With so much to see all over Normandy it was quite difficult to decide on what to include and what to leave out. I suppose that’s true of every trip you take but the amount of museums, memorials, cemeteries, and visitor centres all along the north Normandy coast is simply staggering.
After amazing days out at Utah Beach and Carentan, the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches, and of course the Juno Beach American tourist experience we still had so much to see. Jo’s prior research, which was awesome as usual, had made it so much easier so we knew what we were up to on our last couple of days. We visited so many places that this is just a selection to avoid boring you all too much.
The Longues Sur Mer Battery
Unbelievably there are still a lot of gun emplacements and defensive guns still lining the coast. After 75 years you would have thought that these would have disappeared but hats off to the French who have obviously worked extremely hard to preserve as much as possible. A short distance from our Airbnb was the incredible gun battery of Longues sur Mer. The five huge concrete gun emplacements still sit atop the cliffs with their muzzles pointing out to sea and covering the beaches of Gold and Omaha.
There didn’t seem to be much in the form of health and safety as you could still climb down into the underground bunkers and walk through pitch black concrete tunnels beneath the guns. Spookily quiet and completely empty we really felt as if we could hear the echoes of 1944 all around us. Just standing and gazing at the ocean through the narrow openings made you imagine what it must have been like for both sides. So interesting and emotional.
Port en Bessin
We decided that we didn’t want every minute to be D-Day based so headed down to the quaint harbour town of Port en Bessin for a mooch around. It’s a tiny little place that wraps around the little harbour and although it’s claim to fame is being in the 1962 film The Longest Day, it is quintessentially French and very quiet.
Strolling along Gold Beach
Back on the history trail we took in an early morning stroll along the deserted beach between Port en Bessin and La Riviere at Asnelles. This was codenamed Gold Beach for D-Day and still retains the name today. Lots of smaller memorials to individual regiments line the beachfront with plaques galore for Jo to read. To be honest I was just as plaque-crazy as she was for the whole trip so can’t point the finger too much.
With hardly another person to be seen it was so hard to imagine what those troops must have been through and even harder to understand how important the location was on such a quiet desolate morning.
All over Normandy there are vast numbers of cemeteries to the fallen soldiers of D-Day, both big and small. They’ve mostly been built at the exact locations those particular troops lost their lives which is unbelievably poignant. All of the British ones are managed by CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) which does a fantastic job of looking after the sites and remembering our fallen heroes.
Did you know that there are 23,000 Commonwealth War Graves sites worldwide commemorating the 1.7 million servicemen and women that were lost in the two world wars.
We decided to visit the British cemetery at Bazenville and the Canadian one at Beny sur Mer to show our respects.
A visit to the only US cemetery in Normandy at Omaha Beach was also very touching although as it’s the only one it is absolutely huge. The Visitors Centre was extremely well done with so much history to educate the visitors along with many personal stories. So pleased that we visited.
Courselles sur Mer
Our Airbnb in the harbour town of Courseulles sur Mer was perfect as a base for visiting all of these various locations but we felt we should really see the town itself so an afternoon stroll along the avenues and alleyways was in order.
Deauville, Trouville and the Pont du Normandy
Before we realised it was time to leave and head back to Le Havre after an incredible week in beautiful Normandy. The whole place had completely changed my perception of France so it had been a revelation. We took out time driving back and decided to do the coastal route via the seaside towns of Cabourg, Houlgate, Villers-sur-Mer and finally Deauville where we stopped for our lunch and a bit of a walk on the beach.
I have to admit that I had never thought of this coastline as a seaside resort but it obviously is and the golden sands of Deauville with lines of sunbeds and cafes confirmed its status. In the height of the summer it’s a buzzing busy beach resort that would be well worth spending a few days in.
Heading on via Trouville, Fourneville and Honfleur we crossed the Pont du Normandy into Le Havre. Getting the car back and walking round to the ferry terminal was a breeze, especially after our experience on arrival (Operation Normandy). Oh and a daytime cruise over to Portsmouth much easier to handle than the all-nighter we pulled on the way out.
So is Normandy all about D-Day?
Well it is many visitors reason for going but there is so much more to see and experience than just war memorials and museums dedicated to 1944. Beautiful little harbour towns and marvellous beaches make it a lovely holiday destination. We went for the history though and to remember Jo’s Dads involvement in perhaps the most important military action that there has ever been.
Did it live up to our expectations? It surpassed everything we could have imagined, in fact we could easily have spent another week. Highly recommended for every traveller out there. What a trip!
30/09 – 02/10/2019