Normandy Invasion Beaches Tour

Do it the Right Way!

Author: The Traveling Professor/Sunday, June 8, 2014/Categories: Paris

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To do justice to a visit to the Normandy invasion beaches, I advise making this an overnight trip (2 nights for WWII buffs) in the town of Bayeux, about 165 miles from Paris.  It is the best location as a command center to tour the Normandy beaches.  Because I value my life, I would not drive from inside the city of Paris, but take the 2 hour train from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris to Bayeux at about $50 each way.  One word of warning:  during certain times of the year, particularly in early June, it is nearly impossible to get a hotel reservation.  At other times, hotels and B&B’s go begging for visitors.  I recommend purchasing train tickets in advance.

There are three good choices of hotels in Bayeux to consider.  My preference is the cozy Reine Mathilde.  The staff is friendly.  The rooms are simple yet welcoming.  The price is reasonable.   The Churchill Hotel is somewhat more elegant, therefore pricier.   The famous Lion d’Or is rich in history and probably the priciest hotel in Bayeux.

Taxis are limited in Bayeux. Upon arrival, grab one of the few available cabs quickly or just take the 10 minute walk into town.

I suggest reading a book or picking up some literature on the events surrounding June 6, 1944.  Stephen Ambrose’s D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II provides an in-depth understanding of the invasion and the areas around the beaches.  See the movies The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan in preparation for the trip. 

I’ve toured the Normandy Invasion Beaches two ways.  I’ve rented a car to tour on my own and alternatively, I’ve gone on a guided tour.  The right way to do it is to take one of the guided tours using a small van as transportation.  I recommend Overlord Tours (see www.overlordtour.com).   Their vehicles are small enough to get to the sites the big buses can’t get to.   The guides are knowledgeable, professional, and passionate about their jobs.  Take my advice and reserve in advance.

Most guided tours take at least one full day.  A typical tour would visit Sainte-Mère-Église, the town depicted in the movie “The Longest Day” where a paratrooper’s parachute was caught on the spire of the church.  The soldier feigned death until the town was liberated the next day.  Bomb-cratered Pointe du Hoc is the place where the 2nd Ranger Battalion scaled the cliffs and overtook a German bunker placement.  Visitors are stunned to see what these brave men had to overcome to be successful at their task.  On the 40th anniversary of the invasion, President Ronald Regan dedicated a memorial there.

Further on are the Omaha and Gold beaches.  There are memorials and remembrances along the way.  I can recall encountering surviving veterans, recognizable by their VFW caps, who were revisiting the beaches.  If you wish to speak with them, approach them with care and dignity.  It is surely an emotional moment for them.  There is no movie, book, or tour guide that can substitute for the stories these men tell.

The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer overlooks the cliffs of Omaha Beach.  Everyone reacts differently to their visit to this cemetery.  Personally, I do not have the capability to describe my emotions upon seeing the thousands of crosses and Stars of David on that field. 

On the 65th anniversary of the invasion, the American Cemetery was the site where President Barack Obama and the leaders of Canada, France, and Great Britain honored those who fought and died in the invasion and liberation of Europe.

It is important to remember that it was not just the Americans who participated in the invasion.  There are memorials in honor of all of the forces who were involved in that fateful day.

At day’s end, Bayeux is the perfect place to chill out, sample the calvados (local apple brandy), and enjoy a fine meal.

Another attraction in the center of Bayeaux worth seeing is the famous tapestry depicting the 1066 Normandy invasion of England.  The website is www.tapestry-bayeux.com.

For more information on my small group tours to Paris, visit www.travelingprofessor.com or see my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Traveling-Professor/136094362898

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