The goal: visit places with historical significance to D-Day in Normandy (Normandie) and engage in interesting local cultural activities, starting in Paris and traveling westward to the Brittany (Bretagne) region of France.
Who went? 4 adults and 1 toddler
Transportation involved? Flights into and out of France, train rides, and a rental car
Time of year? Early spring, before the official 75th anniversary of D-Day, spanning 7 days
Day 1, Paris:
- Flew to Orly Airport around mid day and took car service to hotel in the Opera district
- Viewed Palais Garnier from the street
- Met friend at Notre-Dame and toured inside
- Ate nearby in super touristy neighborhood for convenience sake
- Walked along the river Seine looking in vain for an open night boat tour (for summer and early fall there will be boat tours aplenty but we weren’t lucky being spontaneous this early in the season) We did however see lots of organized group exercise along the river. You go Parisians. Faites des sports !
- Finished with family photo op at Place de la Concorde with the Eiffel tower in one corner and Champs Elysee in the other. See route below:
Day 2, Normandy:
- Train from Gare Saint-Lazare to Caen (2 hours)
- Picked up rental car outside train station and drove to Bayeux (40 minutes)
- Parked on the street for free outside Bayeux British War Memorial for a visit to museum and graveyard
- Walked into beautiful town of Bayeux, past cathedral and botanical garden
- Visited the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry: highly recommend, the audio guide offers so much insight into the artistry and, at times, humorous story, while the models upstairs of feudal-era settlements are so interesting to plunk your brain into.
- Drove to Campeaux (1 hour 30 minutes) to stay in the most peaceful cottage rental on a farm called Le Moulin d’Eveque: I insist you stay here if you have the transportation to do so. The grounds are looooovely and the house is cute and quirky in that old, this-didn’t-used-to-have-indoor-plumbing sort of way, but so very cozy.
- Drove 15 minutes to Carrefour in neighboring Vire to buy our week’s supply of food; yay for Normandy cider, the bubbliest stuff on earth! Oh and cheese and bread and yogurt, you know the drill.
Day 3, Normandy:
- Drove to Colleville-Sur-Mer (1 hour) for:
- Normandy American Cemetery (visitor center was closed until April 28th for renovations): The grounds and headstones are sobering and I recommend visiting the little cylindrical chapel to see the ceiling which was surprisingly more emotional for me to view than I expected.
- Lunch at touristy hotel restaurant on the way to Overlord museum (you can’t miss the turn) and get 1 euro off entrance fee (note if you’re military, show ID to get reduced price without the restaurant’s coupon)
- Visited the Overlord Museum: this is, in my opinion, your best possible museum for understanding the sentiment leading up to WW2 in France. The museum provided an almost immersive experience through narrative, atmosphere, and artifacts to help place yourself in what transpired before, during, and after D-Day.
- Drove to Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer and Vierville to find free parking along the beach (probably because it was the off season) and walked along a nearly empty Omaha Beach to Les Braves memorial.
- Returned to peaceful cottage for dinner
Day 4, Normandy:
- Drove to Sainte-Mère-Église (45 minutes) for:
- Visit inside the church known for paratrooper John Steele getting caught on it (mannequin will be hanging from the steeple, you can’t miss it) You can park in the church’s parking lot for an inexpensive amount.
- The Airborne Museum
- Got lunch in the area and bought some locally brewed beers
- Then drove to a wonderful Mohair Goat Farm outside of Bernesq for a tour of the facilities, a chance to pet the goats and talk to the owner, and to purchase her beautiful items
- Drove to Noron-la-Poterie to visit a ceramic shop for traditional pottery
- Returned early to Campeaux for a restful evening and a toddler haircut.
Day 5, Nantes:
- Said goodbye to the country cottage and drove to Nantes (2.5 hours)*
- After checking in at our Airbnb, we walked to Les Machines de l’Ile and admired Jules Verne inspired machinery, including the “walking” elephant
- Visited the 19th century Passage Pommeraye, a covered passage in a shopping mall of sorts with your more high-end shops where you might want to purchase things like chocolate, leather goods, and scarves, etc.
- Walked to the lovely gothic Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul Cathedral and Sainte-Croix church
- Toured the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne, whose ramparts you can access for free and have beautiful views of the city and Loire river.
- Finished with afternoon drinks and crepes near centre-ville
Day 6, Nantes:
- Dropped off family at Nantes airport (which is a convenient option if you don’t want to return to Paris like we did)
- Enjoyed leisurely shopping day meandering around Nantes and eating and packing. It’s a pretty city for walking but also good for getting in your French store visits: Fnac for children’s books, Monoprix for household trinkets, etc
Day 7, Paris:
- Train back to to Paris, Gare Montparnasse
- Took easy metro ride to our hotel outside Gare du Nord and because of inclement weather, didn’t feel like venturing far so we toured the area around the Gare. Visited:
- Eglise Saint Vincent de Paul which is stunning in the springtime around all the blooming trees
- A La Mère De Famille, a 250 year old chocolate and confection shop whose chocolately treats will satisfy that fifteen year craving you’ve been nursing since your first viewing of the film Chocolat
- Flew home from Orly Airport
*If toddler hadn’t been sleeping so peacefully, after the first 1.5 hours of driving to Nantes, we had planned on stopping in Rennes, the capital of Bretagne, which makes an convenient halfway point.
**Another easy option would be to hop a train to Angers for the day as it’s only an hour ride from Nantes and then see the Chateau d’Angers and the very impressive Apocalypse Tapestry