the modern hotels on the edge of town, but we got 2 good rooms for a decent price, and parking was fairly convenient. The hotel owners recommended a restaurant just steps down the street for dinner which proved a good choice. Cost was Ä180 euros for 2 rooms for one night.

In Colmar, we rented an apartment at 8 Rue des Augstins through VRBO for 3 nights. This was a very nice apartment, with living space and a half bath on the first (American second) floor, and spiral staircase leading to 2 bedrooms and a full bath on the second floor. The location was perfect, and it included parking which is probably unique among rentals in the old town in Colmar. I loved this place, and it was well worth the Ä481.60 we paid for 3 nights.

Our final night was at the airport Sheraton, attached to Terminal 2 at CDG. The rooms probably need updating, but were comfortable and extremely quiet. Obviously, the location made departure day really easy. Cost was Ä535.76 for 2 rooms for one night.

Communications:

Both my sister and I are T-Mobile customers with Magenta plans that provide for international roaming (free data, though limited to 2G, and cheap calls and texts). I was a little concerned about the limited data, based on what Iíve read from other folks who have used this, and decided to get a e-sim on my Iphone for French data and phone calls. Besides better connectivity, I wanted to be able to rely upon data for navigation if I needed it (I have a Garmin GPS unit that I updated with European maps, but I like having a backup and/or second opinion). There were basically two options which I could purchase in advance of the trip, a phone/data plan for Orange or just a data plan from Airalo. From a cost standpoint, I think the data plan would be the best bet and, when combined with the T-Mobile international coverage, would have worked fine, but I went with Orange which gave me a French phone number (my Iphone was capable of taking calls or texts from both my French and American numbers). The only drawback of the Orange plan was that, although it included 20 gigs of data (more than enough), it was only good for 14 days so I had to top it up. It was nice to have a French phone number (for filling out forms and giving various people contact information), but not really essential. My sister, relying on T-Mobile, had no problems texting me or texting back home, but the data limitations meant that she mostly used her data for emailĖif she wanted internet, she needed wifi.

Daily log will follow
twk is offline  
Old May 30th, 2022, 10:35 AM
  #2  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thursday, May 12, and Friday, May 13

The flight over was a new experience for me. Rather than leaving late in the afternoon, and arriving early in the morning, our flight left DFW at 9:00 pm and arrived at CDG a at 1:25 pm. I thought this worked pretty well for us, as it made it easier to sleep on the flight. However, American still served dinner about an hour I to the flight, which we passed on so as not to keep us up. I think that was the right choice.

On arrival at Terminal 2A, we had to walk quite a distance to go through customs and retrieve our bags. After making a restroom stop along the way, we arrived at the carousel after it had started, but our bags came out shortly after we arrived and we were on our way. The walk from 2A to the Europcar rental desk in 2D was not bad. Our AutoEurope voucher called for a Toyota Corolla with automatic transmission. I guess they didn’t have an automatic transmission in that class because they gave us a Toyota Yaris crossover SUV hybrid, which I’m sure was an upgrade. Getting out of CDG wasn’t too bad, but we seemed to be forever going in circles. It was as bad as DFW in that respect, but once we got on the autoroute headed in the direction of Lille, everything was fine. Not wanting to do much driving on arrival day, we opted for the Best Western Hotel Escapade 25 minutes away outside Senlis. I had visions of eating in town and seeing something in the evening, but inertia got the better of us, and we ate at the hotel restaurant before calling it a night.
twk is offline  
Old May 30th, 2022, 11:40 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 22,542
Received 4 Likes on 4 Posts
On for the ride
bilboburgler is offline  
Old May 30th, 2022, 12:25 PM
  #4  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Working on photos and the rest, but I thought I would add one teaser:


twk is offline  
Old May 30th, 2022, 02:35 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 16,536
Received 22 Likes on 4 Posts
Thank you for helpful and detailed trip report. Following along.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Old May 30th, 2022, 02:48 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 3,162
Received 19 Likes on 4 Posts
Looking forward to your travels, twk.
Adelaidean is offline  
Old May 30th, 2022, 05:04 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 4,513
Likes: 0
Received 12 Likes on 1 Post
I’m along for the trip!
joannyc is offline  
Old May 31st, 2022, 07:10 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,050
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Nice start. Looking forward to more.
john183 is offline  
Old May 31st, 2022, 08:15 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 23,226
Likes: 0
Received 6 Likes on 1 Post
It is practically impossible to take a bad photo of Mont Saint Michel from the causeway.
kerouac is offline  
Old May 31st, 2022, 01:24 PM
  #10  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Saturday, May 14

We had about 3.5 hours of driving on the agenda for today, as we proceeded from Senlis to Port-en-Bessin. In order to avoid Paris traffic and see some scenery along the way, I had the GPS take us through La Roche Guyon along the way. Rommel was headquartered here during WW II, and the chateau is the point from which he left on June 5 with some new shoes in tow on his way back to celebrate his wife`s birthday on June 6. However, with a long day`s drive still ahead of us, we did not stop to tour the chateau. The GPS led us down some small country roads a and tight city streets, but we eventually ended up on the autoroute after crossing the Seine, and headed toward Normandy. As we neared Caen, we took a little detour into the Pays d`Auge to see the beautiful town of Beuvron-en-Auge, where we had a tasty crepe lunch at La Colomb'auge. There is little to the town but the square, but it is very picturesque and has a number of good places to eat (including a restaurant which has had a Michelin star at times), so it is well known to tourists. There must have been a Porsche rally of some sort because every vehicle we saw coming from the town as we approached was a Porsche.



After a filling lunch, we proceeded on to our final destination, arriving at Port-en-Bessin just after 2:00 p.m. Our rental was on the harbor front, but was not terribly difficult to reach. After getting settled, and taking a nap, we headed to the supermarket for supplies and to gas up. We bought some stuff for sandwiches and snacks, and 18 litres of gas for 36 euros. Once we got back home, I had a sandwich for supper, then we did a walk through the town along the quayside. After the evening walk, we settled in for some TV watching as this was the night for the finals of the Eurovision song contest, a weird mix of entertainment and politics; this year, with the war in Ukraine, probably very heavy on the politics.

This photo, shot from the jetty, shows the row of houses along the waterfront. Our gite is the one with the red car parked in front:


This photo gives you an overview of the town. I took it from above the German bunker that defended the western flank of Port-en-Bessin. Situated between Gold and Omaha beaches, this town was supposed to be taking on D-Day. The port wasn't large enough to be of much help with regard to shipping, but it did become the terminus for the British pipeline under the ocean (PLUTO) that carried fuel from Britain to France needed for the invasion. The town was taken by the 47th Royal Marine Commandos on June 7, and a monument to this unit sits on top of the German bunker.




twk is offline  
Old May 31st, 2022, 01:26 PM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,997
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks for posting a trip report for places I have visited and want to visit.
AGM_Cape_Cod is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2022, 07:47 AM
  #12  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I found the links to my VRBO rentals.

Port-en-Bessin: https://www.vrbo.com/679390a?adultsC...&unitId=679390

Colmar: https://www.vrbo.com/6591772ha?adult...unitId=2052169

twk is offline  
Old Jun 1st, 2022, 01:05 PM
  #13  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Sunday, May 15

Sunday is supposed to be market day in Port-en-Bessin, but a mid-morning thunderstorm kept us inside until noon, so we missed the market. After grabbing lunch in town, and with more rain in the forecast, we opted for some indoor activities and headed to Bayeux. We first went to the tapestry museum, and really enjoyed this. After having seen it so many times in pictures and videos, to see it in the flesh was really interesting. It was not quite as big as I was expecting, only about 3 feet tall. We seemed to arrive at a good time as the place was not overly busy when we started the 25 minute audio guide (seemed like a bus group came in a fee minutes behind us). I understood that you are not supposed to photograph the tapestry, and the audio guide does not stop, which is supposed to keep everyone moving, but the couple in front of us constantly lagged the audio guide and stopped to take photos. Very annoying. But, the audio guide more or less did it’s job and got them moving, even if it was in a leapfrog manner at times. I would imagine this being a lot less fun when it’s crowded, but it was great today. After checking out the related exhibits upstairs (but skipping the film), we ambled over to the Cathedral. Having seen a lot of cathedrals, this was certainly one of them. A pleasant enough way to spend a half hour, but probably more impressive if this was your first European cathedral, as I imagine it is for some Americans headed to the D-Day sites. Following a short drive home, I took a walk along the jetty on the west side of the harbor. From here, you have a good view of the Mulberries at Arromanches to the East, and Omaha Beach, all the way to Pointe du Hoc in the West. A little preview of what was to come on Monday.

The canal in Bayeux



One of the exhibits in the Tapestry Museum


The cathedral



The opening to the outer harbor at Port-en-Bessin at low tide. Arromanches would be in the distant background.

twk is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2022, 02:17 PM
  #14  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Monday, May 16

Today, we had arranged for a private guide to show us around the American sectors of the D-Day invasion sites. We met our private guide, Magali Desquenes, at the Battle of Normandy Museum in Bayeux. Our first stop was at the German cemetery at LaCambe, where we ran into a British tour guide that Magali knows, named Matthew Key (our family name). We had a brief chat with "cousin" Matthew, and found out that he is from the Birmingham area. After LaCambe, we crossed the River Dive outside Carentan before heading to St. Mere Eglise, which was sort of the mid-point between the 82nd Airborne drop zones to the West, and the 101st Airborne drop zones to the southeast, between St. Mere Eglise and Utah beach. After seeing the square and the church, we pushed on to Utah Beach and the museum located there. After having sandwiches for lunch at Le Roosevelt Cafť, we went through the museum before heading to the beach. Next, we passed through St. Marie du Mont on our way East to Vierville and Omaha Beach. Omaha is in the shape of a croissant turned upside down, with Vierville straddling one of five draws that provide access to the beach. This exit was the only one of the five that was paved, so it was a key strategic point. We walked the beach, looked at the lower German strong points, then moved on down the beach, eventually reaching the American Cemetery at Courselles-sur-Mer. The plan on these tours is to be at the cemetery at 5:00 p.m. for the playing of Taps and the lowering of the flags. However, a brief moderate rain shower convinced us to cut our time here a little short. After taking Magali back to Bayeux, we headed back ďhome" to Port-en-Bessin to rest our weary feet for a while before having dinner. It being Monday, most of the restaurants were closed, but we managed to get a table inside one of the cafes before it filled up and had an adequate meal.

The German cemetery at La Cambe



The church at St. Mere-Eglise with the paratrooper manequin



The Utah Beach museum



Pointe du Hoc



The American Cemetery









Last edited by twk; Jun 2nd, 2022 at 02:20 PM.
twk is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2022, 02:21 PM
  #15  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Left off one I meant to include: Omaha Beach as seen from the point of view of a German gun emplacement (notice that they shot at an angle, rather than straight ahead--a concrete wall shielded the gun port from ships directly in front of their position)


twk is offline  
Old Jun 2nd, 2022, 11:17 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 3,162
Received 19 Likes on 4 Posts
Interesting trip and nice photos, thanks for sharing.
Adelaidean is offline  
Old Jun 4th, 2022, 04:44 AM
  #17  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Tuesday, May 17

Today, we made an overnight trip to Mont Saint-Michel. Seeing this most visited tourist site in France proved a bit of a logistics challenge, as I did not want to start our trip here, nor did I want to head West, only to have to backtrack on our way East, so as to preserve the opportunity for a longer rental at Port-en-Bessin. So, what I settled on as an alternative was to make an “overnight” trip away from our base, spending one night away from our rental. This allowed us to pack light, taking only a change of clothes and our valuables, leaving the rest at Port-en-Bessin.

On our way down, we did not take the direct route, instead making a stop outside Carentan at Dead Man’s Corner and the D-Day Experience Museum. We went to several D-Day museums during the trip, and for me, this was the best. It starts with a couple of films to provide an overview, includes a simulator of a C-47 used by paratroopers, and has more authentic stuff in interesting displays than any of the other museums (and they have some pretty good competition in that category, so that says a lot). We also stopped for lunch at a little roadside restaurant in Hyenville called A La Sienne. This was kind of an interesting cultural experience because we were the only tourists in the place, and probably a real rarity here. It was filled with working folks taking a lunch in a rather convivial atmosphere. The menu was written on a white board and the other patrons “helped” the waitress make suggestions for us. It was a fun stop.

We arrived at Mont Saint-Michel around 4:00 p.m., having driven from Carentan, around Coutances, and hooked up with the coast just south of Granville to get views of the Mont from across the bay. We booked one room for one night at the Hotel Mercure, which is located next to the parking lots for day trippers. When you stay at one of these hotels, they send you a security code to get inside the gates, and you get to park right by the Hotel (what Americans would call a “motel"). The shuttle busses which run from the parking lots stop going and coming back next to, or just down from this hotel. This makes getting to the Mont easy, and also makes it possible to make multiple trips during an overnight stay, which gives you some flexibility with the weather and the tides, one of the main attractions of Mont Saint-Michel.

On arrival, I made an initial trip up to the Mont with the water at low tide around 4:30. I did not have enough time to make it all the way up to the Abbey, since we had 7:00 dinner reservations at the Pre-Sale Restaurant, next to our hotel. However, I did walk the ramparts along the southeast quarter of the Mont, partly to photograph the tides, but also, to avoid the flood of day trippers headed back down after completing their trek up. We had lamb for dinner, of course, given the unique nature of the lamb on offer here, which is raised in the salt marshes and gives it a sort of salty natural flavor. After dinner, we took the bus so that my sister could get a close up look at the Mont. Her knee issues rules out any thoughts of climbing the Mont, but with the shuttle being so convenient, it was easy even for her. By this point, around 8:45, the tide had come in and was nearing the high point. We returned to the Hotel shortly, so that I could get an early start the next morning for a climb to the top.

Wednesday, May 18

Fortunately for me, the weather was perfect, and with a 9:25 high tide forecast with a high coefficient (we were there during a full moon), the timing could not have been better. This was mostly down to luck, rather than foresight as I did not build our trip around the tides at Mont Saint-Michel. The skies were sunny, and the temperature was cool, but not so cool as to require a jacket as long as I was exerting myself. I probably could have left 30 minutes later, as, even going slowly, I was in position to enter the Abbey at 8:30, so I had to wait 30 minutes for it to open. But this gave me some time to rest before the final assault on the Mont. I think the stairs with the ticket lines are only about halfway up, so there is still a lot of climbing to do from this point. But, the early a rival also provided me with some time to take pictures of the tide coming in. Once I got in to the Abbey and started the tour, I was afforded several opportunities to get good views of the bay and surrounding country. The Abbey itself is more impressive for where it was built than for its architecture or beauty, but I was glad I made the effort to get to the top. I was not sorry, however, that I skipped the audio guide. 45 minutes at the top was enough for me. I took the alternate route down, which involved a lot of stairs, by the time I got back to the hotel around 10:30, I was ready to get off my feet. We took a more direct route back to Port-en-Bessin (not THE most direct, as the trip that I had saved on the GPS for this leg contemplated a stop in Bayeux to see the tapestry, which I did not realize until we were well into the center of Bayeux). After getting back home, we had lunch at La Marina creperie\pizzeria. Too sore to do any more walking, we decided to do laundry so that we would not have to do that on Thursday.
twk is offline  
Old Jun 4th, 2022, 04:49 AM
  #18  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The D-Day Experience Museum outside Carentan is a great stop.






twk is offline  
Old Jun 4th, 2022, 05:03 AM
  #19  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The timing of our overnight trip to Mont Saint-Michel allowed us to see the full tide cycle.




Lots of folks were walking the tide flats when we arrived



I think we made the right decision by staying on the mainland, but the hotels on the Mont charge big money for the privilege of dragging your bags up the cobblestones. Some people must find it worthwhile, but if I was going to stay on the Mont, I'd sure try to arrange things so that I didn't have to drag all my luggage up there.



You definitely want to walk the ramparts, either on your way up or on your way down. With most of the traffic heading down the main street at 4:30, the ramparts were less crowded and easier for going against the flow of traffic.





At 8:45, we were getting close to high tide and the crowds were gone


twk is offline  
Old Jun 4th, 2022, 05:15 AM
  #20  
twk
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 1,419
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
At 8:15 the next morning, the tide was a little over an hour away from high tide, and you could see it coming in.



When you reach the stairs where the line begins to get into the abbey, you're only about half way to the top.



I think this one was taken just a few minutes after high tide. As I noted above, this was a pretty high tide coefficient, and there was little space on the causeway that didn't get wet.



The little patch of grass in the Cloister seems a little bit out of place on this rocky outcrop.



When I went back down to the bottom, the tide, although about a half hour past peak, was still lapping at the main gate.




twk is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

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