Just back from France and the highlight was my four days in Normandy. Yes, I’ve been to Normandy many times before, but this time it was with fellow travelers who hadn’t been there before. To see sites that I’d seen before through these fresh eyes was like seeing Normandy again for the first time. It was magical in every way.
Normandy is so much more than Sherman tanks and hedge rows. While, bien sûr, the history of D-Day is everywhere throughout the region, there’s a wealth of beauty, charm, and serenity permeating every mile one traverses in Normandy!
No one should visit France without visiting Normandy. If you only can spare a day, then take one of our Normandy day tours. However, do allow yourself longer, if possible!
Without writing a journal of my trip, I want to share some important gems that deserve your time. You’ll not be disappointed:
Okay, so you need to spend a month in Normandy! It’s worth every moment. I’m counting the days until my return for the 69th anniversary of D-day…just a short time from now!
The trial of Joan of Arc began in the city of Rouen on this day in 1431. Rouen is located in Northern France and is in the region of Normandy though some 90 miles from the English Channel.
This folk heroine who was eventually given Roman Catholic sainthood lived only 19 years, but she was able to lead a French army to victories during the Hundred Years' War, so a fairly accomplished young woman. Certainly she paid the ultimate price since she was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431. Today, February 21st was the start of her trial.
During the trial, a most famous response was made by Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) when she was asked if she knew she was in God's grace. "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me." Her imprisonment and trial were anything but "fair"and her burning execution was a tragic event in French history.
Today's Rouen is a very picturesque place with an historic old town and I'm very much looking forward to a visit there next month while in Normandy. So much history...so much amazing discovery is to be found in France.
A great way to tour Rouen is from your cruise ship's arrival in either Rouen, Le Havre, or Honfleur. We often arrange Normandy private tours from cruise ships to visit this historic town and the surrounding region of Normandy. Also, it is a fabulous addition to a private tour to Normandy that includes several nights in the region, since it ties in nicely with visits to Giverny, the D-Day Beaches, and Mont Saint Michel.
The Mont Saint Michel is a place of sheer enchantment! It is as if the most impossible monument was erected in the most remote location. Often called the "Marvel of the Western World", Mont Saint Michel is situated on the border between two regions in France. Both Normandy and Brittany claims that it belongs to them!
The abbey of Mont Saint Michel is unlike any other monastery. The Mount is in the shape of a pyramid, so it was necessary for the medieval builders to wrap the buildings around the granite rock. Amazing as well is that the construction not only was constrained by the topography and geography of the location, but by the requirements of monastic life. The resulting wonder conformed to both!
Dates to be noted regarding Mont Saint Michel:
708: Aubert, Bishop of Avranches had a sanctuary built on Mont-Tobe in honor of the archangel Michel.
10th Century: The mount has become a pilgrimage destination and teh Benedictines settled in the abbey; the village grew below the abbey
14th Century: The construction of the abbey extended to the foot of the rock. It was a stronghold of defence during the Hundred Years War, so today the military architecture with its ramparts and fortifications can be observed. These enabled the resistance of the English attacks during the Hundred Years War.
1793 - 1863: After the French revolution and following the dissolution of the religious community in France, the abbey was used as a prison.
1874: Mont Saint Michel became classified as an historic monument in France and major restoration took place.
1979: Mont Saint Michel became listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Source: Mont Saint Michel entrance brochure
Please click on the link to learn about the tours to Mont Saint Michel offered by A Paris Travel.
Sainte Mere Eglise is a small village located on the Cotentin Peninsula of France. Saint Mere Eglise was the first village in France to be liberated on D-Day. It was liberated by elements of the 82nd Airborne who parachuted in behind German lines early D-Day morning to support the amphibious landing of the 4th Infantry Division at nearby Utah Beach.
In the center of the village square of Sainte Mere Eglise is the Normand church made famous by Private John Steele of the 82nd Airborne. Private Steele landed on the roof of the church and his parachute covered the church steeple. Steele hung from his parachute near the belfry of the church. He was deaf for weeks after D-Day because of the ringing of the church bell that was calling people to help extinguish a house fire in the village square of Sainte Mere Eglise.
Sainte Mere Eglise was also involved in the first significant German counter attack on D-Day. It involved the German 6th Parachute Regiment against elements of the U.S. 82nd Airborne. By the end of day on D-Day, Sainte Mere Eglise was secured by American forces.Today, visitors to Sainte Mere Eglise will find a monument that honors the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions that landed in the area on D-Day. On the church in the village square hangs an effigy of John Steele with a parachute. The church that dates from the 11th Century also has stained glass windows that honor the memory of the U.S. paratroopers that lost their lives on D-Day. The Airborne Museum of Sainte Mere Eglise is also worth visiting.
A Paris Travel offers private Normandy tours that can include Sainte Mere Eglise.
Source: Ambrose, Stephen E. D-Day June 6, 1994: The Climatic Battle of World War II. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. 1994
There were five Normandy beaches on which the Allies landed on June 6, 1944 during the Normandy D-Day invasion.
From West to East, these are Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Sword Beach, and Juno Beach. Here are some vital statistics related to the five beaches.
Utah Beach: American troops landed here. It is located near Sainte-Marie-du-Mont on the map.
Omaha Beach: American troops landed on this 5 mile long beach. The Dog Green sector of Omaha Beach was located below Vierville-sur-Mer and is where the U.S. Army 29th Division 116th Infantry, and 2nd and 5th Rangers Battalions landed there on D-Day. It stretched to St. Laurent sur Mer which is directly below the American Cemetery. It was important for the Americans to take this area in order to link up with British troops who landed to the east at Gold Beach and with the Americans who landed to the west at Utah Beach.
Gold Beach: British troops landed here. This is in Arromanches where Churchill's Mulberry Harbor was built
Sword Beach: British troops landed here. It is located near Ouistreham.
Juno Beach: Canadian and British troops landed here. It is located near Courseulles-sur-Mer.
Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and 16,714 deaths among the Allied air forces. Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces), 125,847 from the US ground forces. The losses of the German forces during the Battle of Normandy can only be estimated. Roughly 200,000 German troops were killed or wounded. The Allies also captured 200,000 prisoners of war. During the fighting around the Falaise Pocket (August 1944) alone, the Germans suffered losses of around 90,000, including prisoners.
Today, twenty-seven war cemeteries hold the remains of over 110,000 dead from both sides: 77,866 German, 9386 American, 17,769 British, 5002 Canadian, and 650 Poles.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing. Thousands more fled their homes to escape the fighting.
A Paris Travel offers group Normandy tours and private Normandy tours to tour the D-Day Landing Beaches.