We are spending 24 days, mostly in Northern France in May and early June. 6 days in Paris and 8 in the Normandy area because my father was part of the D-Day invasion 70 years ago. We will be driving after Paris. After Normandy, we would like to meander through Northern France and into the Ardenne Forest of Belgium where my father was injured in October 1944. We would like to end our trip with a couple days in Luxumberg and will head back to Paris via Verdun. Any and all suggestions for sites and places to stay would be appreciated.
Judy – I understand that this must be a special journey for you for what happened to your father. But please be more specific, so are the WW2 (and WW1) sites only you are looking for and are you focused only on the American aspect or have you a wider interest? Can picturesque places also included in the itinerary?
Oh thank you for your clarification. Yes, we are looking for picturesque, charming, anything of general interest. Judy
Well Judy here some places to recommend:
1 In Northern France:
-Meaux, for insightfull WW1 Musée de la Grande Guerre
-Reims, Cathedral, Champagne
-Epernay home of Moet&Chandon, where you can find also Dom Pérignon
-Laon, small but lovely historical centre with Gothic Cathedral on top of a hill
-Charlesville-Mézières with Place Ducale, looks a bit like Place des Vosges in Paris and
nearby Sedan for its large fortified castle
-Nancy with Place Stanislas
-Metz, lovely city centre and good vibe
-Verdun for WW1 battlefields and memorials
-Remains of the Maginot Line, like Ouvrage (Fortres) Hackenberg south of Luxembourg
2 In Belgium, Wallonia, the french speaking part of Belgium is in general a not so wealthy area, everything looks here en there a bit begrimed if that is the right expression. Nevertheless there are not so big but nice places like:
-Bouillon, tiny but nice historic village with castle of Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the leaders of the
-St. Hubert, being the place of the patron of hunting Saint-Hubert
-La Gleize, tiny village south of Liege with interesting WW2 museum
-Bastogne, well known name of the Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne War Museum to be opened
coming week, Bastogne Barracks, etc.
-In the middle of nowhere little places like Chassepierre near Bouillon, Crupet and Celles near
Dinant and Mozet near Namur, not exiting, just nice
-Brussels, not so tiny ofcourse, Royal Army Museum, free entrance, extensive unique collection of all periodes
3 Luxembourg is definitely a wealthy nation with a lot of nice little villages and scenic country-side, in general everything is well maintained giving a pleasant feeling.
-Luxembourg, historic city centre and American Cemetery with Gen. George Patton’s grave
-Vianden, lovely little town with castle
-Esch sur Sure
Not far away from Luxembourg is worth a visit Trier in Germany. Best is to make use of a rental car.
Thank you for so many wonderful suggestions. Let the planning begin!
Hallo Judy, have a lot of planning fun to begin with, I like to add the battlefield of Waterloo where Napoleon was finally defeated, south of Brussels, there is a Wellington museum, a visitor centre and an artificial hill for overlooking the area. The nearest weekend to the 18th June every year there are reenactment battles (600-800 reenactors), if it is of your interest ofcourse, will be very busy though.
Something not often mentioned in Reims is the WWII Surrender Museum.
It is located in the red brick schoolhouse behind the train station at 12 rue Franklin Roosevelt and is the actual place where the German Army surrendered to the Allied forces in 1945. It was Eisenhower's headquarters. It was the operations center and after the surrender, it was left just as it was with some preservation work to preserve the maps (which cover the walls) and other documents.
This is a link to the NYTimes article about the surrender: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0507.html. This is the link to the French website for the museum: http://www.cndp.fr/crdp-reims/memoire/lieux/2GM_CA/musees/reddition.htm.
I believe it is not to be missed.
Not related to World War II, but if you're in that area, I would definitely suggest an overnight at Mont S Michel. Stay on the island if at all possible, but you need to make your reservations as soon as possible. There are very few places on the island, and they book early.
Also the cathedral at Amiens at is lovely.
What a bonzer list, Wil!
It mentions many that I would have, but so much better.
Just one addition - Meaux also makes a little cheese from time to time.
In addition to the sites mentioned above, I would recommend the historic massive castle at Sedan, a short drive north of Reims. If you are interested in WWI and II battle sites, here is one that helped set the stage for those wars. Few Americans go there, but if history had turned out a little differently in 1870, those wars might never have happened. Or WWI might have been delayed a decade or two and been even more devastating.
By way of explanation, a brief history: The castle goes back to the late middle ages, but it is most famous in France and Germany because Napoleon III took refuge there and was captured by Prussian Forces, clearing the way for Prussian victory, the unification of Germany under Prussian rule, and all that followed.
Most of the castle is still intact, and it is only a short drive north of Reims. The interior houses a hotel that we stayed at a few years ago and I would recommend it and the restaurant, which would rival any we could afford in Paris but at lower cost. The hotel, too, was one of the better bargains for that trip, which covered some of the same territory that you are considering.
Thank you Nigel - Ofcourse not to forget the cheese, nothing goes well without some good French cheese :-)
Roy - You are well informed, you must have great interest in history to know this kind of facts so far away from your home, I heard about what happened in Sedan when visiting the museum in Meaux last spring. The first thing to see there begins with the explanation of the political and military relationship between France and Germany since 1870, gave me a lot of insight. And for that reason a good start to understand the course of historical events leading to WW1 and later WW2 (mainly from the French point of view) and actually for beginning the itinerary to the other sites.
Aside from the valuable and important suggestions above, many of which I myself have visited, I would also suggest if you want to see the many memorials, military cemeteries, historical sites, etc. related to WW I and II not only from the US perspective but also the French, Canadian, German, and British in northern France and southern Belgium, I suggest too the following:
Arras...the Hotel de Ville provides lots of information on the surrounding area and the British WW I cemetery at the edge of the city, Compiegne, Vimy, Chateau Thierry en route to Verdun, Neuville St. Vlaast (between Arras and Vimy), Mons (Belgium). West of Metz if you have time see the military cemetery and museum at Gravelotte. The US military cemetery from both wars is ca 5 miles from the Paris center at Suresnes.
A huge thank you to Fred, Roy, Nigel, Sherry, Lo and Wil! We are so excited to now plan this part of our trip. We like to stay at least two days in each area and drive around from there. Any suggestions for central locations and places to stay?
You're very welcome.
"....meander through Northern France...." If you're going from Normandie to northern France, where I've done a lot of my visiting in France, I suggest from the Somme River to Arras. You'll see the countryside since you're going by car dotted with British and Commonwealth military cemeteries, some of the larger ones are listed above. If you go to the beach towns along the Pas de Calais area, you can still some of the pill boxes. Between Paris and Amiens is the town of Beauvais, a nice place to avoid the tons of tourists not only to see the famous cathedral but also the German military cemetery is located there.
The US sites are near and in Chateau Thierry: the big memorial to the US 3rd Inf. Division there, and also near by Bois de Belleau, known to the Americans as Belleau Wood. Also, the Anglo-French mil. cemetery and the American Church are in Chateau Thierry. That and Reims would be en route for you going to Paris.
Plan this itinerary well and you'll see alot by car in these 24 days.
If because of all the responces you may start thinking also to include the western/coastal part of northern France, so here a few extra places I can recommend.
-La Coupole and Blockhaus near St. Omer, are both massive former V2 launch bases, the first with an interesting rocket history museum. Both to consider seriously.
-The V3 supergun installation of Mimoyecques, was bombed before completion, what rests are a few tunnels of the original network. Within a little memorial of Joseph P Kennedy who was killed during one of the bombing raids, how would history have been if he had survived?
-Le Cap Blanc Nez for a nice view over the English Channel, with clear weather the White
Cliffs of Dover are easily to see.
-Musée du Mur L’Atlantique near Audinghen, battery of coastal artillery, houses now a
museum. More remains of the Atlantikwall still to find along the coast.
For visiting the mentioned places you can stay in St. Omer or Arras, the latter if you want to use it also as a base for the places north of the Somme. Arras has two very beautifull marketplaces, Hôtel Diamant or Hôtel les Trois Luppars are located there and maybe of interest.
For the Battle of the Bulge Bastogne is located well, good road connections but is not an attractive place. A good alternative to consider is lovely Esch-sur-Sûre in Luxembourg.
"Any suggestions for central locations and places to stay?" In giving you all these historical places, I see I omitted answering your question on where to stay. For visiting those sites in northern France, ie, towards Belgium, I would suggest staying in Arras, esp to get to the WW I in Arras itself, at Vimy, Notre Dame de Lorette, Neuville St. Vlaast, Beumont Hamel, and those British military cemteries around there. From Arras the train goes to Dunkirk, Amiens, by TGV to Paris Nord. Across from the Arras train station are several 2 and 3 star hotels and the rental car company. For seeing sites in the north Pas de Calais I suggest staying in Arras
I would suggest staying in Amiens for the grim Somme sites. Both in Arras and Amiens walking towards the centre ville from the train station, you'll see the very noticeable French war memorials on WW II, can't miss them.