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Paris/ Normandy

With the likey hood of our Italy/ Spain trip being postponed for October this year. My wife and I were thinking of changing gears. We are definitely going to spend 16 days in Italy 2021 in October but instead of Barcelona we were thinking Paris/ Normandy. And wanted to spend a max of 6 days to do both. I was thinking 2 days in Normandy. Looking at getting an early flight out of Naples where is the best place to fly into? Paris? And how would you break down Paris and Normandy where should we start first? Having trouble on how to go about it? Rent a car? Train? Find a 2 day tour for Normandy?? Also how is the weather mid October for those that have gone at that time? Thanks

Posted by
16826 posts

What do you hope to see in Normandy--is your interest primarily the D-Day sites? There's more to Normandy than that, but six days isn't a lot of time if you also want to see some of Paris.

I always recommend a full-day tour of the invasion sites (most operating out of Bayeux) rather than the do-it-yourself approach when time is limited--assuming no one in your travel party is a WWII historian. To pull that off, I'd recommend traveling by train to Bayeux for two nights. If you can manage to have some additional time in Bayeux on the day you arrive and/or on the day you head back to Paris, that will give you time to enjoy the many worthwhile sights in the town of Bayeux itself: the Bayeux Tapestry, the cathedral, the excellent Invasion Museum, the historic center, and the British Cemetery.

I suspect you won't find a more convenient place to fly into than Paris, but there is a small airport in Caen, very near Bayeux, and I suppose you might get very lucky with flight schedules. It would be nice to be able to finish up your trip in Paris so you'd be in position for the flight home.

Posted by
4212 posts

Acraven has the right idea above, assuming that the D Day beaches are important to you. Fly into Paris, take a train to Bayeux and one of the tours. Using the search function for this forum will give you good recommendations. I haven't done such a tour but Overlord and Dale Booth get a lot of recommendations from posters.

If your interest is other than the beaches, then you might want to rent a car at either Paris airport, or in Caen. Caen and Bayeux are easily reached by train from Paris Gare St-Lazaire.

If you haven't spent time in Paris, six days would be a good first visit. Spreading that time between Paris and Normandy would be too rushed for me, not enough time to do either place justice. But you may prefer to move faster. "Assume you will return."

Posted by
54 posts

Thanks for the replies! That’s helps out a lot in where to start and time wise! Normandy area is definitely for the WWII sites! And I would definitely look at doing a tour for sure as we are not WWII historians. So would say Bayeux would be the best home base for the 2 nights/ 3 days to start and than finish the last 3 or 4 nights in Paris.

Posted by
17 posts

Acraven's highlights of Normandy are spot on.

Last October 5, I arrived at CDG and took the RER to the Gare Saint Lazare for a train to Caen, got off and took another train to Normandy. No food, snacks or drinks were available on my train so bring something to eat and drink should you go.

There alway seems to be clouds with on/off rain in Normandy.

95% of the restaurants are closed on Sunday in Normandy, at least when I visited.

I took the full day tour of Normandy, well worth the time, the 1/2 tour shows fewer historical sights and appears rushed. The tour company was Bayeux, our guide was extremely knowledgeable.

Wanted to see Mont St. Michel but the Bayeux bus was cancelled because the Abby was closed, and most visitors want to see the Abby.

Anything less than 2 full days would be rushed in Normandy from my perspective.

Have been to Paris 3 times and love each visit. Spending 6 days in Paris will go fast, especially if you take day trips out of the city.

I think you will feel rushed if you try and do both cities.

Posted by
3258 posts

Our Normandy visit was in early July, so I can’t offer information for the fall, but we did have a rental car. We turned it in in Caen, then took a train to Paris before flying home a few days later.

We stayed in Bayeux, did drive to many D-Day sights (American Cemetery on the 4th of July was particularly moving), but Caen itself had an excellent War/Peace museum. It features items from WW II - including amazing Resistance and spy items, but makes it clear that peace is preferable to war. The garden outside is a soothing yet thought-provoking part of the museum. Fall might be an interesting time to see the museum - at least wouldn’t be in the dead of winter. Maybe fewer people there, too!

And since Normandy is apple-centered, rather than wine grapes like most of the rest of France, I wonder if it would be harvest time, with harvest festivals? Cider and buckwheat Galettes (Normandy’s answer to crepes) are treats to look forward to! Then there’s the very special Mont Saint-Michel, not to be missed. Boy, 2 days — could you make it a least 3 or 4 to see more of what Normandy has to offer? If you only have 4 days for your time in France, maybe stick with just Paris.

Posted by
4687 posts

Why did you mention flying out if Naples in the OP? Is that a typo?

Posted by
54 posts

I mentioned Naples Italy cause that is where we would be flying to France from. And I wasn’t sure from there if Paris is the only option to fly into or if a closer airport would be an option to the Normandy area.

Posted by
16826 posts

A trick I learned from an earlier post on this forum:

If you go to the Wikipedia page for the Naples airport, you'll find a chart listing all the destinations to/from which flights are available (not necessarily under current conditions, of course). I've scanned the list and don't see anything more convenient than Paris. Therefore, it seems that flying to Caen would involve a change somewhere; how much additional time that would add would depend on the specific schedules for your desired flight day. For that you can check skyscanner.com.

Posted by
54 posts

Oh that is an awesome trick! 2021 is a ways out so flights may change for the better or worse case is fly into Paris! My thinking right now is, and this is just a small taste with the intent to return in future!

(6 nights/ 7 days
Day 1: Fly to Paris and train to Bayeux and explore the city for the day!
Day 2: All day D-Day tour w/ Dale Booth or Overlord
Day 3: Mount St. Michel
Day 4-6: Spend the rest in Paris
Day 7: Fly Home

Posted by
1454 posts

I’m so happy to see that you have Dale Booth on your radar. We did the two-day Band of Brothers tour back when he was working for Battlebus Tours. Battlebus Tours had been the local guide connection for RS Tours around that time. Because Dale has been doing it so long, he has meet a number of the WWII veterans personally. He is a fabulous story-teller., and is back to being a local guide for RS Tours.

Posted by
16826 posts

I think that can work, but the connection between Bayeux and MSM is tricky. The Churchill Hotel in Bayeux used to run a shuttle; it may still do so. It think it was a round-trip deal. You didn't have to be staying at the hotel to use it. The disadvantage of any day-trip from Bayeux is that it will put you at MSM during the mid-day mobbed period. The consensus is that it's better to see MSM between late afternoon and early/mid-morning.

Another possibility would be a train from Bayeux to Pontorson and then the shuttle bus. Direct trains are not very frequent. I spot-checked for a date later this month and found one at 6:24 AM (ugh) and one at 11:27 AM, both taking about 2 hr. 15 min. The direct returns were at 12:14 PM and 6:47 PM. I don't know how well the Pontorson-MSM buses coordinate with the trains.

You'd have more flexibility if you rented a car for this part of your trip. I have read on this forum that there is one car-rental spot in Bayeux, out on the edge of town. There are a lot more in Caen, which is just a short train ride from Bayeux. I don't know how affordable a one-way rental would be.

Posted by
54 posts

Acraven,
Out of curiosity should we save MSM for a future trip and plan on a 2 day tour for WWII? If timing and logistics for MSM will be to time consuming for travel if we don’t rent a car. Or should we just do tour for SMS and not worry about time and renting a car. The two tours I was looking at are:

Dale Booth:
https://dboothnormandytours.com/index.php/the-full-day-american-tour/

Overlord:
https://www.overlordtour.com/product/mont-saint-michel-tour/

Posted by
16826 posts

I haven't been to MSM; all I know about it is what I've read on this forum, which is that the day-trip experience is seriously not good--marching in lockstep with a mob up to the abbey. Obviously, I think it's OK for you to skip it. There's lots to see in Normandy, and some lovely places in eastern Brittany not far from MSM. I'd recommend time in the area on another trip, when you can see places like Rouen, Rennes, Fougeres, Vitre, Dinard, Dinan, St-Malo, etc. (And there's more in western Brittany.)

I'd especially have a hard time paying for a tour to MSM, knowing that the timing would put me there along with thousands of others visitors doing the same thing. If I'm going to have a non-optimal experience, I at least don't want to pay a lot for it!

Posted by
444 posts

What acraven said. I have visited Normandy eight time, and Mont-Saint-Michelle twice. Both are great. Doing both in two days does a disservice to both. They are at opposite ends of what is technically Normandy, and if your interest is in D-day sights, there is so much to see in two days just in that area. Save MSM for a future trip—preferably when you can be there off-peak hours and spend the night.

Posted by
353 posts

On both of our trips to Normandy, we have taken the train from Paris to Caen, rented a car and stayed at a B&B in Bayeux. If you choose this option be aware that car rental agencies are closed on Sunday and many take long lunches on other days of the week. Since the WWII sites are so spread out, we felt that a car was necessary for us. IMO with your limited time, I would save MSM for another trip. We toured with Sylvain Kast and highly recommend him. https://www.d-day-experience-tours.com/ He is an experienced guide, easy to work with from the time I first contacted him until we finished our tour. Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
5701 posts

Bayeux is a very town to visit, historic and wasn’t bombed in WWII. Take a little time and also visit the famous Bayeux Tapestry, 1066, telling the story of William the Conqueror. Very worthwhile.

Posted by
16826 posts

Check with Overlord to see whether it would be smart for you to take a packed lunch along on one or both days. I took the one-day tour focused on American sites in 2017. Our lunch break was at Sainte-Mère-Eglise, where we had enough time for a quick visit to the Airborne Museum or a sit-down lunch (at a creperie, for example)--but definitely not time for both. Our driver/guide pointed out a little place (a bakery, I think) that sold perfectly decent pre-made sandwiches. I opted to get one of those and scarf it down while sitting on a bench so I could go to the museum. I could have saved a few more minutes by taking lunch along with me. You cannot eat or drink in the van.

Posted by
54 posts

Oh that’s good to know for the lunch! Will definitely ask! We’re you happy with the Overlord tour?

Posted by
16826 posts

Very much so. It was a very efficient way to get to many of the invasion sites, and the driver/guide gave us a lot of background information. A lot of what you're looking at is land, sand, and chunks of concrete. I wouldn't have understood what I was seeing without the guide. The museums have good English-language explanations throughout, so the conveniently-located ones can easily be visited on your own, if necessary or desired.

Posted by
4212 posts

Is there any reason not to rent a car when you land at the Paris airport, either CDG or Orly? Flying from Italy, you won't be dealing with sleep loss or jet lag as transatlantic flyers do. And driving straight to Normandy will spare you the time and trouble of going into Paris that day just to get a train out. You could return the car in Caen or elsewhere on the way back to Paris without having to go back to the airport. You'd have more flexibility with a car in Normandy, though you won't need it in Bayeux or for one of the D-Day tours you're considering.

I agree that MSM seems "a bridge too far" for this short trip. Many would suggest spending the whole time in Paris.

Posted by
54 posts

Hey Dick,
A car rental is not out of the equation when we land. Staying in Bayeux for 3 nights but the 2 part tour is an all day tour from 8:30am-6pm. So the car would just be parked at hotel. So I figured it would just be easier to train in and train back to Paris. Without having to drop off and check in. But I guess we could just rent a car from the airport in Paris and drop it off in Bayeux for a one way deal. Are they places to stop and visit for an hour or 2 on the way to Bayeux to check out? Or do we need a good half day or more to visit the town on Bayeux?

Posted by
16826 posts

I am not certain, but I think the rental place in Bayeux may be an independent, in which case you probably wouldn't be able to drop off a one-way rental there. I assume you could do so in Caen, which is nearby. I didn't pay any attention to car-rental offices when I was in Caen, but I've read on this forum that there are some right near the train station.

There's plenty to keep you busy for half a day in Bayeux. The invasion museum is more comprehensive than anything you'll see on the tour, and it could probably keep you busy for over 2 hours. Then there's the cathedral, the tapestry and the historic center. And crepe restaurants!

A popular stop on the way from Paris-CDG to Bayeux is Monet's garden in Giverny. I don't know what it's like in October from the standpoint of crowds or the flowers; people say it is very crowded during peak season. The city of Rouen has a large, gorgeous (rebuilt post-WWII) historic center, and Honfleur is a popular coastal town. Those two would be a bit more of a detour for you.

I wouldn't try to squeeze in a stop on the way to Bayeux given all Bayeux has to offer.

ViaMichelin is estimating the drive at 3 hr. 5 min., and that doesn't allow for any stops or traffic tie ups--or the time you'd spend picking up or dropping off a car. Rental agencies outside of airports are reportedly closed on Sunday and perhaps also on Saturday afternoon.

Although the fastest rail route to Bayeux might be through Paris (which would mean transferring between train stations there, which is annoying), it's possible you would have routing options that avoid Paris totally. (You certainly would if you were traveling next week, but I don't know what the schedule usually looks like.)

You can take a look at the current train situation on the SNCF website. Your origin would be Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Posted by
348 posts

I have done Normandy with a car and it does make many things, particularly visiting Mont St. Michel, a lot easier.

However, I read the Normandy part of your itinerary as basically being Bayeux-centric, i.e. two days of a guided tour and otherwise time spent in Bayeux. In that case, I don't see the need to rent a car just to make the trip to/from Paris and back. (This is assuming you do not have mobility issues that make train travel or walking an issue.)

You obviously don't need a car for the guided tours, and the main attractions in Bayeux such as the Tapestry, the cathedral, and the WWII museum are all walkable; it's not a very large town.

Of course if you plan to visit other sites or stop on the way from Paris to Normandy, then it would make sense to rent a car. But if you're basically just going from Paris to Bayeux and back, I don't see the need to rent one. You can always take a cab straight from CDG airport to Gare St-Lazare if you want to make that leg of the trip straightforward.

Posted by
444 posts

I highly recommend a car. I have visited Normandy eight times, always with a car. While I have never taken a formal tour, many have reported wanting to go back to things they missed, or at which they didn't spend enough time, after their tours. Also, I have both picked up and dropped off a Hertz car in Bayeux that was part of an an "open jaw" rental.

Posted by
36 posts

Definitely rent a car as more fun to explore and most places in Normandy are best reached by car. You dont need a car in Paris as parking is very expensive and you of course of have public transport although irconically many Parisians hate the metro. Rouen is a beautiful city north of Paris and capital of Normandy, Honfleur and Deauville by the sea, Bayeux is also a lovely town and worth seeing the famous Bayeux tapestry that shows the successful French conquest of Britain. Depends what you like...Basilica in lisieux, visiting calvados or camembert factories...NOrmdandy is famous for cheese, butter, apples, caramels, green pastures and thatched roof houses which you will see everywhere!

Posted by
54 posts

What hotels has everyone stayed in Bayeux and Paris? And would go back to? Thanks

Posted by
1975 posts

With your budget, you could stay at the Hotel d'Argouges in Bayeux. We had a great stay there in September 2019, and it is well within your budget. In 2010, we stayed at the Hotel Churchill. We loved it at the time, but it has changed hands since then.

I'm glad you are planning on spending two days for touring D-Day sites. You won't be sorry.

Posted by
54 posts

Awesome Hotel d'Argouges Is one of the places I have been eyeing for a hotel! Glad to hear a good review from someone who has stayed there! Yeah definitely happy we won’t be short changing the D days sites. And in Paris we are looking at 4 nights instead 3. Any hotels in Paris you recommend or which area to stay in that is central? I’ve heard the Eiffel Tower area is a good spot for being somewhat central but any other advice would be helpful!

Posted by
16826 posts

I don't have recent experience in Paris, but since the forum isn't getting a lot of traffic at the moment, I will venture to pass along this second-hand suggestion (made many times here): The closer you are to Notre Dame, the closer you are to the center of Paris. Your particular sightseeing targets might (or might not) make the Eiffel Tower area better for you personally; it's not recommended here very often, I don't think.

Here are a couple of earlier threads that might help:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/hotel-recommendation-in-paris-101c2b60-f0cc-451d-9c7e-eca908334299

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/france/safe-convenient-hotels-in-paris

The question of moderately priced Paris hotels comes up pretty often. If you scroll back through the France forum and check the titles of posts from 2019 and 2018, I think you'll turn up quite a few.

Posted by
1079 posts

The Eiffel Tower itself is located on the outer edge of the 7th arrondissement, almost to the 15th. It would be central to very few itineraries.

You might consider one of these areas; St Germain des Prés (6th arrondissement), the Latin Quarter (primarily 5th), or the Marais (3rd/4th arrondissements).

It´s too early to recommend specific hotels as many have not yet reopened after having closed during the confinement. Some may never reopen. 200€ per night in Normandy will get you a lot more than it will in Paris. Consider shifting your budgeted hotel funds a bit from Normandy to Paris. Just over 200€ per night for two in Paris should give you many excellent options.