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8 Days in Bayeux

We fly into CDG next month & having read many cautionary tales, I've tried to structure the trip to be as painless as possible. We've rented a house in Bayeux & I've made a conscious attempt to not "over schedule" & try to cram too much into a short period of time. That said, I'm looking for some input from those who have experience in the Bayeux area. Itinerary as planned:
Arrive CDG 09/18 7:55 am; train to Bayeux, direct fr Gare St. Lazare @ 12:00 pm; refundable tickets purchased O/L
09/19 - Day to roam around Bayeux; Tapestry Museum; start jet-lag recovery....
09/20 - Overlord Tour Day 1
09/21 - Overlord Tour Day 2
09/22 - Free day
09/23 - Prev sched w/Overlord for full day @ Mont SM; cancelled as Abbe now closed on that Sunday/Day now free
09/24 - 09/25 - Free days
So, a total of 4 free days in addition to arrival day (a lost day) & post arrival day.
My thoughts are that we could schedule 09/24 or 09/25 to MSM via the train from Bayeux to Pontorson & then take the 15 min. bus shuttle to MSM from Pontorson.
My other thoughts for one of the other free days is train from Bayeux to Caen for a full day.
I'd like to hear if there are other suggestions. As much as I'd like to see Honfleur, it does seem to be a bit of an exercise between train/bus from Bayeux. Our other options are to simply keep our options open & perhaps return to someplace that interests us after our 2 day Overlord tours & simply rent a car for the day from the local car agency in Bayeux. But, I'm open to suggestions & any critique as to our plan. Again, I want to keep it simple...and take time to soak in the area & not try to "over-do".

Thanks!

Posted by
7144 posts

Your intinerary looks really good to me.
Having as much unscheduled time as you do is a good thing imo. I’d recommend not planning every day in advance. We’ve stayed in Bayeux for a week 6-7 times, we really enjoy it and the area. We always have a rental car though, and love to drive the 2-lane roads from village to village exploring. So easy to drive in the area and fun. It’s also nice to have a rental car to go back to places you went on the tour to spend more time there. We did a one day tour once but we were rushed at each stop, which is understandable as there are so many sites and so much to see. Being able to go back to some of the sites and really spend time there is very worthwhile.
I recommend the WWII museum in Bayeux, didn’t like the one in Caen. I’d skip Caen altogether, not charming.
I did not care for Honfleur, so no loss there imo.
Having time to walk all over Bayeux, linger and explore is very enjoyable as it’s a very charming, friendly town.

Posted by
5 posts

Susan,
Thank you SO much for your input! You have just reinforced my inclination to forgo Honfleur & instead focus on the immediate area. (w/the exception of Mont SM, which I really want to visit.)
I like your advice about renting a car & doing some small village discovery & possibly revisiting one or more of the sites that interest us as a result of our tours. Both of us drive standard, so we're not restricted in terms of car rental. So, I'm feeling better about the "plan" & think that maybe we've made the right decision with leaving 4-5 days open. And, yes...I had planned on the WWII museum in Bayeux, in addition to the cathedral.
Do you have any favorites among restaurants in Bayeux? I've compiled a list of about 10, but am anxious for referrals for those that I may not be aware of.

Thank you again,
Carla

Posted by
4214 posts

Susan is right (as usual) about everything except the WWII museum in Caen (officially "Memorial de Caen"), one of the highlights of our trip to Normandy. It doesn't focus on the Normandy events but deals with the war as a whole (at least in Europe). We spent half a day there and didn't regret it. That said, I haven't been to the WWII museum in Bayeux, which I know is also excellent, and maybe one museum is enough for even such a big war.

If you can, I hope you'll rent a car for some of your time in Normandy. Gives you much more flexibility than trains and buses. You could visit Honfleur easily, and/or Rouen for that matter, in the time you have. You could drive to MSM for one night, to experience the place after and before the day trippers, if you can stand paying twice for lodging the same night.

Looks like a great trip!

Posted by
7144 posts

Hi Carla, you will gets lots of responses from others over the weekend and many will disagree with some of my opinions.
Some will say don’t miss Honfleur or the Caen museum. I just know what works for us. We love Mont St Michel, as long as we get there after 4:00 and leave by 11:30 am, as it gets very crowded. I’m afraid I can’t recommend restaurants, none stood out for us. On our exploring drives we’ve visited a 1600s farm (the French version of All Creatures Great & Small... : ) old churches and graveyards, chateaux (toured one at night by candlelight), etc. The DDay sites are very meaningful to us as my Dad landed at Omaha Beach during the Invasion so we like to spend a lot of time at them, in particular Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Ste Mère Eglise, the American cemetery and many more. Your two-day tour will be amazing. And the French people in Normandy are very warm and friendly... enjoy your visit!

**Edit: Dick posted as I was writing this...
I agree with Dick, as I almost always do, that one museum is enough.
I like the one in Bayeux because it’s small, not overwhelming, explains the Invasion very well, is not expensive, is not crowded.
The Caen museum, to us, is overwhelming, confusing, crowded, expensive.

Posted by
5 posts

Dick,
Thanks very much for your input! In my view, and my husband's, you can't have TOO many museums & I've read excellent reviews of the one in Caen, so thanks for reinforcing that. While I understand that Caen may not be as "charming" as other towns, it seems to offer quite a bit in terms of experience & it's only 15 minutes by train from Bayeux, so I'm keeping it on my list.
That leaves us with 3 days left to explore & based on input from yourself & Susan, I think a rental car for 1 or 2 days will provide us w/added flexibility. And...that was my original thought....and while I might be at risk for not renting a car in advance, I prefer to keep that option open until after we've had a chance to get our feet wet in the area.
We're just looking forward to the opportunity to spend 8 days in the Bayeux area w/no crowds (we hope....).
Thanks again for your input...it's much appreciated!
Carla

Posted by
16839 posts

I liked Honfleur for a 2- to 3-hour visit. Yes, it is touristy. Although I agree that a car would be handy in Normandy, you can take the train to Caen and pop over to the bus station for the trip to Honfleur. Other coastal towns I enjoyed on day-trips were Cabourg and Deauville. Without a car, I didn't attempt Etretat even though I split my time between Bayeux and Caen so I wouldn't have to keep doing the train trip, brief though it was.

I am another who really liked the Peace Museum in Caen. I spent 7 hours there and could have used more time. I'm not sure it makes sense to go to that museum if you only have an hour or so. The Bayeux museum works better for those seeking a short visit, but even it was over 2 hours for me. (I read everything presented in English.) The city of Caen was obliterated during the war, so it has little old architecture left. There is a castle, and two abbeys survived (neither of which I visited). I consider the city skippable if you don't want to visit the museum.

Other places you might consider going are the city of Rouen, which was beautifully reconstructed after the war, and the museum about civilian life during the war (including the Resistance) located in Falaise. There's virtually nothing left of pre-war Falaise, so the only reason to go there is for the museum, assuming uou aren't specifically interested in the Falaise Pocket. I don't know,what there might be to see about the lengthy battle in that area.

To the west, south of Mont-St.-Michel, are a couple of very picturesque inland towns that are worthwhile stops: Fougeres and Vitre.

Posted by
1099 posts

Another strong vote for renting a car. We took the train from Paris (and once the ferry over from Portsmouth) to the Caen Railroad station. There are 3-4 car rental agencies just across the street from the railroad station. We used AutoEurope, with offices in the US. Bayeux was around 20 miles from Caen. We did a one day beaches tour and as another posted, we were rushed -- about 15 minutes at the large American Cemetery above Omaha Beach at Colleville-Sur Mer -- and returned with our rental car and spent hours at the cemetery and the rest of the day at other sites we barely visited. We drove to MSM via the motorway, about 90 miles, and arrived long before the hordes of tour buses. Being there when it opens is wonderful. We spent about 2-3 hours there and then departed as the place was getting really crowded. We drove around the bay to Cancale, in Brittany, for a scrumptious seafood lunch on the quay with MSM visible across the bay. The best part of a rental car was drifting along on the back roads to Bayeux, stopping in little villages for cheeses, pastries, and Calvados. Having a car opened up so many possibilities for day trips. We had our own GPS with Europe maps into which we programmed addresses of things we wanted to visit. We actually stayed at a B&B just outside of Villers-Bocage and used the latitude and longitude on the GPS to drive right to the farmhouse driveway, which had no real address we could use. We easily drove to many Normandy towns to shop, eat lunch in restaurants where we were the only tourists, even used the ATM at a local bank in Tilley-Sur-Seulles, easily bought diesel fuel (gazole in French), and had complete freedom to go when and where we wanted. You'll likely always regret not renting a car since both of you can drive a stick shift.

Good luck

Posted by
1099 posts

Oh, another suggestion. With a rental car you surely don't need to do two whole days on the Overlord tours. You can get your bearings and an idea how close things really are on one tour and return with a rental car to explore all the interesting places you might have missed or spent scant time there. Cheers

Posted by
288 posts

everyone has their own opinion. That's what makes planning so hard (for me at least). I spent 8 days in Normandy & Brittany and some places I wish I had even more time, some its "why did I bother?". So here a few of my opinions on your questions and other comments...

A car is very helpful in the region. I'd do it unless you have some reason not to drive. I had no problem. People were not speeding, they were courteous drivers, and even if you don't speak French you can read the signs and everything is well marked. Even if you get a car, keep the Overlord tours. The guides live and breathe the invasion, and driving around looking at beaches and villages isn't the same as having someone explain what happened there and putting it in context.

I thought the museum in Caen was interesting and ended up spending 3-4 hours in it, more time than I had planned. St. Malo, Dinard, Cancale are all in the region and I enjoyed visiting each of them. Spent a nite at MSM staying just over the bridge on the mainland side. Did what RS suggests; got there around 4pm when daytrippers were leaving, visited for a few hours, and then again the next morning before they came back. It looks amazing lit up at night BTW and you get that view from the bridge and not on MSM. If you like Impressionist painting then going to Trouville/Deauville is worth doing. I thought Honfleur was beautiful and regret only spending 2 hours there (next time I'll park in a day lot rather than a prepay lot)

Get a few books for more research. RS doesn't cover the area very well. I used the Rough Guide as well as the Michelin Green Guide

Posted by
5 posts

I can't say enough about all of the input I've received from the RS community. Thank you all so very much!
I think there is a consensus that we should opt to rent a car for at least a day or two, while there...and that was my thought, as well. So, thanks to all of you for reinforcing that idea.

Posted by
3441 posts

I prefer Caen to Bayeux -- a full city, with more hotels, restaurants, etc. Some of its "charm" was lost in the intense bombing in WW2 so it has some history to explain. Go back further in time (a lot further) and the castle-fortress of William the Conqueror sits in the city centre with a small museum to explore. The Peace museum gets mostly good reviews but to each his own. Caen is a short train commute from Bayeux.
http://william-the-conqueror.co.uk/caen-castle/

Posted by
4214 posts

FYI the museum in Caen is somewhat out of town, to the north as I recall, easily reached by car from the highway bypass and with ample parking. Don't know how to get there by bus from the Caen station, though there must be a way. Might be a reason to skip it you don't want to drive too much, or use the car to get there if you decide you can't miss it.

Posted by
444 posts

I'll add my vote for a car. I can't imagine spending that much time in the area without one. So much to see outside of walking and train stops. Also a vote against the Cain "Museum," and Cain in general. It is just an industrial city without any charm. And the museum, even if you do like it, isn't at all convenient to the train station. I imagine it would take you less than a half hour to drive there from Bayeux, and probably 2+ to get to the station in Bayeux, wait for a train, find some way to get North to the museum (taxi? Bus?) and then reverse the whole ordeal afterwards. The Bayeux museum is good, and my favorite museum is the one at Utah Beach. Also not reachable by public transportation. Other good museums are the Overlord Museum just outside of the American Cemetery, the museum at Arromanches (small), and the Bayeux tapestry (one of the few you can walk to if in Bayeux).

The many WWII sights I wouldn't miss if I had a few days and wouldn't get to without a car are:

Utah Beach

Sainte-Mère-Église

Point du Hoc

Gun battery at Longues-sur-mer

Arromanches harbor

German cemetery at either La Cambe, or even better, but more remote in Orglandes

Azeville Battery

Canadian cemetery in Reviers (personal favorite, off the beaten path, usually no one there)

Point-en-Bessin

Mont-Saint-Michel is wonderful, and truly magical at night. But I can't imagine getting there from Bayeux without a car, unless you got an organized trip—and that wouldn't include an evening there.

Posted by
16839 posts

There is a bus to the Peace Museum in Caen. It departs from a stop not too far from the castle (to the east). I just walked there from my hotel, which was located near the train station. I believe it would take two buses to get to the museum from the train station--or a taxi, of course. And buses to the museum are not super-frequent.

Posted by
207 posts

I was very disappointed in the Peace Museum in Caen. Having read a fair amount of military history, I found I learned little new at the Peace Museum. In contrast, I was very impressed by the military museum in Bayeaux...and I found visiting the British military cemetery there very moving.

I am assuming that your Overlord tours will include St. Mere Eglise.

Posted by
77 posts

You may be familiar with the capture of
Pegasus Bridge by British Airborne in the early hours of DDay. It is a great story. The original bridge is out of service but now located at a great little museum between Caen and Ouistreham. You can walk across the old bridge. If you’re visiting the mulberry harbor in Arromanches it’s not that far away and worth seeing. Google Memorial Pegasus for info.

Posted by
207 posts

I agree with Gerard: Pegasus Bridge on the northern end of the D-Day beaches is a super place to visit. It is incredible that the British gliders landed so close to the bridge.

Posted by
12103 posts

Hi,

True that the Caen museum is expensive, even in 2001 the only time I was there, spending three hours. But the ticket was valid for two days. I only had one day for the museum.

The Caen museum is not " confusing" but I can see it as "overwhelming" if you don't want over-kill in history. Personally, I didn't find it confusing nor overwhelming. No problem with over-kill in history.

Ideally, you should see both museums if you have the time and the deep interest. I've been to the Bayeaux museum twice, a lot easier to get to for one reason, ie within walking distance from the train station.

The city itself is still worth going to even though it was " obliterated" in 1944 thanks to the British carpet bombing the city and adjacent area as they couldn't break the German defenses. They had expected to occupy Caen by D+1. By the end of the first week in July, they still had not achieved that goal. When they reached Caen after this massive bombing, they found the Germans had already pulled out.

Posted by
12103 posts

Orglandes is smaller than La Cambe. The bus #70 used to go out to La Cambe, opposite of train station. Maybe that's no longer the case since the bus depot area has changed since refurbishing the bus and train station areas.

Posted by
4689 posts

I haven't used Overlord, but apparently one reason many people use them (besides good reviews) is to avoid renting a car. There's no point in having a car on the day you do an Overlord tour, is there? I would not stay in a modest city like Bayeux for a week without a car (indeed, I wouldn't stay anyplace but a big city like Paris for a whole week. (My point is simply that there are limited number of things to do on foot in Bayeux. I doubt that the food or local life is that much "nicer" or "more interesting" than Paris. Bayeux is a tourism city, not a wooden village from a movie.) But you've given a compelling case for this schedule suiting your style of travel. We used Rick's Normandy beaches self-guide information and were satisfied. But none of our relatives were stationed in Europe, and we were satisfied with one day of D-Day touring.

I found the drive from Dinard (3 nights), where we stayed for MSM, Dinan, and that area) to Bayeux (3 nights) tedious, and longer than Google Maps suggested. I felt rushed at our stops along the way, like Vitre or Coutances, and we had to skip some things. The massive infrastructure "improvements" at MSM (now six years old) make that stop much more efficient, if more institutional. But there has to be a good reason why so few posters on this site use public transportation for MSM. Don't make assumptions about something you haven't read reports on.

I don't adore having a car, but it's very useful for making the most of a visit to this area. We particularly used the car to get to public gardens in Normandy and Brittany, which were surprisingly hard to get to. Honestly, they are not as large as Chateau gardens in the Loire, so this is not a must for non-gardeners. We did not plan far enough in advance to visit Le Vasterival, a massive garden in Normandy that is so famous that it is only by long-in-advance-appointment.

Posted by
11738 posts

If you have a car, why not plan a different day for MSM? It's an hour and a half drive. Other places to consider up and down the coast:

Caen - D-day museum, Norman castle
Bayeux - D-day, tapestry
Honfleur - nice port town
Etretat/Fecamp - Cliffs and pebbly beaches, intact (not destroyed) German defenses are still along the tops of the cliffs (but mostly filled with dirt to keep people out).
Cancale - really the best oysters anywhere (about 30 minutes past MSM)
St. Malo - a little further past MSM, popular walled city and beach, museum, can walk ramparts and out to islands with old forts at low tide.
Dinan - even further, maybe too far, but also a nice town with a port area and a medieval center.

I'd look at all these and see if there are a couple that interest you.

Posted by
7144 posts

“The Caen museum is not “confusing” “

Fred, it is quite rude to say a person’s experience, a person’s opinion, is wrong.

Posted by
12103 posts

Not intended as such, only a different view of the museum.

Posted by
760 posts

Hello from Wisconsin,
We spent 10 days in a cottage outside Bayeux. We had a car and I would recommend getting one.

With Bayeux you have picked about the only city in Normandy not to be flattened by WWII. It was captured so quickly, it didn't have time to take a beating, and then the invading forces built a ring-road so their tanks and trucks didn't have to go through the city's bottleneck center we call a beautiful medieval city center. The ring road is still used.

Saturday is market day, and it is a lovely market. With a house, you may be able to cook.

Falaise (if I spelled it correctly) is a nice place to visit. William the Conqueror was born there. It makes a for a nice day trip. Check out Restaurant Le Vauquelin for lunch. Excellent.

Stephen Ambrose has a pair of books about D-Day and after. One is called Citizen Soldier. It covers D-Day+2. You local library will get you a copy. If you don't like it after five pages, take it back. I don't recall the name of the other book which covers the invasion. But very readable and will make a visit much more memorable.

Caen...flattened. Rebuilt. Has two abbeys. One with Matilda the other with William I.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
7144 posts

wayner, good points, I’m a huge Stephen Ambrose fan and the Bayeux outdoor market is wonderful.

Posted by
444 posts

One of Ambrose's many other books on D-day is:

D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II

This is probably his best overall look at he battle, although definitely tilted to the American perspective. But it is a very good overview of the battle, and better than Citizen Soldiers for an overview of the events on the ground. His books Pegasus Bridge (about an amazing British Airborne assault on a bridge ion the Eastern front in the very earliest hours of D-day), and Band of Brothers (about a particular American Airborne unit from pre D-day through the end of the war) are also wonderful reads. Better to read up and understand as much as you can about this history before you go, so you can better appreciate what you see,
I also agree on Caen being mostly flattened, and Bayeux being mostly preserved.

Posted by
775 posts

Along with Ambrose's works, I liked those of Rick Atkinson, especially the Liberation Trilogy.

Posted by
5 posts

Hello all,
Carla here...the original poster. I'd like to thank each of you for your input. Your comments & personal perspectives are so appreciated, especially the merits of Caen or not to Caen....& visiting MSM. We will definitely make the trip to MSM, but not overnight...so, sadly will miss the night-time illumination. I, too, am somewhat surprised that more posters haven't mentioned the train from Bayeux to Pontorson w/the associated shuttle bus to MSM. This option gives us an entire day there, if we choose. There are several trains each day...so, early morning out of Bayeux....evening back. And, the train is very inexpensive, so it sort of makes sense to me....?
Just a little more information about us...our (my) primary goal in visiting the area is the history of the DDay invasion, thus the 2 full day Overlord tours. My husband is indulging me in this trip. I lived in the Netherlands in the '60's....in Arnhem, adjacent to Nijmegan...& for those of you who are familiar with the events of the war, this was the location of a massive battle commonly referred to as "Operation Market Garden" & portrayed in the film, "A Bridge Too Far". I partially attribute my life long interest in the war to the 2 years I spent in that area. Even though my time there was 20 years after the war, the area still had not recovered & reminders were everywhere. In addition, my father served in the war, first loading LST's in the south of England, in the lead up to the invasion & he then followed to the continent, in support of Patton's 3rd Army. (about which he never spoke & it was like pulling teeth to get any information from him)....quite common, as I've been told, of a lot of service men who served. So...this trip serves to pull all of these elements together. Our 2 day tour w/Overlord will encompass a very broad area & it's my expectation that there will be a site or 2 that we may want to revisit...in which case renting a car would make sense. Day 2 of the tour will focus on Dick Winters' Co. & I've read his book & watched Band of Brothers & as preface, The Longest Day. We will actually be in Ste. Mare Eglise on days 1 & 2 & are looking forward to the museum there.
I'm aware that the weather in that area could very well be foggy, drizzly, etc. & can't justify renting a car if the weather is poor...so, I still think the best course of action is to get our feet on the ground & pick & choose the day(s) that we'd rent a car. We have 4 free days, so that provides some flexibility. And, hey, if the weather's really poor, there are worse things than being in Bayeux....w/some good Calvados cider, wine, cheese & baguettes. We'll take our time to explore...the Cathedral w/the tapestry, the WWII museum...and not feel rushed through any of it.
I would love a day in Dinan & Dinard...but that's a bit of a hike....so, we'll see how we feel about that once we're there, as well as what the weather holds. Based on all of your input, I'm more on the fence about Caen than originally thought...so, remain up in the air about that.
Thanks from,
Carla
Upstate NY

Posted by
12103 posts

There is a lot of material covering D-Day and the Normandy campaign if you want to see it from other perspectives too other than the American as portrayed by S. Ambrose.

I would recommend the works by M. Hastings, C. Wilmot, N. Hamilton, J. Keegan, A. Beevor for the over-all and also British perspectives

From the German perspective I recommend the literature and works by. D. Showalter, R. Lewin, R. Hargreaves, H.A. Jacobsen

Posted by
444 posts

Sounds like a wonderful trip, with plenty to see and do. I join you in your interest in WWII, and commend you for diving in to learn more. FWIW, my interest started when my first boss and father-figure told me of his time there as a paratrooper. He jumped into Ste.-Mère-Église on D-day, and stayed in all the way to the end of the war—including another jump into Nijmegen (he was with the 82nd Airborne, which liberated both towns). I've personally visited Ste.-Mère seven times—five of which were on an anniversary of D-day (and the last two of which I parachuted into Ste-Mère-Église myself with a French reenactment group). And I'll be back for the 75th anniversary next year.

Keeping options open in the area is good—both to go to places that intrigue you, and because the weather there can be variable. I find a car essential, even/especially if the weather turns bad. There are so many places to see that you simply can't get to any other way—including museums and bunkers that are fine to visit in the rain. I also have a good memory of simply having a picnic lunch in my car in the rain overlooking one of the beaches with the fishermen taking their boats out of the water. Enjoy the trip and please report back!