Normandy: 1-day itinerary with kids.
June 6, 1944 - the day during WWII in which Allied forces invaded northern France with beach landings on German occupied Normandy. It was a day that would go down in infamy and was the largest amphibious invasion in history. Stretching for 50-miles around the Normandy coast, targets were divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. The landings changed the course of WWII in Europe and ultimately the Germany Army was defeated.
Normandy is a little under 3-hours by car from Paris, the City of Lights. While Paris is amazing, full of love and adventure, if you have a day to spare, leave the twinkling lights in the rearview mirror and venture to Normandy.
How did I organize a visit to Normandy?
Ideally a visit to Normandy requires 2-3 days to see and explore everything. Because of time constraints, we only had 1-day. I knew it would work and we could see a lot, but we would need to be efficient. I decided a private tour would be our best option. My main requirement was for the tour guide to not only be able to relate to us adults (this included my wife, my dad, his wife and me) but our kids as well. After careful research, I found our perfect match with Private Trip France.
Jozef and his wife, Deborah, own and operate a highly respected independent tour company and I can't recommend them enough! They specialize in organizing personalized tours to historical regions of France, including Normandy, Burgundy, Champagne, Loire Valley, and Bastone. Jozef is both the tour guide and driver. He is not only a walking WWI & WWII encyclopedia, but a certified sommelier and worked several years in the hospitality business. Deborah is more behind the scenes and keeps the company running smoothly with her management skills. Between the two of them, guests are treated to carefully curated personalized tours. Just read their reviews on TripAdvisor!
Prior to our trip, Jozef communicated well and helped me carefully plan our itinerary. I outlined what we wanted to see and he provided realistic options. The end result was a perfect 1-day tour of the Normandy region and we explored 6-points of interest. By the end of the day we had memories of a lifetime and created a lasting friendships. During car rides between points of interest we would play WWII knowledge games. Jozef made the day fun and entertaining for all of us.
So, let's take a look at our itinerary!
Day 1 - Normandy
"You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you." - General Dwight Eisenhower. Message to the troops just prior to the invasion of Normandy.
The Normandy invasion has been the subject of numerous books, movies, and documentaries. The Longest Day, Band of Brothers, and Saving Private Ryan are the most well-known movies depicting the D-Day invasion and subsequent battles. I was excited and nervous to be walking in the footsteps of one of the world's greatest conflicts.
On the day of our tour at 06:30 am promptly, Jozef arrived at our Paris Airbnb to gather all six of us. After quick introductions, we set off for the nearly 3-hour drive to Normandy. We were only half awake for the majority of the drive; thank goodness I wasn't trying to navigate everyone through the train system or who knows where we would have ended up! We just sat back and relaxed in Jozef's Mercedes van.
1) Pointe du Hoc
Our first stop was Pointe du Hoc, which was a strategic element of the Atlantic Wall. Located on a high cliff between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc is where D-Day began. Upon reaching shore, U.S. Rangers scaled 100-foot cliffs with rickety ladders to eventually overpower a German battery entrenched in concrete bunkers armed with heavy artillery. Today, many bunkers still stand and bomb craters show the scars of war. Jozef escorted us around this site and explained with a picture book what events took place and how it all looked. To be where it all started was a humbling and sober experience.
Tip: Pointe du Hoc is open to the public daily and entrance is free. Hours vary by season so be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information.
2) Bernard Lebrec Cidre & Calvados Brewery
A little known secret about the Normandy region is the area is ripe with cider farms. After Pointe du Hoc, Jozef brought us to Lebrec Cidre & Calvados Brewery - what a gem! The estate dates back to the 10th century and produces cider, brandy and pommeau. We had the opportunity to taste several products poured personally by the gracious owner, Bernard Lebrec. We enjoyed the brandy so much that we bought a bottle to enjoy later back in the states! After a delicious tasting, we were allowed to explore the grounds. The kids enjoyed running and playing with several resident dogs. But the visit wasn't without a history lesson! We learned during WWII, the Germans requisitioned the property, as with many of the large farm houses in the area. However, after the landings at Normandy, the 147th Combat Engineer Battalion made the property their headquarters and camped on the farm. There is a monument erected in their honor on the property.
Tip: If you have your own vehicle, and want a unique experience, follow the Route du cidre. Signs with apples will take you on a 40km circular route where you wind through picturesque villages and have the opportunity to picnic in beautiful orchards and sample local 'cidre'.
3) Omaha Beach
Finally, the opportunity to walk on the sacred and hallowed grounds of Omaha Beach. Upon first glance, the seaside village of Vierville-sur-Mer looks idyllic. Yet, that's a far cry from the history which shadows this village. The waves lapping the shore evoke a sound of emptiness where once the water was red. This is the scene of the bloodiest battlefield of D-Day and where 2,400 U.S. troops became a casualty of war. To touch the sand, to hear the surf, to smell the salt brought on unexpected emotions. It was a solemn experience that gripped my heart. The energy of June 6, 1944 is still alive and palpable to this day.
Because I am retired from the National Guard, Jozef took us to the monument which pays tribute to the National Guard units that participated in the D-Day assaults. The 116th Infantry regiment from the 29th Infantry Division was in the first assault wave to hit the beaches on D-Day. The monument sits atop a German casemate and has a commanding presence overlooking the beach. Nearby a sculpture of a soldier dragging his wounded comrade is a constant reminder of the horrors of that day.
After a pretty emotional morning, we were famished and lunch was in order. We set out to Port-en-Bessin-Huppain from Omaha Beach; about a 20-minute drive away. Jozef kept the history lessons flowing and we stopped to admire L'église Notre-Dame de l'Assomption in Colleville-sur-Mer. The church was ruined during the war but rebuilt in subsequent years. Although we couldn't go inside, it was interesting to see the outside.
Port-en-Bessin-Huppain is a lovely fishing village dotted with quaint eateries, golfing, and historic hotels. However, this little village tells a larger story which we learned while eating at Le 47ème Brasserie. This restaurant pays homage to the 47th Royal Marine Commando, who suffered heavy losses during a bitter fight of this heavily fortified village on June 6-7, 1944. The unit did eventually succeed in liberating the city and today Le 47ème Brasserie hosts 47th Royal Marine reunions. The owners were delightful and provided great insight about their village and its history. The food was delicious and they made sure we didn't leave hungry!
5) Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial
After a delightful lunch, we drove to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial where 9,3888 American military members who lost their lives in WWII are buried. It was only fitting we arrived here last as it provided closure for the emotional toll of visiting Omaha Beach and other battle locations. The well maintained cemetery covers 172.5 acres and sits on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel.
The cemetery is well thought out and honors those who died, those who served, and pays respect to both the United States and France. The cemetery is divided into ten plots and forms a latin cross with a chapel in the middle. The Memorial and Wall of the Missing are the base. At the center of the memorial stands a 22-foot bronze statue entitled The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.
Jozef walked us around the well-manicured grounds that are maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The thousands upon thousands of white Lasa marble headstones are a sobering reminder of the ultimate sacrifice US soldiers gave during WWII.
Tip: Entrance to the visitor center is free. No tickets or reservations are required. If you are interested in a Wreath Laying Ceremony, visit their website to obtain the request form.
6) WN62 - German Strong Point
After we spent time exploring the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial, Jozef realized we had a bit of time and walked us to one last point of interest before we finished for the day. To the east of the cemetery lies Widerstandsnest (Resistance Point) 62, a German strongpoint. This grassy knoll measures 1089 feet in width by 1063 feet in length. Here, Jozef told us an interesting story about a soldier named Heinrich Severloh, a soldier with the German 352nd Infantry Division that was entrenched on this point. Severloh became infamous for a memoir he wrote titled, WN 62 - Erinnerungen an Omaha Beach Normandie, 6.Juni 1944. This memoir published in 2000, details his accounts of D-Day and his claim that he single-handedly inflicted possibly over 2,000 American soldier casualties. It should be noted his claims were never proven. On D-Day, this site was heavily armed by 31 German soldiers but eventually neutralized by US naval artillery. Today, there are bunkers to explore, a monument honoring the 5th Engineer Brigade and a needle honoring the 1st Infantry Division; units that played vital roles in securing Normandy.
The day comes to a close
This day was action packed and we visited a lot of fascinating sites. Jozef with Private Trip France , did an excellent job of showing us the highlights in only 1-day. He was relatable to all of us, kept us moving at a pace that wasn't too extreme yet fast enough to give us a sense of what D-Day entailed. Ideally, it would have been nice to see a bit more, but honestly, I don't feel like I missed out on anything. Jozef brought Normandy to life.
Have you been to Normandy? What are your thoughts?
What Isaac & Isabelle Thought
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