Normandy and Mont St Michel

DH and I are traveling from the US to Paris for the first time in 2013 and would like to take a two-day side trip to Normandy and MSM. I've seen lots of day trips to both but not really anything on two-day trips that encompass both. This is what we were thinking of doing...please let me know if we are on the right track: Take the early train to Caen, rent a car and drive to MSM, spending the night there. Get up early the next morning, drive back to Normandy, see the sights, drop off the rental and take the late train back to Paris. Is this doable? Is there a car rental agency near the train station? How far in advance should we make car reservations? Is it better to stay the night in MSM or drive back to Caen and find somewhere there to stay? Is it safe to rent cars here? Any info would be great...thanks!!

Posted by Tom
Stafford, Virginia, USA
137 posts

I haven't been to Caen but I have been to Bayeux, and you might consider going past Caen to Bayeux and renting and returning the car there. I think your trip is do-able, but I'd go back to Bayeux at night instead of staying at MSM - there's so much to see at the D-Day sights that you'd be wasting a couple of hours in the morning driving from MSM to Bayeux. Another thing you might consider is taking the day-trip that the Churchill Hotel in Bayeux does to MSM. Don't know what time it leaves, but their website will tell you. If you spend only one day seeing D-Day stuff, you will be rushed. You could also book a D-Day tour in Bayeux for your second day. Actually, if you didn't want to rent a car, you might be able to do the Churchill MSM tour one day and a D-Day tour from Bayeux the second day and save the cost of a rental car. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
666 posts

Cici, you can learn a lot by using the Search box (upper right) to find some of the many posts on these two destinations. For example, MSM visitors either think it is essential or that it is superfluous to spend the night at MSM. Similarly, Americans with strong interest in the Normandy beach history find a single day insufficient there. Whatever you choose, you are committing yourselves to extensive research and planning about how to spend each hour of daylight those two days. Rick has done a lot of it for you in his "France" book, if you are generally sympathetic to his way of touring. However, one of Rick's tenets is "Assume you will return". He would certainly approve of your saving the travel time and going to Versailles or Chambord or Giverney or Louvre Lens, etc. etc., and waiting for a later trip that, maybe just does Northwest France. It would be shame to skip some of Paris on your first trip.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2624 posts

Yes, definitely. I think spending the night at MSM is the best way to visit if you are going to go.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
666 posts

Well, I had hoped that by my mentioning both points of view, it wouldn't be necessary to revisit the issue of whether staying at MSM is a must or not. There are vast archives just in 2012 on that topic here. People feel equally strongly on both sides. I particularly think that a young (?) couple with limited time (OP) need to make the most of their two days allocated to Normandy. If they sleep in Bayeux, they can hit a late attraction and find the first stop of the day close by the next morning. Honestly, I think the Cluny Museum, Saint-Denis, Sainte-Chapelle, Tour St. Jacques, plus The Marais and Ile-de-la-Cite are a better use of their "medieval" time than pretending to be foot pilgrims on MSM. I'd argue that Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, a much overlooked spot, is more important in world history (St. Bartholomew's Day massacre) than MSM, but it's only one minute from the Louvre. If they had time to visit Dol de Bretagne, Dinan, and St.-Malo, I'd say sure, spend the night at MSM. But they must race to the Normandy beaches right after breakfast (OP). I would agree that the medieval atmosphere of Bayeux is inferior to that of MSM, but the superb touring and travel location makes up for it. But there are plenty of places with medieval atmosphere superior to both of these. They seem to have the money and desire to rent a car (OP), otherwise I'd also suggest researching the Churchill Hotel tour to MSM.

Posted by Cici
St. Augustine, FL
51 posts

Thanks so much for the responses...I have been trying to post a reply for days from my iPad with no success so, finally, here I am at the computer. I did some research and found that since the earliest train doesn't arrive in Bayeux until 9:30am, the full day tours of D-Day are out. Churchill's shuttle leaves every morning at 8:30am and returns at 3pm. In light of this we were rethinking our trip-take the first train to Bayeux, spend the morning seeing the tapestry and then take a half day D-Day tour (looking at Normandy Sightseeing Tours A2), Enjoy a leisurely evening and spend the night in Bayeux...get up the next morning and take the Churchill shuttle to MSM, return to Bayeux and catch the train back to Paris. We thought about renting a car and driving to MSMdoes anyone know if its possible to pick up a car in Bayeux and return it to a train station closer to MSM and ride back to Paris from there so we don't have to backtrack? We are recent empty-nesters who are looking to make the most of our trip without, lol, running around like sprayed roaches trying to "do" everything but not "seeing" anything, if you know what I mean. I don't know if going through the hassle of trying to get the car after the tour before they close, parking it somewhere and then figuring out how to return it only to gain a couple of hours at MSM would be in our best interests...but if anyone has a different opinion, I would love to hear it. Also, Thanks so much for pointing me to the "search" portion of the websiteI figured I was not the only one with questions like these...Cici

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3192 posts

I do not think one day is enough for DDay sites, let alone a half day. I agree that staying in Paris is better use of your time. But, if you're going to do this, I think Tom's suggestion is best. Since you can't get to Bayeux early enough, how about taking train to Bayeux the night before, as late as reasonably possible - stay 2 nights in Bayeux. Then you can take an all day DDay Tour from Bayeux, next day the tour to MSM and back to Paris that evening. This is much better than renting a car imo. I'm one of those people that thinks spending the night on MSM is essential to enjoying it. It is so crowded and packed with people from 10-5 that being there just for the day is not worthwhile imo. I think you're better off not going to MSM and spending your 2 days seeing DDay sites or, better yet, stay in Paris. There is never enough time for Paris.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2594 posts

Well.. we obviously all have different opinions here. But for me a half day at the D-day beaches and American Cemetery was plenty. Also, I think MSM is definitely worth an overnite even if I am just being a 'fake pilgrim'. Beyeaux was also great for an overnite. We did have a car so could be on our own time table, but if this is an area you want to see I would not stay in Paris. There is always more to see..it's always a matter of choices and trade-offs, but I loved traveling to this area and probably would not make a special trip back just to go to Normandy....

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2884 posts

A few years ago, I stayed in Bayeux, took the Churchill shuttle to Mont St Michel, saw the tapestry, and spent 2 full days taking a guided tour of the WWII sites. Regarding Mont St Michel, I'm sure that an overnight there would be better, but as I had limited time and didn't want to incur the expense of renting a car for just me, I thought the shuttle was fine. I had enough time after the shuttle returned to see the tapestry. Regarding the WWII sites, this was really the highlight of my trip and I found the guided tour that I took (through Battlebus which no longer operates) was outstanding. I definitely want to go back and spend more time in Normandy seeing the WWII sites. On the other hand, I don't feel any need to go back to Mont St Michel. Your plan sounds fine ... just realize that you will barely scratch the surface of the WWII sites. However, if you could allot a second night so that you could take one of the full day tours, I think it would be a better use of your time.

Posted by Sharon
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
889 posts

We did spend a night on MSM, and we were glad we did. It was a wonderful experience. However, I do agree with one of the posters - the highlight for us was the one-day tour of the beaches. People said to take a tour - I wasn't sure but did it anyway. It has to be one of my greatest trip highlights in all the years of traveling. I will go back to Normandy again.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
701 posts

We sorta did what you want to do...but here is what we did - we rented the car as we were leaving Paris (it was a Sun so we were very limited to what was open, but we found one just past the Arc that was easy to get out of the city without too many traffic hassles - and let me state - this was our 1st time renting...I was so on edge about it, but it was a breeze)...now...I had looked into the cost of trains and such and a tour to MSM...but I wanted to see it at night, which in early Oct wasn't possible with public transport as I think the last bus left around supper time. We were staying in a little village outside Caen, so we arrived there then went off to the Canadian War museum. (Another caveat about car rentals, not sure if all places are the same, but it was a minimum 3 day rental...we only wanted it for 2, kept it for 2.5, returned it in Caen, as we were taking the ferry to UK)...it was a bit of a drive to MSM...about 1 1/2 hrs...we did Caen that morning, took off for MSM in the afternoon, hung around til about 8pm, then back to our digs...(we had about 2 days all told...spent 2 nights in the village) Cont...

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
701 posts

Luckily, we had a bit of the morning and afternoon the next day and our host (we were couchsurfing, not for everyone) took us for a quick whirlwind tour to Gold Beach, a few Canadian war spots and a cemetary, but we really didn't have much time. What I would say about the train - you already have the car (if you decide to rent) - now, not sure if all have a min 3 day rental, but why not rent in Paris and drop back off there saving the train costs since you already paid for the car? When I looked at the train costs/tour costs for the 2 of us, renting was actually much cheaper. We found the (mostly highway) driving very easy and with a GPS, we had no problems finding places. We used autoeurope to find a rental (it was with Europcar) but what I did was had a map of Paris, and you could look at where each car rental pick-up was located, so I marked them on the map and picked the one that was easy to get to with public transport (we went the night before to find it so we knew where it was) and more on the outskirts of the city (not that the Arc is the outskirts)...I won't go into how we screwed the GPS and ended up driving thru Paris killing at least an hour of our time, that'll take too long...lol).

Posted by Cici
St. Augustine, FL
51 posts

Great comments...after reading them, DH agrees that a half-day tour wouldn't really satisfy his curiosity and would really like to do the full-day tour of Normandy.
We are going to see if he can take a couple of extra vacation days so we can spend two or three nights in the area prior to our apt rental in Paris...if not, then we will either stick with the original plan (train to Caen, rental car to MSM, drive in the evening to Bayeux and spend the night, picking up a full-day tour the next day and then taking the train back to Paris) or skip MSM and just spend the two days in Bayeux/Normandy, visiting MSM if we go back. We are trying to avoid paying for both hotels and apts at the same time...we also have a bit of concern over the gas prices there (according to the research $8-$10/gallon). Appreciate everyone's feedback; it was very helpful...Cici