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Small tour group of D-Day beaches and towns

Looking for suggestions on small group tours of the D-Day battlefields, including towns and beaches, for travel in the spring of 2016. There are two of us (parent and adult child) and we have not traveled before outside the US, so think a small group tour would be best, rather than renting a vehicle and trying to cover all the bases on our own. We plan to spend 10-14 days in Normandy and are starting to make Internet inquiries of various professional tours, and are looking for suggestions on what to positively include and what to positively avoid. Looking for mid-range price wise travel.

Posted by
10344 posts

Most travelers reporting in here do it from Caen (bigger), Bayeux (smaller), or some other lodging in the "D-Day Landing area."
Your judgment sounds good about doing it on your own in a rental car not being the way you want to do it.
There are several good tour companies.
I did it a long time ago with a company no longer in business.
But a number of other contributors here have done this in the last couple of years and I'm sure some will share their tips and opinions with you, look for them tomorrow.

Posted by
16 posts

thank you for the quick reply. We would be traveling from Alaska and assume we would land in Paris, then travel by rail to Normandy. Also would appreciate recommendations on places to stay before and after touring, including tips on really welcoming places and any to avoid. Thank you.

Posted by
10344 posts

You'll probably be really tired by the time you've flown across the pond, then landed in Paris, then connect with the train to (let's say) Bayeux. That and a dinner and walk about town will probably do it for you.
Many travelers experience jet lag, and not just for one day, so a tour where someone else does the hard stuff and you just enjoy it might be just what you need the 2nd day (first full day on the ground) when you're still probably not going to be at 100% physically or sleep-wise.

Posted by
16 posts

Bayeux sound really charming, and while we will take whatever precautions we can, I'm sure we will have some jet lag. Looks like there are a lot of accommodations to choose from there. Do you know if most tour guides will pick up people at Bayeux to begin their tour?

Posted by
10344 posts

Yes, many of the tours start from Bayeux.
You'd have to check individual tours to see if they pick you up at your hotel.
Other sources of information on this:
search this site for many discussion threads on this subject
Rick's France book provides detailed guidance on what you want to do

Posted by
16 posts

thanks. We already have one guide book to Normandy but will definitely check out Rick's!

Posted by
1159 posts

You can find more specific advice and ratings of places to stay on Tripadvisor.com, Normandy forum. Many tours pick up right behind the Churchill Hotel in Bayeux, one of many places to stay. The trouble we had with a full day tour is that we spent scant time at some of the stops, especially the American cemetery above Omaha Beach. We had a rental car we picked up in Caen, right across the street from the Caen railroad station, and then drove the 15 miles or so to Bayeux. Because we had a car, we were able to return to many of the sights and spend all the time we wanted, especially at some of the museums, memorials, and the cemetery. Very moving. We also drove to Mont St. Michel, about 90 miles on the four-lane motorway, arriving before the hordes of tour buses, then drifted back to Bayeux on the back roads, stopping in villages and towns to buy local cheeses, wine, snacks, etc. Driving is very easy in Normandy and you will regret not having a car.

Posted by
170 posts

So glad you get to spend so much time in the Normandy area. We took train from Paris to Bayeux, spent a few days, did not have a car but certainly would get one if we visit again. We hired Battlebus Tours for a magnificent tour, would not recommend experiencing all of the history without a guide explaining it. Battlebus tours has a new name and website. Go to www.ddayhistorian.com. We did a lot of research and booked our tour with them. Read the history of their company on the website.

Posted by
3706 posts

Taking a D-Day tour is less about transportation and more about information. A good guide will supply historical context for what you are seeing (no, the remnants of the invasion are not self-explanatory.) Your research into tours will show that some try to cover everything while others concentrate on either the American beaches or the Britain-Commonwealth sector, which should include the inland areas where subsequent vicious tank battles were engaged. Caen is a much bigger centre than Bayeux and contains its own historical sites, including a medieval fortress downtown. Its big war museum -- or "peace" centre -- provides beach tours. And you should be able to find bus tours from Caen to other places such as Mont St-Michel.

Posted by
31524 posts

margie,

Lots of good tips so far, and I have a few thoughts to add......

As you've never travelled in Europe before, it would be a good idea to do some detailed research on your travel route from CDG to Normandy. You'll have to get from CDG to Gare St. Lazare, as that's where all the Normandy trains depart from, which could be a bit of an adventure in a jet lagged state. You may find it helpful to have a look at the excellent Paris By Train website. It's been awhile since I last looked at that route, but the quickest method will probably be RER "B" to Gare du Nord, walk to the connected Magenta station and then transfer to RER "E" to Hausmann-St.-Lazare. From there you can walk to the Gare St. Lazare part of the station.

I'd suggest using Bayeux as the "home base" for your touring, as many of the tours depart from there, and it's also a really nice smaller town. While there you could see the famous Bayeux Tapestry which describes a much earlier battle, and there's also an excellent WW-II Museum there. One hotel possibility would be the Churchill Hotel as it's centrally located and many of the tours depart from that general area. As I recall, the Churchill also operates a Bus to Mt. Saint Michel, although the schedule only allows a few hours there before returning (although I suppose one could take the Bus to MSM, stay overnight and return the following day).

There are some excellent tour firms in that area, and the guides are passionate about the history and extremely knowledgeable. They have facts obtained from veterans that aren't in any guide books. As might be expected, the best tours are a bit on the "pricey" side, but after taking a couple of these, I felt they were excellent value despite the cost. It's a really good idea to pre-book tours WELL in advance, as they tend to book up quickly. A few that you could look at.....

There are many others, but you can start with these.

Posted by
16 posts

thank you to all you have responded so far. Was not expecting such a quick response and all messages have been very helpful. Sounds like the best thing to do would be to rent a car for a portion of the trip and of course do several days of touring in a small group with a guide who knows the history of the area. I've read a lot about D-Day and the battlefields involved, but of course a good guide would know much more. All these advisories most helpful.
Thank you and keep them coming.

Posted by
10344 posts

It's fun to help people who read our answers and express their appreciation for our efforts.
We're glad we could help you.
Happy travels,
Kent

Posted by
31524 posts

margie,

What Kent said.

There is a car rental agency in Bayeux (Hertz possibly), but as I recall they don't speak much/any English (although that may have changed). Last time I rented there, the hotel owner arranged everything for me so all I had to do was sign on the dotted line (a bit of a "leap of faith" but everything turned out well). There are more rental options in Caen, which is not far from Bayeux by train.

Posted by
16 posts

more great information to consider, and another questions. As we would be going in early May, is it advisable to travel by rail to Bayeux or Caen and then rent a vehicle to use when not touring with a small group, or would it be better to confirm the rental before departure from home? Thank you again for all the responses! Been practicing to renew my somewhat limited skills in speaking French, so would likely be able to communicate with rental agencies, but that's just an optimistic guess.

Posted by
1815 posts

What a fun time you will have! We toured D-Day beaches in 2006 & 2007 with what was then Battlebus Tours. Several of their guides spun off on their own, or joined others. The tour group mentioned already gets good marks, as does Overlord Tours and Dale Booth Tours. All of these groups use 8-passenger vans, so you really get individual attention and they do some personalizing to fit interests. I do remember gulping the first time I got a price quote, but we got every penny's worth out of the experience. These guides are all professionals that not only know their history,but they know many local people and their memories as well as having listened to the stories of visiting veterans.

We based our visit in Bayeux, which is quite picturesque as well as being centrally located. There are a number of hotels in varying price ranges, quality restaurants and The Bayeux Tapestry, if you want a break from WWII history. We stayed at the Hotel D'Argouges and loved it.

Posted by
781 posts

I stayed in Bayeux at the Hotel Churchill which is 150 yards from the pickup point for the battlefield tours,nice hotel and only 1/4 mile from The Tapestry Museum.Many restaurants within walking distance of the hotel.We used Battlebus Tours for our full day American tour and they were excellent, they stopped at a nice restaurant and you could order what you like and pay for it.Another sight not to be missed is Mont St Michel,the Hotel Churchill runs a shuttle bus to it,I would also recommend a day trip to Honfleur .
Mike

Posted by
16 posts

Many people recommending the Churchill Hotel so will definitely look into it. One "must" stop on this trip will be Sainte Mere Eglise, which according to numerous posts on Travel Advisor is NOT to be missed, and after watching "The Longest Day" too many times to count, it's a definite on the list, along with Mont St. Michel.
We're also taking notes from the official Normandy Tourism site.

Posted by
1427 posts

We did this trip several years ago. Took the train from Paris to Bayeux and then a taxi to our hotel in Bayeux. We stayed at the Hotel D'Argouges and really liked it. We took the one day tour of the beaches with Battlebus. Dale Booth was our guide at the time and, as mentioned, he now has his own touring business. He was incredibly good! We spent 3 days in Bayeux (one of them being the tour day) and then got our rental car in Bayeux. This was about 3 years ago, and the man at the Hertz rental agency spoke some English. After we got the rental car, we then drove to some of the battlefield locations ourselves and also to Mont St. Michel. Also went to Honfleur - very pretty town. Loved this trip!

Posted by
31524 posts

margie,

Many of the tours include St. Mere Eglise in their Itinerary, so you may not have to plan a separate visit there. It's definitely worth a stop and there are two buildings in the Airborne Museum (can't miss them, as the roof is shaped like a parachute). You'll also notice that Pvt. Steele (as seen in The Longest Day is still hanging in his parachute harness on the Church Steeple. Seeing this site on a tour would be best (IMO) as the movies sometimes take "license" with the facts and it's nice to get the factual details. Be sure to have a close look at the stained glass windows in the Church.

Posted by
16 posts

thanks again to all who have responded to my inquiry. The more responses I get the more excited we are about planning this trip. The suggestions on places to see at various locations and recommendations on places to stay are especially appreciated. Also would appreciate any advice on particular places or situations to avoid. Thank you all.

Posted by
1540 posts

I'm going in a couple of weeks - we are a group of 8 and we booked a tour with Viators. We will have a guide and a van for a full day trip.

We are staying in Bayeux and looked at all the various tours for the dates we will be there and ended up choosing Viators - based on price and what they cover. Since we are going in March - I found that some of the tour companies were not offering tours yet. Each website ( looked at all listed in Rick Steves book and did a good search for tours of D-Day beaches - each site had a calendar and I could pick the day we wanted.
(Note: we also chose this same company for an all day trip to Mont St. Michel for the same reasons.)
I've used this company - a consolidator in several places in Italy and every tour was great - we were not disappointed.

Posted by
781 posts

If you are renting a car I would do it here in the states,we always rent from Hertz, never had a problem.Another thing that you will need is an IDP International Driving Permit available from AAA.
Mike

Posted by
31524 posts

margie,

I can't think of anyplace to avoid. However, there are so MANY historic places to see in that area, I'd suggest careful planning of your sightseeing so that you don't waste any time (whether the sightseeing is on a tour or partially on your own).

Are you interested in seeing only sights related to the U.S. operations there, or Canadian or British locations as well? Which places are you most interested in seeing?

Posted by
16 posts

we're definitely going to do a lot of planning because even a couple of weeks won't allow us to see that half of what's there. Would like to see some of the top American, British and Canadian battle zones if possible, so we'll have to make a list of everything, connect the dots on just how much we can do and possibly come back again the following year to do it again.

Posted by
16 posts

thanks so much to Frances in San Diego for suggesting Viatours. That sounds exactly like what we are looking for! That company is now definitely on our list! It will give us the perspective we need to then take a rental car and go back a visit some of the areas the tour covers on our own.
Merci beaucoup!

Posted by
3706 posts

As an informed consumer, you will want to know that Viatours basically sells tours operated by other outfits. It claims to vet the companies that actually provide the tours. How far that supervision extends remains to be seen. Here's its sales pitch: http://www.viator.com/about-us

Posted by
16 posts

ah ha.... thank you. This is just the type of information we're looking for! Much appreciated.

Posted by
1540 posts

Thanks for reiterating that Viators is a consolidator - I did mention that In my post.
Even with that in mind - I have not been disappointed with any of the tours all over Europe that I have taken with them.
Happy Travels.

Posted by
22 posts

Another vote for the Churchill (Bayeux). My brother and I stayed there on a trip in September 2012. We arrived in Paris about 10:30am, picked up a car a were off to Normandy, via Monet’s Gardens in Giverny. Forgive the length of what ensues, but here's a narrative of what we experienced.

Leaving CDG about Noon, we arrived at Giverny about 1:30pm.  We got into a reasonably short line for tickets, and spent probably 1-1/2 hours wandering the gardens.  Before setting off for Bayeaux, we grabbed a bite at a small café on the outskirts of town – smoked salmon and beers.

We arrived in Bayeux about 6:45pm.  We were to spend four nights here, and the room was very nice a somewhat spacious.  After check-in (Hotel Churchill) and unpacking, we set out for dinner.  Settled on the nearby L’Angle Saint Laurent restaurant.  Had fresh oysters as a starter, and we both had fish, along with a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage Blanc. Back to the hotel about 9pm, and to bed.  Neither of us had slept much, if at all, on the plane, so we’d been up for 30+ hours.  Decent night’s sleep, considering.  Up the next morning early, and over to the lobby area for breakfast.  Breakfast in France (petite dejunier).  The offerings here were: sliced ham, cheese, apple sauce, fruit cocktail, hard boiled eggs, along with coffee, French bread, croissants, and pain chocolate. FWIW, the applesauce was amazing!

I had been to the Normandy region with a group of nine in 2005.  One of the hallmarks of that trip was full-day tour of the D-Day beaches and memorials guided by Nigel Stewart.  Nigel is a British ex-pat, who lives with his French wife in Normandy.  I contacted Nigel by email several months ahead to arrange a similar tour for us.  We met Nigel in the lobby, and followed him to a dropoff point for his van, and we set out in our VW Polo for our first stop. He offered to drive, but it would have been extra $, plus I wanted to let him do the talking and narration while en route. 

Each site we visited was unique in itself, but Point du Hoc was extraordinary.  Point du Hoc was the location for several large gun emplacements and support bunkers, built from 1942-44 as part of Germany’s “Atlantic Wall.”  The grounds here about were very (sometimes massively) cratered and littered with pieces of concrete blown aimlessly about by the explosions. 

Next, we were off to Omaha Beach west.  The movie “Finding Pvt. Ryan” gives us a glimpse of how hard this must have been.  It was an eerie feeling standing there looking north across the English Channel and south at the beach behind us, imagining thousands of soldiers landing here.  By the end of the day, 34,000 men landed, and Americans had lost around 4,720 killed, wounded or missing on the beach.

Just up from the beach, was the small town of Vierville-sur-Mer.  We also visited: the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach east, Angoville-au-Plain, St. Marie du Mont, St. Mere Eglise, and finally, the German Cemetery - a stark contrast to the American Cemetery and not to be missed. It was a full day.  We dropped Nigel back at his van about 7:15pm, and went back to the hotel to freshen up.  Then, we walked down the block to Drakkar Brasserie for dinner, including fois gras, salad with andouile, and of all things, pizza.  Finally, back to the hotel lobby to wrestle with their WiFi – something that became a nightly course.  It seemed the WiFi itself was near the front desk, and the best (sometimes only) reception could be found there.

With the benefit of a car, we also took time to see Mont St. Michel, Dinan, and St. Malo - all in a day! And the pièce de résistance - we took in the Bayeux Tapestry Museum.

Enjoy yourself!

Eric

Posted by
16 posts

wow, Eric: that's great information, and glad you mentioned wi-fi. I will have to get some wi-fi time in during the trip, as I write for two publications, and need to do weekly reports. Interesting that you mentioned the wi-fi was near the front desk and the best. So I guess that means one has to use wi-fi there and not in the rooms???
Very appreciative of your detailed response.

And also thanks again to all others who have replied.

Posted by
22 posts

margieb42, our room was adjacent to, and just across the breezeway from the lobby, looking out toward the small parking area in back. From there, we often would get some reception from the wi-fi. That said, we took to using the breakfast room just off the lobby to do most of our posting/emailing.

Posted by
16 posts

The Churchill Hotel is looking like a great place to stay and I appreciate information on their Wi-Fi availability, knowing that also, in my experience, one things hotels are good at is upgrading Wi-Fi. A nice little hotel I've camped out at for annual fisheries meetings in Kodiak, Alaska, has made remarkably wonderful improvements in its Wi-Fi over the past six years, going from questionable to great. We won't be booking for months yet, so keep those suggestions and comments coming. Thank you.

Posted by
618 posts

We're planning our trip for this fall in September, so this post has been very interesting to read! Margie, we've booked Hotel Particulier Poppa. It looks absolutely lovely and we're very excited to stay there. If it piques your interest, feel free to message me in October for a review! :)

Posted by
31 posts

We have taken the Overlord tour and the Dale Booth tour and would recommend Dale Booth. While Overlord is very good we thought Dale was outstanding.

Have fun!

Posted by
16 posts

sounds like a wonderful place. Just emailed them to inquire about whether we can book reservations in late fall of this year. Thanks for this referral!

Posted by
6733 posts

We spent 5 nights in Normandy in late October a couple of years ago. One part of the trip was a two night stay in Bayeux for the Tapestry (fabulous) and a full day trip with Overlord. We had a car but still appreciated not having to plan and execute that particular trip. It was a side trip from a longer trip to Paris. Overlord was launched near our hotel (Churchill) and was an excellent day in which we saw Omaha, Utah, Point du Hoc, Angoleme, The AMerican Cemetery, the Airborne Museum etc. Time and money well spent.

Posted by
16 posts

thanks to all for continuing responses to requests for information on touring D-Day beaches and towns.
We're still in the process of planning so keep these emails coming. At this point we are planning to rent a car in Paris and drive to Normandy. Merci beaucoup to all.

Posted by
15 posts

My husband and I have been staying in the Normandy area for the past two weeks and extensively toured the battlefields, cemeteries and museums on our own before encountering NavyandCO. Chris is fantastic and taught us so much more, despite having already toured on our own. A recently retired Royal Marine Commando with 26 year's experience who has served in various combat operations (with expertise in amphibious operations), he brings a very relevant perspective with regard to being in battle. Additionally, having been a Normandy local for the past few years, he has taken care to spend time with local civilians who lived in the area (as children) during the battle of Normandy and can share the stories as told to him by them- things you would not get from a museum or history book. Although we do not have children, I understand he also has a knack for keeping children entertained.

Posted by
1015 posts

I also enjoyed Dale Booth when I was part of an RS group last summer. The day was rainy and miserable, but he gave so much great info that I became fascinated. I do not know the charges for private tours.

Posted by
1 posts

I have never traveled to France. Wondering what the weather would be like in mid-November?
Also wondering if there are any "all inclusive" tours of Normandy that would include air fare from the U.S.?

Posted by
10344 posts

timandsan,
No one knows what the weather will be, but average weather on the Normandy coast in November could be expected to not be the kind of weather that would make you want to stay outside for long periods of time.
But it won't be nearly as cold as, say, Minneapolis.
If you have a car, you could plan for museum breaks to get out of the weather, and bring appropriate clothing, and many of the stops are places where you could get out of your car, spend a little time seeing a particular sight, then when you feel that you're getting cold, get back in the car.
The wind might be the biggest factor.
Some of the cemeteries might take longer to see, such as the American cemetery.
But I've never been there in November.
If you don't have to go in November, you could pick more pleasant months, weather-wise.

Your second question, there probably isn't much of a market for all inclusive D-Day beach tours in November that would include your airfare from the US. But I guess that's what Google is for.

Posted by
3189 posts

We've been to Normandy 4 times for 1 week up to 1 month. From the very first time to the last we were absolutely moved by the remains of the artificial harbor and museum at Arromanche. While each area of this region was a wonderful, heartfelt, living memorial we were stunned by the story at Arromanche. Three of the 4 times we were there in the fall and experienced some blustery days. Everyone tightens their jackets and just tours on. The sites and many memorials are all very moving and worth visiting.

Also I should add that more restaurants and shops in the smallest coastal towns will be closed in November. We took a picnic lunch with us (all 48 of us) the second time we toured in the winter because of our findings on our first trip. Of course the most important things; the battlefields, memorials, cemeteries and museums will all be open.

Posted by
16 posts

We appreciate all responses, and are getting some help in planning from my employer, who has a lot of relatives in France. There have been several responses mentioning the weather, so I apologize for not mentioning before that we plan to go in early May, and we are from South-central Alaska, so we're not worried about the weather being too brisk. Please keep those emails coming and thank you.