Normandy is an approximate 2h30 drive from Paris. It is located in North Western France. There are lots of little towns, grassy fields, hedgerows, beaches, and cliffs. It is also the perfect location to visit if you are a fan of the Band of Brothers miniseries on HBO.
A description of Normandy during D-Day Celebrations on June 2015 by a Canadian tourist:
Every town is decorated in flags from England, France, the States, Germany, Poland, Canada, etc. The store windows are all painted with murals of paratroopers and flags and soldiers. And everyone is dressed up in either 1940s clothing or re-enactment military outfits. As you drive on the highway, you can be passed by WWII jeeps. They have organized dances with swing music, and fireworks displays. They have military camps set up with authentic gear, and parade displays of military vehicles. They have parachutes jumps in full WWII outfits, including the parachute, and from the original C47 planes! Everyone partakes in the celebrations – tourists and locals alike. Although tourists aren’t allowed to jump out of the planes…
Utah Beach has the Utah Museum. There is public access to the beach, and they have several monuments and statues. The beach had extremely fine sand, and it was surprising how vast and shallow the beach was at low tide, which shows how far they had to travel under fire (500m from the U-boats to the shore!) before reaching the banks. It carried an atmosphere of serenity. The museum overlooks the beach, and focuses on American military vehicles, uniforms, and more of the logistics of D-Day. On the way to the beach, they have a specific monument to Denmark, and the Danish soldiers, and they have the Dick Winters leadership memorial (Major of the 506th Second Battalion of the 101st Airborne).
Juno Beach is the Canadian beach. The museum is called Juno Beach Centre. This beach was different in that it was still being used as a beach. Full of sunbathers, and the waters were peppered with sailboats. People are living and using that beach, which is rather symbolic of Canada’s involvement. “We went over there to liberate France in order for people to be free and live, and that is how they are using that beach.” The beach sand had lots of rocks, and the water was almost green. Beach was much less wide, less distance to travel under fire. The area near the memorials was solemn, but the beaches themselves were full of joy. The Centre itself focuses on the people, the stories of the soldiers and of the home front in Canada. All of the employees from the Centre are Canadian.
Carentan is a small town (all roads lead to Carentan) that was a strategic location in the war, because of the roads, and was liberated by the 101st Airborne, a fact that is still celebrated today. Notre-Dame de Carentan Church started being built in the 11th Century, the stained glass windows that got blown out during the war were replaced with some of the original designs, but some had added homages to the soldiers that liberated them, with depictions of paratroopers and saints holding the Screaming Eagle crest (the 101st Airborne’s crest). They also have a war memorial from the First World War, which is now dedicated to both wars.
Near Carentan is the Dead Man’s Corner Museum, which has the D-Day Experience, where you can board a C47 fuselage that is operated by hydraulics and has virtual screens in the windows to make it seem like you’re flying, then get hit, and then crash.
Bayeux is a really cute little town, with cobblestone streets and watermills in the creek. The Bayeux Cathedral hosts the famous Bayeux Tapestry that was created in the 11th Century. There are lots of really nice cafés.
NOTE: Sundays are VERY limited in the Normandy region: all food serving places are closed, but you should be able to find a grocery or bakery that is open.
If you are interested in visiting Normandy. You can contact Jennifer Desmarais through Orleans Travel. firstname.lastname@example.org
Recollections of, and pictures by, Lindsay