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Normandy from Paris

I want to go to Normandy from Paris and am considering whether to take a tour or just go on my own. I am taking my 15 year old grandson who requested we do this, so he already knows a lot of the history. Any tours people can recommend, or if not, suggestions on how we get there if I don't rent a car.
Thanks

Posted by
8995 posts

It is really easy to get to Bayeux with the train from Paris. This is a beautiful, old town, with much of the architecture dating from the 1500's and 1600's. Strolling around town was always interesting. Going on one of the tours will allow you and your grandson to not only see a lot, but also learn alot in a short time period. Personal stories especially, which make visiting this area so meaningful. I can't recommend a tour because we did the Battlebus 2 day American Experience tour and they are no longer in business. Some of the guides are now working on their own or with other companies. I don't think you can go wrong there. The tours are usually small, just 6-8 people in a mini-van. Check the reviews on Trip Advisor and read their websites to see which ones offer what you are looking for. The museum in Bayeux was really good too.

Posted by
31 posts

In 2009 we took the Caen Memorial Museum day tour. You can be picked up from the Caen train station if you are taking the early train in from Paris and will be returned to the train station in the evening. We saw the museum in Caen, ate lunch as a group, then boarded the van to see Ammoranches, the American cemetary, a walk on Omaha beach & Pointe du Hoc. This tour was one of our vacation highlights. Very well done and very informative.
Look them up at: memorial-caen.fr

Posted by
165 posts

What part of Normandy? It covers about 30000 square kilometres . That's 300 k by 100 k. What history?Agincourt? Joan of Arc? Dunkirk? Crecy?Monet? Be more specific please.

Posted by
127 posts

We're planning on doing Paris/Normany next May but the respondents to this post sound like they are so much fun, I'll see if we can move up our date and join you all.

Posted by
3696 posts

Well, I am the one who has already bought two planes tickets, so my dates are set!...Definitely sounds like a party.

Posted by
9110 posts

Darn it Tk, just drive. You know how. And skip the tours. As the Helpline's leading expert on amphibious warfare I'll build you an itinerary that will knock the little bugger's socks off, save you a bundle, and toss in a bit of earlier history and a few castles. Tell me how many days you want to toss at the project. Payment must be made in either brownies or chocolate chip cookes, homemade, with no postage due.

Posted by
3696 posts

Some of the tours look great, however given the price and lack of freedom I am more inclined to do my usual...get the car and go.... so Ed, I would be happy for any suggestions and I unfortunately only have 2.5 days for this part of the trip. Will pick up my car at CDG. Not much of a baker, but I am a good cook, so could send some goulash soup!

Posted by
8995 posts

Well shoot, I want to come along too if Ed is making the plans. I can bake.

Posted by
9110 posts

If youse buggers think I' going to make that loop for the gazillionth time is this life, save the darn food - - you'll need something to eat in the looney bin. I don't know how much time I've spent in Lower Normandy (mostly in the interior), but it's been a bunch. More importantly, I've herded two couples (separate trips, neither couple had any particular military knowledge or great interest in history) through the region and I'll base the rough times on what they seemed to like. Most germane where two other trips: One was with dad (up the cliffs on Day 1, Wave 1, as an engineer officer running with the Rangers leading a bunch of guys with packs of explosive to blow stuff up. He didn't tell any of the personal experiences Jo talks about, but standing there with him as we looked up gave me the shivers. The other was with a long-time buddy who's the former Director of the Marine Corps Museum. I'll use his evaluations of the museums since he was the one snooping around in the back rooms talking to the curators and such while I was wandered off looking for a place to get a beer.
The twisted interest in the rest of the history is mine alone - - take it with a shaker or two of salt.

Posted by
9110 posts

Day 1 (half day) starting from Roissy or downtown.
Work up the A13 toward Rouen, but get off at the Gaillon exit and get across the Seine to Les Andelys. On the hill across the creek on the south side of town is Chateau Gaillard. The castle is a ruin, but it's historically important since it's the only one that Lionheart built in France. (His mom was French, he lived is whole life in France except for two years in England, the time on the crusades, and the time he spent in the jug in Austria.) Don't pay to enter the little part that they charge for, it's not worth it. But do look over the cliffs at the bends in the Seine that gave the Vikings fits. Leave and get back on the freeway if you're pressed for time or drive across the hills to Rouen on the east side or the river. Paris to the freeway exit is an hour, time to see the castle and get back on the freeway is an hour and a half, time to Rouen on the freeway is less than an hour. You need an hour in Rouen. The cathedral is the one that Monet painted all the time. I could care less, but, inside is the partial burial site of Lionheart. It's dark as hades, but the sarcophagus is toward the back on the left side of the right aisle about belly button high. All that's in there is his heart, the rest of his carcass is down in Aquitaine beside mommy Eleanor. As you come back out the door of the church, bear slightly right and head down the pedestrian street. You'll pass under a big arch/bridge over the street with a giant clock in a couple hundred yards (the street might even be called Rue du Gros Horloge or something equally clever). You're halfway to the place where Jeanne d' Arc was roasted. It's on the right is a real small park/garden with a plaque. You have to walk under the roof extension of the Sainte Jeanne church to actually see it. That's it. Scram.

Posted by
9110 posts

Honfleur is an hour away. It's touristy as all get out sometimes in the summer, but I really like the place. It's been a resort for seven evers, got mentioned in "Gigi" , and is one of the old smugglers' ports. The best part is the tidal gate (for the extreme channel tides) at the old port. A plaque on the harbormaster's place points out that this is the place from whence Champlain went off exploring. The places to eat along the quai suck and cost like the devil, but they're okay for a beer or coffee. Just up the hill from the port (north) is Saint Catherine's church which is worth a look inside since it was built by shipwrights and the ceiling/roof structure looks just likes the ribs of an old wooden ship. Further up the hill is the town square in one corner of it is a restaurant called Le Corsaire (pirate on the sign). The cold-water seafood platter for two will empty your pocketbook, but it'll feed four. It's good. If you go down the side street beside the restaurant, it'll dead end on a street with a slew of restaurants that are all equally good that regular people can afford. My minder likes to stay at a joint called the Cheval Blanc right near the harbormaster's place. On solo/guy trips I camp out at the cheapo ETAP which is about a five minute walk south of the old port.

Posted by
9110 posts

Day 2 The WW II stuff (it can be done in a day, but it's a long one) Leave by seven and haul tail for Bayeux, stopping in Caen only to eyeball St Stephen's church where William the Conqueror exploded at his funeral (hot day, fat guy, small coffin, poor embalming, kapoooow) (the Bayeux military museum is better by a long shot although the one at Caen is the one that's touted all the time). The drive is an even hour. The slide through Caen adds a half hour. You'll need two hours at the military museum and one for the tapestry museum (earlier invasion going the other way, free audio guides in any language, if you listen to every bit of it, it actually take about forty minutes). Find something to eat and head for the American Cemetery. You'll need an hour to walk in, look at the crosses and stars, and, most importantly historically, look at the giant diagrams in the pavilion that depict the invasion sequence and the rest of the war campaign. Omaha Beach is just down the hill. Less than an hour does it. The cliffs are to the west.
All of the invasion beaches look pretty much alike, there's old gun emplacements around, but not really that much to them. After that you have to pick and choose depending on interests. The beachhead was close to fifty miles long and the early parts of the campaign extended twenty miles inland. Sainte Mere Eglise (dude in a parachute hung up on the church steeple) is a bit more than a half hour out the peninsula. It's more of a tourist catcher. The museum is really only of interest to an airborne nut - - I have both pilot's and jump wings and have only gone inside once - - for fifteen minutes.

Posted by
9110 posts

Now's where all the damn arguments start in the forums. My idea is to drive the hour and a half to MSM, walk it as it gets dark (skipping the abbey and the shops). I won't eat there if I can help it (food seems to come from the same kitchen no matter where you eat and tastes really bad. Eight bucks for a short beer is also pretty steep. I've only slept there twice and it dumped by wallet. You can walk in the lower gate, up the main drag, and down the eastern wall in thirty minutes. Do it twice and burn and hour. The neat thing is the tides (going in or out), but you've got to have your timing just right to catch them and it's hard unless you do actually spend the night and hop out of bed for a wall walk before jumping back under the covers. What I like to do is head back out the causeway when it's dark and then stop and look back for the lighted iconic view. Summer makes it a bit rough. What else I like to do is drive the forty-five minutes to St Malo so I can stuff my face at any of the moules spots just inside the wall adjacent to the small recreational marina. The Le Croiseur is a pretty good hotel for a hundred bucks a night and it's inside the walls close to the restaurants. Saint Malo was pretty well flattened (sub pens ?) but they've done a heck of a job putting it back together and I think it's the best example of a walled port in the world.

Posted by
9110 posts

Day 3 Choices heading back Several options. Choices 1 and 2 involve heading east, so you might as well stop at Dol de Bretagne this time. Just south of town in the tallest menhir I've ever seen. To leave the freeway, go see it, and get moving again is only about a half hour. Choice 1 continues to Falaise. The castle is a bit hokey, but has stocks and such so kids seem to like it. It's billed as William the Conqueror's birthplace castle, but, unfortunately the present building was started a bit after he was born. The original one is somewhere beneath the foundations of what's there now. Choice 2 heads for Fougeres. It's a good walled city that makes Carcassonne look like the down dump with a bunch of dunce caps.
Falaise to Paris is about two and a half hours over the same route you used coming up. From Fougeres it's about three and a half, but you go right by Chartres so you might as well stop and see the best example of the notre dame style gothics. If you'd seen this one first, you might not have even bothered going into that dinky place in Paris. Choice 3 continues the adventure and goes to Carnac. Something like thirty-five hundred standing stones makes you wonder why anybody even takes a picture of Stonehenge. Dang, that was a lot of typing, I probably could have walked the whole thing in that amount of time.

Posted by
3696 posts

Thank you SO much... guess you just need to ask the right questions, and then wait for the right answer...I will have Andrew (the grandson) read this over and let him make the final choices....sounds like a wonderful 2.5 days!

Posted by
127 posts

I have said it a million times; I will say it once more. As an experienced European traveler I learned a long time ago that you can read all the tour/guide books, watch all the tv travel programs, etc. but at the end of the day, the only really "straight scoop" you can get is the valued opinion of someone you trust who has been there. And this particular forum and its respondents proves precisely my point. Thanks Ed and everyone who contributed. It's been a blast!

Posted by
2122 posts

Ed,
I'm sure I will be joined by many readers when I hit the "print" button on your response, saving it for when we make it to Normandy (one of my spouse's bucket-list destinations). I can just see it, instead of the familiar blue book in Normandy, we will see others with printed papers, reminding their travel partners, ".............honey, now Ed says to scram." ....... "Ed says to eat here." LOL!!! LOVE IT!!! Seriously, thank you for sharing your knowledge/experience with such a great post. It will help many of us tour the area more efficiently, and it will help me extract my husband from the aviation museum a bit more quickly. "Ed was a pilot/jumper, and he only spent 15 minutes in here." (Just kidding.) LOL.

Posted by
3258 posts

We're in Normandy now and used some of Ed's suggestions which worked great. We picked up rental car at CDG and drove to Ed's recommended Etap Hotel near Rouen. The next morning we spent some time in Rouen and then were in Honfluer in time for lunch. From there we drove to Caen for an afternoon at the Memorial Museum. Overnight in Carentan near D-Day Beaches. This morning we drove to Arromanches for the 360 degree Theater presentation. This afternoon we spent entirely ar the American Cemetary - walk on the beach, worthwhile English-speakers tour, and exhibits. All worthwhile and we felt a good use of limited time in the region. Off to Dinan tomorrow!

Posted by
2732 posts

As I said on a post to another thread yesterday, Ed is one of my favorite posters. I also said I don't always agree with him. While he offers some great ideas here, I think he whips through Normandy way too fast. I spent four days there and wished I had more time. I am really into WWII history and I loved Normandy even without the WWII stuff. Getting back to the OP's question, in my opinion, this is one place where a tour makes sense. We spent two days on Battlebus tours (company no longer in business) and two days on our own. The tour days were far better. As much as I have read about WWII, I learned much more from the guides on our tours and found it really meaningful to hear them talk about events that took place at the places we stopped. Also the guides have taken WWII vets on tours and have some great stories to tell that you probably will not find in history books. The tours are expensive, but they are money well spent. Both of the guides we had now do tours on their own Dale Booth and Stuart Robertson. I liked having a car in Normandy, but if you don't want to rent a car, you can take a train to Bayeux, which seems to be where most tour guides will pick you up. Regardless of whether or not you rent a car, I urge you to consider a tour.

Posted by
3258 posts

A couple of additional thoughts about renting a car-be prepared with extra cash for the tolls. The roads are excellent but the tolls can be expensive. We paid 20-30 Euro between CDG and Bayeux. Also, driving between the various sites in Normandy takes more time than you expect due to curvy roads, tractors, small village towns, and beautiful countryside. We found the GPS to be really useful.

Posted by
3696 posts

Thanks everyone.... @Ed...just printed out the itinerary and will give it to Andrew, so I will post what he thinks after he sees it.
Now that I have this part of trip somewhat figured out I have to nail down a loose itinerary for the Christmas Markets... and the all-important what to wear???

Posted by
9110 posts

James Looks good. But, if you've never seen a big standing stone, have any interest, a bit of extra time.........Dol only adds about fifteen minutes to the drive to Trans la Foret and the thing's a whopper.

Posted by
73 posts

Ed, you're the expert of choice here! Maybe Rick will hire you LOL. Anyway most of the talk here is for car rentals, we were going to come in from Paris by train.. We're ok with Bayeux but what about getting to MSM? Does the train carry on that way? Thanks

Posted by
9110 posts

I don't ride trains, but there's a station at Pontorson, none at Mont St Michel, and tracks exist from Pontorson up to Granville thence across the base of the Cherbourg through Saint Lo to Bayeux. End of knowledge.

Posted by
8700 posts

DK, Train service is limited. You can take a train from Bayeux to Pontorson which is 8.5 km from Mont-Saint-Michel. If you arrive at Pontorson at the right time, you can take a regional bus to Mont-Saint-Michel. Otherwise you'll have to take a taxi. Go to the German Rail site for detailed timetables.