The D-Day beaches

We wake up on a beautiful sunny day in the parking lot in front of the Plage du Butin. We spend the morning visiting Honfleur, a delightful Calvados town, located on the mouth of the Seine. We take a walk down to the quaint harbor, continuing along the narrow and graceful streets of the Old Town. We note many art studios and venues where to enjoy crêpes and other local specialties. I look down at the ten-century Lieutenance building located at the entrance of the harbor, the former seat of the town administration and the ancient gate of the town, now being restored.

The cheerful little harbor of Honfleur

After filling the tank, we head towards the coastline where the historic landing in Normandy – the so-called D-Day – took place. Along the road, we stop at Le Fournil de Bénerville, a pretty boulangerie-cake shop that attracts our attention by the way the tables and the outdoor benches are built with white painted pallets. As we have seen two years ago on the trip to Provence, we note that most people, even young people, do not speak a single word of English. They often understand it but answer exclusively in French.

Continuing on our itinerary, down the D27 we are attracted by a bucolic corner in the countryside: a tree-lined shore on a stream with grazing cows on the opposite side. We feel the urge for a regenerating stop, bathe in fresh and transparent water and clinging to the sun.

Break by the river in the Calvados countryside

Exploration of the D-Day sites
We resume with a vigorous coffee – the van is equipped with a mini-moca – and let’s go, now close to the area we intend to explore today. The crossing of the Pegasus Bridge, just before the village of Bénouville, bring us back to more than half a century ago. The grip of this retractable bridge, built by Gustave Eiffel in 1871, allowed the crossing of allied troops coming from the sea. In 1994, the original bridge was replaced by a wider and more modern version (the original is exposed in the Mémorial Pegasus park).

From here in 40 minutes we arrive at Arromanches-les Bains. From the plateau overlooking the coast are visible concrete blocks in the water, not far from the beach, what remains of the artificial harbor built during the World War II. The bright colors of the sea and the beach, which today seems a quiet and pleasant place, contrast with the idea of the events that took place here. Before leaving, in the intent to visit the D-Day beaches with greater awareness, we watched the Normandy Surviving D-Day documentary and the Steven Spielberg Saving Private Ryan movie, which resumes the events that happened on these beaches.

The beach with prefabricated harbor remains in front of Arromanches-les-Bains

Our next step is the German batteries of Longues-sur-Mer: the reinforced concrete structures are well-resized structures in the countryside, still equipped with cannons designed to hit  targets up to 20 km away.

The batteries of Longues-sur-Mer camouflaged in the countryside near the coast

Along the way we notice roadsigns pointing to the “Ferme Félícíté: pommeau, cidre, calvados“. Curious from the start of the holiday of tasting the cider, fermented apple juice characteristic of Normandy, we follow the signs and shortly we find ourselves in the garden of a local producer who welcomes us into his “shop” by tasting the three different types of cider he produces: dry, semi-dry and sweet. The flavor initially reminds us of beer but with a remarkably fruity note. We buy a box of six mixed cider bottles (€ 16.30).

Overview of the different products obtained from the apple at the small local firm Ferme Félícíté

The next and last stop of our itinerary is the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. We are impressed by the vastness of the cemetery-memorial, made up of a gloomy and well-groomed meadow, dotted with innumerable white crosses, seemingly equal to each other. We approach and begin to read the names carved on each of them, state of origin, date of birth, and death. In front of some of them, there are sporadic flowers, roses or small American flags. From the cemetery is visible Omaha Beach, another site on which landings took place.

The impressive American memorial cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer
Alternated to the white crosses there are tombstones shaped as David star for Jewish soldiers

In the late afternoon, we head to the south-west part of Normandy where Mont Saint-Michel is located, almost on the border with Brittany. The plan is to go to the area so that we can move on the next morning directly to visit the fortified island. We stop for the night at the motorhome area reported by Furgoperfecto, La Bidonnière. The small hill village, fortress, and church are already visible in the distance to the horizon.

 

Tips

World War II sites visited are free

AC La Bidonniere: campervan + 2 pax + electricity = 10,70 €, shower not included. Relatively cheap accomodation in an area where all the alternatives are quite expensive

 

NORMANDY

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It was at least three years that we fantasized about Normandy as a possible travel destination. The information gathered about its weather, often brisk, makes us choose the late spring as the time of the year to try to venture between the Côte d’Albâtre and the Mont Saint-Michel. Once again, since Stefano lives in The Hague, we decide to arrange the short trip in a van, leaving from The Netherlands. Because of the beautiful weather and the few tourists around, we are definitely charmed by this corner of France historically known for the allies landing during World War II. Both the coast, characterized by white cliffs that remind us of the views seen in Sussex, and the beautiful inland countryside, dotted with pastures, farms and tiny villages with straw roof houses, fill our hearts. To crown the short but intense path, the famous small fortified island with the sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel Michael.

Travel log

Period
5 days (19-23 may 2017)
Distance traveled
1600 km
Cost per person
250 €
Transportation
campervan

Tips

Travel planning: Lonely Planet Francia settentrionale e centrale, dedicated Meridiani dossier and Turisti per caso travel logs

We preferred to skip the highway, where possible, to drive on secondary roads like the Route des Chaumieres to appreciate the magic of houses with straw roof typical of this area

Plan the visit to Mont Saint-Michel at the arrival of the high tide to witness the rising water coming “like galloping horses”

Find places to park your van and spend the night on Furgoperfecto