Overview of Normandy Attractions

Normandy is a beautiful area in France filled with WW2 sites, chateau’s, oysters and seafood and museums.  We spent three weeks in Brittany and Normandy and enjoyed the attractions we visited.  It can be a little overwhelming as there are just so many WW2 museums and sites available to visit, it would be very difficult to see them all.  I have included links to the attractions we saw and some we didn’t get to.

Attractions we visited:

Mont St Michel – This is one of my favourite places in France.  We have a blog on this on our website so rather than restate all the information click on the here.

Bayeux Tapestry – The tapestry is housed in the Bayeux Museum and depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  Click here to read more on it.

Normandy American Cemetery – Cemetery for the American soldiers from WW2.  Click here to read the information on it. 

Sainte-Mere Eglise – Small town that was the first in France to be liberated after the D-Day landings and famous for John Steele’s lucky escape. Click here to read information on it.

Point du Hoc – To read about how the army rangers led by Lt. Col. James E Rudder captured Point du Hoc from the Germans click on the link here

Other Attractions we didn’t see:

Caen Memorial – An extensive museum of WW2 as well as the battle that took place at Caen.  It also offers tours of some of the D-Day landing sites.  The official website with information on memorial can be found by clicking on the link here.

Azeville Battery – Tour an original German battery with an audio guide (French, English, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish) which goes 350 m underground.  There is also a film.  This WW2 site is not heavily visited but those who do, think very highly of it.  To find out more information click here.

The Utah Beach D-Day Museum – Built on the beachfront where the American troops landed during D-Day and covers the planning and execution of the D-day landing through oral accounts, objects and vehicles.  The museum has very positive feedback.  To learn more click here.

 

Sainte-Mere Eglise – 23/5/2016

First two will be easier to read

http://en.normandie-tourisme.fr/sainte-mere-eglise-565-2.html

http://www.airborne-museum.org/en/at-the-heart-of-history/portraits/john-m-steele/

http://d-dayrevisited.co.uk/d-day/sainte-mere-eglise.html

 

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Church in the Town of Sainte-Mere Eglise

DSCF8826 (575x800)Model of John Steele whose parachute tangled in the church steep on June 6th 1944.

Written and Researched by Ava, photos by mum 

Normandy American Cemetry – 23/5/2016

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is located in Colleville-sur-mer, France. The cemetery was established by the U.S. First Army on June 8 in 1944 and this cemetery was the first American one in Europe for World War II. There are 9 385 American military dead and most of them lost their lives during the D-Day landings. On the Walls of the Missing are written 1 557 names of those soldiers missing, rosettes are placed next to ones who have since been recovered and identified.

The American cemetery is huge with crosses and stars of David as far as the eye can see, it was a very sad. 

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Among the 9 387 American soldier’s graves, there are also 149 stars of David

Tourist Information for Normandy American Cemetery

Opening Hours:

  • Closed on December 25th and January 1st
  • 2nd January – 14th April – open 9 am – 5 pm
  • 15th April to 15th September – open 9 am – 6 pm
  • Last admission is 15 minutes prior to closing.

Costs:

Entrance to the visitor center and cemetery are free.

Official Website: https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery#.WlBT41WWbIU 

Written and Researched by Ava, Photos by mum

Point du Hoc – 23/5/2016

On the coast of Normandy there is a place called Pointe du Hoc, a 30 m high cliff, the highest point between Omaha and Utah beaches in the north of France. In 1944 it was part of the biggest sea invasion in history. During the WW2 planning of the assault on Nazi-captured France; Allied commanders saw the big coastal guns at Pointe du Hoc. There were six 155 mm cannons in heavy armored bunkers, that could be dangerous to Allied ships. Allied planes from British airstrips, heavily bombed Pointe du Hoc during air raids, however the artillery guns were barely damaged from the air strikes.

It was decided that the Army Rangers would take possession of Point du Hoc.  During the assault of Omaha and Utah beaches, the US Army Rangers climbed the 100-foot cliffs and seized the German artillery pieces to stop the Germans firing on the landing troops of Americans and Omaha and Utah beaches.  The rangers put their lives on the line to successfully secure Point du Hoc and stop the Germans from firing on the landing American troops at Omaha and Utah beaches.

We began by watching a short video of interviews of some of the rangers whose job it was to secure Pointe du Hoc, it was pretty sad to listen to their stories and the friends they lost.  We then walked to the cliff top, which had craters everywhere from bombs being dropped. 

 

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One of the many craters dug by the bombs dropped around Point du Hoc.

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On D-day the Americans fired grapples with rope ladders and scaled the cliffs, where they then had to climb barbed wire and fight the Germans for control, with heavy casualties. There is still barbed wire on the cliff tops. How they made it up those cliffs under fire is remarkable.

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Left over barbed wire that lines the top of the cliffs at Point du Hoc to stop the Allied forces from gaining control in Normandy.

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We walked around to the German command post, where you can go in and have a look.  In the photo you can see Max, Tristan and Josh looking out.  The purpose of it was to protect from the allied attack while providing a safer way to return fire.

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Inside the firing station H636a of the German battery at Point du Hoc

The WW2 Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument  is found on a cliff side, eight miles west of the Normandy American Cemetery and looks out on the Omaha Beach in France.  It was erected by the French to honor the American Second Ranger Battalion who under the orders of Lt. Col. James E. Rudder, secured Pointe du Hoc for the allies. 

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The ranger monument at Point du Hoc commemorating  Lt. Col. James Rudder and his men taking the German gun point.

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The remains of a German gun pit at Point du Hoc, the rangers found the six guns missing but after searching they were later located camouflaged in a nearby lane. 

Tourist Information Point du Hoc

Opening Hours

  • 1st January – 14th April – open 9 am – 5 pm
  • 15th April – 15th September – open 9 am – 6 pm
  • 16th September – 31st December – open 9 am – 5 pm

Official Website: https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/pointe-du-hoc-ranger-monument#.WlDbiFWWbIU

Researched and written by Ava

Updated January 2018

 

Bayeux Tapestry

Bayeux is a town located 10 km inland from the coast on the Aure River in Normandy, France.  The town itself has a beautiful medieval center with cobbled streets and half timbered, Tudor style buildings.  You could easily spend a couple of hours wandering the shops and streets in the city center.  Bayeux’s claim to fame is the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry is now housed in the Bayeux Museum in the center of town. The Bayeux Tapestry is not actually a tapestry but rather an embroidery  representing the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066.  The tapestry is about 70 m in length and 50 cm in height. The embroidery is done with 8 different coloured (blue-green, terracotta, light-green, buff, grey-blue, dark blue, yellow and a dark green) woolen threads on a linen background and historians believe that it was actually made in England, possibly in Kent.  The tapestry is actually missing the ending possibly covering the coronation of William as king of England.  Although it is not known when the tapestry was, made it is believed to be between the 11th and 12th century and commissioned by Bishop Odeo of Bayeux (King William’s half brother). 

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Wikimedia Ulrich Harsh

So what is the tapestry about? Some historians believe the tapestry is Norman propaganda excusing William from conquering England, but most believe it is showing the conquest of England by the Normans from the Norman’s perspective.  The tapestry depicts Harold’s trip to Normandy and subsequent return to England and his coronation as King, after King Edward died. The tapestry describes the preparation for battle, the crossing of the English channel and the battle at Hastings.

The Bayeux tapestry is an important artwork not only because it depicts an important event in history, but because it provides information on what daily life was like at that time.  The museum is very good and well worth a visit.  Please note, you are not allowed to take photos inside the museum.

Interesting Fact: The term William the conqueror came from the fact that William conquered England. 

Bayeux Tapestry Tourist Information

Opening Hours

  • Closed 24th – morning of the 26th of December, 31st to the afternoon of the 2nd of January, 8th January – 31st of January.
  • 1st February to 28th February – 9.30 am – 12.30 pm and 2 pm to 6 pm
  • 1st of March to 30th April – 9 am – 6.30 pm
  • 1st May to 31st August – 9 am – 7 pm
  • 1st September to the 31st of October – 9 am – 6.30 pm
  • 1st November to the 31st December – 9.30 am to 12.30 pm and 2 pm to 6 pm.

Costs 

The entrance fee includes an audio guide which is available in 16 different languages including English.

  • Adults – €9,50
  • Reduced rate – €7.50
  • Students – €5 
  • Under 10 – free

Official Websites:  http://www.bayeuxmuseum.com/en/la_tapisserie_de_bayeux_en.html

Mont St Michel – 9/6/2016

Mont Saint-Michel is an island in the Normandy region, located one kilometer off the coast at the Couesnon River mouth.  The Mont was consecrated in 708, after a Bishop from a nearby town was spoken to by the Archangel Michael and instructed to build a church on the rocky island.  Although the most visible structure on the island from a distance is the church and abbey, the mont is actually a medieval town.  The town’s composition is that of a feudal society with God, the abbey and monastery at the top, the halls below, followed by the stores and housing and at the bottom, outside the walls were the farms and fishermen. The population of the island in 2015 was 50 people although not all live there permanently.  Mont St Michel’s does play host to around 2.5 million annual visitors. 

Mont Saint Michel sits in a shallow bay that stretches between Brittany and Normandy, which has been a source of contention between the two regions as to who has ownership of the islet. The bay has a tide variance of about 14 meters, causing the Mont to be surrounded by mudflats during low tide and at times cut off from the mainland.  The huge tidal variances made attacks on the island difficult due to the risk of the quicksand, disorientating fogs or being swept out to sea. In 1889 a permanent raised causeway was constructed so island access was easier, this as well as farming led to the bay silting up.  Since 2005, a project with the aim of preserving Mont Saint Michel as an island has been undertaken.  This project has included the building of a damn to remove the sand from around the rocky islet, moving the car park 1.5 km away from the Mont and the replacement of the causeway with a stilted bridge which will allow water to flow around the island.  How has this affected the tourists?  Well you now have shuttle buses that take you to the bottom of the Mont, included in your parking cost or you can use the walkways or another alternative is the horse drawn carriage.  

This is one of my favourite castles, its magical the way it rises from the water and yet it can look forlorn and mysterious in overcast weather and for our family holds a lot of memories.  We visited here in 2002 with our eldest two children, Josh and Tristan, then aged 4 and 18 months.  On our way down from the Abbey we had stopped to buckle our then youngest, Tristan into his stroller, while we were both involved in getting a squirming and fussing child done up, our eldest had disappeared.  After searching the nearby vicinity we thought he must have kept walking while had stopped and continued down to the Gendarmerie (police station).  The police put an announcement over the radio, broadcast throughout the mont, in French to no avail.  Andrew then explained in very broken french that Josh couldn’t speak French and he made the announcement.  All ended well when a shop assistant found him looking at a sword in a store (he has always loved swords) I can’t relay the relief we felt and the number of times we have retold the story.  I am pleased to say that we did not lose anyone on this trip.

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Enough reminiscing and onto what there is to see.  The walk over the bridge does give you amazing views of the Mont in all her glory, even in low tide surrounded by the mud flats, as was the case this time for us.  From there you will cross the draw bridge and enter the gates to the city, where you will be swallowed up in the crowds as you make your way through the winding, cobbled streets filled with tourist shops and make your way up to the abbey.  Of course there are lots of photo opportunities on the way as well as various lookout points.

The Abbey

Mont Saint Michel’s history began when local bishop Aubert placed a tomb on it in 708 after receiving a message from Archangel Michael. There wasn’t a permanent population on the Mont until 966, when the Duke of Normandy, Richard I, asked benedictine monks to settle there, soon becoming a center for pilgrimage by European Christians.  The abbey’s construction began in the 10th century and had alterations made after fire and damage until the 19th century.  The wall and defense towers were added in the 14th century for protection during the 100 year war between the French and English.  Although the Mont was not taken during the French/English war, the church was damaged. There is little to see through the abbey besides its Gothic, haunting architecture which is made more meaningful if you have the audio-guide. 

The stairs leading up to the Abbey and views from it.

One area of the abbey is the cloister, it was an area that the monks grew vegetables and read the bible.  The cloister maintains its serene, peaceful feel to it even now. Part of the permanent population on Mont St Michel, is in fact monks.

Photos from left: the monk’s walkway through the Abbey and the cloister of the abbey.

During the abbey’s history it has also served as a prison, firstly during the revolution and then following the revolution the priests themselves were imprisoned in 1793.  It was later used for mainly political prisoners before closing in 1863.  

As you walk through the abbey you will also see what looks like a giant hamster wheel, it was actually powered by workers to haul supplies and stones up the Mont.

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The walk through the abbey is one way and after walking through some gardens you will eventually end up heading back down the hill.  This is a fabulous castle and should definitely be on your list if heading to France.

Tourist Information for Mont Saint Michel

Parking

  • Car: < 30 min – free, 2 hr < €6.40, > 24 hrs – €11.70, 24 – 48 hrs – €23.40, yearly – €47
  • Motorhome/Campervan – < 30 min – free, >  24 hrs – €17.20, 24 – 48 hrs – €34.40
  • Motorbikes – > 30 min – free, > 24 hrs – €4.20
  • Bikes – free
  • Website for parking information: http://www.bienvenueaumontsaintmichel.com/en/preparing-your-visit/prices 

Getting to Mont Saint Michel

  •  You can walk from the car park to Mont Saint Michel, its a well signposted walkway. 
  • A shuttle bus runs continuously between 7.30 am – 12 am and takes about 12 minutes.  It has a pickup stop in the car park and drops off partway across the bridge.  
  • The shuttle is free with your car parking if arriving by car.
  • If arriving by train the shuttle costs €2.80 each way, under 4 is free
  • Horse drawn carriage (Maringote) – €5.30, under 4 is free
  • Website for information on transport to and from Mont Saint Michel: http://www.bienvenueaumontsaintmichel.com/en/preparing-your-visit/prices 

Abbey

Opening Hours:

  • 2nd May – 31st August – 9 am to 7 pm with last admission at 6 pm
  • 1st September – 30th April – 9.30 – 6 pm with last admission at 5 pm.
  • Closed 1st of January, 1st of May and 25th of December.

Cost:

  • Adults – €10
  • Group price (20 or more people) – €8
  • Under 18 – free
  • 18 – 25 EU or EEA residents – free
  • Reduced Price (pensioners) – €8
  • Audio guide – €3
  • Official Website for ticket information: http://www.abbaye-mont-saint-michel.fr/en/Prepare-for-your-visit/PRATICAL-INFORMATION#price

The Official Website for Mont Saint Michel (excluding parking): http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/index.htm?lang=en

written by Karen
Last updated January 2018