5 Reasons Normandy Should Be On Your Bucket List
Fairytale villages dot a countryside filled with cows producing buttery, soft cheese, and farmers perfecting their unique apple brandy. A wealth of bed and breakfasts await, their warm and welcoming hospitality turning up a collective nose at their snobby neighbors in Paris. All of this quaintness and comfort is surrounded by a rich history of some of the most important, and tragic, events the world has ever seen. This is the region of Normandy, a two hour train ride northwest of Paris, and worthy of inclusion on your bucket list. If you’re planning a trip to Paris, carve out a couple of days, at least, for Normandy. There’s so much to learn and explore, so here are a few can’t-miss sights, along with some tips on travel logistics.
Visit the sight of one of the most infamous days in history. Though the sand and waves are somber, the events that occurred here changed the tide in WWII, and therefore changed history forever. For an even better impression of the gravity of the event visit Pointe-du-Hoc and explore its bomb craters and bunkers. Consider adding a tour guide to truly bring the experience alive.
Worthy of a separate mention from the beaches above, though easily visited during the same day, walking these grounds is a must for any traveler to this area. Overwhelming, as a word, doesn’t come close to describing it. Perched just above Omaha beach, entry is free and opens at 9 AM, with closing time extending from 5 to 6 PM in the summer.
An interesting contrast is to immediately visit the German Cemetery nearby and compare its design with that of the American Cemetery. The well-maintained cemetery speaks to a new time, and a unified continent, but doesn’t lessen the loss. Over 20,000 Germans are buried here, over double that of the American Cemetery, and wandering the grounds one quickly realizes a large number of these men weren’t men at all, but young teenage boys.
The wounds from the war have scarred over, but are still most visible in Normandy, and a solemn reminder of how tragic our differences can become, if we let them.
Rising out of the ocean as if from a fairy-tale, Mont Saint-Michel’s dramatic presence seems like something out of your favorite fantasy novel rather than a real place you can actually visit. Yet there it is, standing tall across the flat tidal waters, almost out of a dream, and still feels unbelievable after you’ve climbed its steep winding alley to the abbey at the top. Beyond its awe-inspiring design, the abbey has a long and rich history spanning over 1,000 years. Today, it’s worth finding a room to spend the night, as the experience of the abbey late in the evening, and especially early morning for the sunrise, when the crowds are the lightest, is the most magical.
Don’t be turned off by the thought of seeing a tapestry, as this is more, much more, than your grandma’s handmade quilt. The long (70 meters), elaborate piece of artwork tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and the Norman conquest of England. This is one museum where the audio guide is a must. Not only does it narrate the entire story of the tapestry from start to finish, providing all of the unique details that tie the story to the region you’re currently visiting, but the audio guide also gives you the privilege of standing in front of those who didn’t purchase it, meaning you get a front-row seat to the entire tapestry.
Famous for its stark, chalk-white cliffs and natural arches, Étretat is worth a visit for its natural beauty alone. The two best ways to enjoy the cliffs are either hiking around and above them, or taking a boat tour beneath them. If you have the time, and the sea isn’t too rough, do both. The perspectives are equally stunning in their own ways.
Bayeux, centrally located to all of the sights mentioned above, is just over 2 hours by train from Paris. Departing from Paris Saint Lazare station, depending on your departure time you can either find a direct train to Bayeux, or options with a short stop in Caen. Once in Bayeux, optional tours or public buses can take you to the areas above, but for the best experience we’d recommend renting a car. Which leads to our next section on getting around…
To see all of the sights above you’ll either need to schedule some tours or rent a car. While tours are a great option to provide in-depth WWII history, for Mont Saint-Michel it is recommended to get away from the crowds and try to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. For tips on driving in France, read our guide here.
Where to Stay
For close proximity to all of the sights above, find a place to stay in Bayeux. Not only does it have one of the best WWII museums in the region and is home to the famous tapestry mentioned above, but is enjoyable on its own for being a charming town centrally located to all of the main attractions in Normandy. Many tours leave from the center of town, which is easy to walk around, saving the car rental for sights further afield such as Mont Saint-Michel or Étretat.