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Planning a Visit to Normandy and WWII Sites Beyond


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#1 Hookemhorns88

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 02:41 PM

I am looking for some insight on visiting Normandy and other WW2 battlefield sites this coming Spring or a recommended time when it is not so crowded.

 

I travel internationally a lot for business so foreign travel is not an issue.

 

I am not interested in going on a group tour as I enjoy my independence while on vacation/holiday.  I would like to possibly have a tour guide for specific visits though.  However, if a group tour is highly recommended then I would consider it.

 

For now I would leave the States on a Saturday and return the following Sunday.  I have the flexibility to add a day or two to the agenda if need be.

 

The only thing that I know right now is that I would fly into Paris, spend a full day in Paris and then make my way to the beaches at Normandy; certainly Caen and St. Lo are on the list as well.

 

This is where I am looking for advice.  Do I spend the balance of the time in Normandy or do I make the trip to Bastogne and Luxembourg?  I few years ago I was able to spend about a half a day in Bastogne but only was able to visit a museum there and did not get to walk the ground much.  I also visited the US Cemetery in Luxembourg and was able to see Patton's grave along with some of the Band of Brothers that are buried there.

 

Time dependent I would consider going north from Luxembourg and depart from Cologne enabling me to pick up some sites along the way.  This would most likely make it a two week trip which it may be the best anyway.

 

I am looking for recommendations on exactly what to see and the time frame to allow.  Also any recommendations on accommodations and local tour guides.  Please provide estimated expense locally as well.

 

Any input is welcomed.



#2 stealthytyler

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 02:49 PM

Take a train from Paris to Caen. Rent a car in Caen and stay in the lovely town of Bayeux. Make day trips from there and visit all the sites. Be aware of the tide though. When I visited Omaha beach, the water was all the way in. I never saw the beach! I would avoid tours. I felt VERY rushed when I took a tour of the area. Have fun! 



#3 stealthytyler

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 02:51 PM

Forgot to mention that from Bayeux, you can visit:

 

Omaha

Utah

Pointe Du Hoc

German Cemetery

American Cemetery

Saint Mere Eglise



#4 tdogchristy90

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 03:01 PM

Hookemhorns,

I went to Normandy last summer as a grad gift. I'll try and put something together for you.

I was there for 10 days, staying in 3 main areas. St Mere Eglise for Utah, Saint Laurent Sur Mer for Omaha, and then Aromanches for the Mullberry harbors.

Schedule for rain. I lucked out but when doing my research it can be an issue. I went in mid May.

We stayed in bed and breakfast places that were fabulous. There are some great maps of the sites and 50mile coast of the beach head.

I'd also see about going to the beach in the morning. I took one morning and went at 6:30 am, time of the landings. It was an amazing experience. That's what my profile pic is.

There's also a lot of sites to visit. I'll try to come up with a list for you. It's like Washington, D.C. In a way. There so much in a small space you'll always need multiple trips to see it all.

#5 tdogchristy90

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Posted 14 December 2017 - 03:07 PM

I'll also add to Tyler list,

Maisy battery
Longues sur mere battery
Mullberry harbor at aramonches
.

Edited by tdogchristy90, 14 December 2017 - 03:11 PM.


#6 hbtcoveralls

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Posted 15 December 2017 - 09:20 AM

I agree with much of what was already mentioned.

 

There is so much available to see in Normandy, you should decide exactly what to see before you go.

 

I found that getting away from the beaches is very rewarding as the Calvados coast is going to be slammed full of tour busses pretty much all year around

 

To get a sense of what was "beyond the beachead" I recommend heading out to Mortain and the cobra breakout region and seeing what the GIs faced in the hedgerows

 

There are many quality museums in the beachead area, but also some tourist traps so watch out

 

The one place I think everybody should pay a visit is Arromanches where the Mulberry harbor remnants provide one of the few remaining visual indications of the scope of the invasion

 

As to time of the year, I would say try to be there in the Spring, In the summer you are very likely to find Omaha full of French beach goers in speedos. Kind of spoils the mood

 

If you go in the winter, the marshes behind  Utah beach will be full as they were before the invasion

 

Really, you could live there all your life and never see it all so enjoy

 

Tom Bowers



#7 551PIB

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Posted 16 December 2017 - 07:45 AM

Dear Hookemhorns88,

 

I live in Belgium and I have been the privilege to drive many US vet in Normandy as well in Belgium. The plan to take a train from Paris to Caen and rent a car is a good advice just be careful of the day you will arrive ... It's Europe here and not USA ... you won't find a rent a car on sunday or late everyday ... About your visit it depend how many day you would like to stay in Normandy ... for me a good visit without rush could be 5 days ... If you want I can help you or any members with the place to be ( touristic places or small place but with a lot of history). after normandy you have around 8 hours by car to Bastogne ... one day in BAstogne and area is enough but the Battle of he Bulge is not just Bastogne ... 3 days in Belgium could be great with Bastogne, LA Gleize, Malmedy massacre, US cemetery, and one day in Luxembourg with Patton's grave and some museum ... Feel free to contact me.

 

Domi



#8 Glidertrooper

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Posted 19 December 2017 - 11:36 AM

I independently toured Normandy in May 2016 a week before the anniversary that year. The advantage to going then is everything is gearing up for the anniversary, but without the crowds. Chances are you will also get to meet some veterans who have arrived early, which is obviously a real bonus. Also it gives you a feel for things weather wise at the time of the invasion.

 

I did all 5 beeches and the American and British landing zones in 7 days, not including travel in / out of country. That is a squeeze and I suppose it depends on whether you want to focus purely on the American aspect of the invasion.

 

Key stuff I did which I would most recommend:

 

  • US Airborne museum at Sainte-Mere-Eglise - for me with lunch and checking out the church and shops, this was a full days experience; along with a visit in the evening to the 'Iron Mike' memorial next to the bridge the 82nd held. The museum is easily one of the best I have ever been to.
  • Utah beach museum - the whole site, with the various memorials is just fantastic. The museum is really comprehensive and interesting.
  • Pointe-du-Hoc - an American Battle Monuments Commission site which is free to enter. This was the highlight of the trip for me, just massively, massively interesting and well done in terms of information made available to the visitor and the access to explore the site. An absolute MUST DO for anyone interested in the American aspect of the invasion.
  • Normandy American Cemetery at Omaha - an obvious destination, but what you might not know is there is a very comprehensive visitor centre / museum at the cemetery and film show. This should not be planned as a quick trip, which was the mistake I made going only for an afternoon. Between the visitor centre, the cemetery and the beach (which you can access from a purpose made path from the cemetery down to what I assume is Easy Red sector - unfortunately it was close the day I was there due to security issues at the time), you need a full day to do it justice.
  • The Mulberry Harbour at Gold Beach, Arromanches-les-Bains - obviously the harbour at Omaha was lost during a storm, but so much of the man-made harbour at Arromanches remains and is a absolute wonder of man-made feat and technology of the time. Check the internet for when you are in-country for the correct time and make sure you arrive in good time for morning low-tide - then you can walk around the various remaining elements of the harbour located in front of the town before the crowds arrive. The little museum is very good for models and information of what the harbour was like and how it operated in 1944 - but is gets rammed by a coach party roughly every hour for half an hour, so be patient and let the crowd ebb and flow so you can enjoy the museum properly. The film show at the Arromanches 360 is also worth the hike to the top of the hill and there is a Free French Sherman to check out on the way - plus you get an fantastic panoramic view of the semi-circle of block ships that surrounded the harbour if the weather is good.

If you want to do British stuff then the Pegasus Museum and Bridge are a must see, and the Melville Battery site museum which was attacked by the British Parachute Regiment is also well worth a visit. Both will need a full day each to do them justice, plus there is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Ranville, where many of those paratroopers now eternally rest.

 

Other points of note:

The Juno Beach museum is good, but is all encompassing to the Canadian involvement in WWII and only a small aspect is specifically on the D-Day / Normandy campaign, with much of that covered by other museums; so its OK, but can be done in an afternoon easily.

The Overlord Museum behind Omaha beech is fine if you want to check out a lot of Allied and German heavy vehicles and armour / tanks - otherwise I was nonplussed by it.

Just be aware that finding places to eat around these beach areas of Normandy in the evenings can be difficult - there was not a big evening restaurant culture there and fast-food outlets are non-existent. I can recommend this place if you are in the area of Sainte-Mere-Eglise - http://www.aubergedelouve.com - wonderful fresh local French cooking and wine!

 

Obviously what I saw was only a snapshot of what the region has to offer and there are many many things to see and do. I will definitely be going back!

 

If you need a recommendation for somewhere good to stay try this place which is in the heart of the US Airborne landing zones - http://www.islemarie.fr - it even has some invasion bullet holes and history of its own + the family running it are very nice.

 

Final tip - take your laptop or tablet with Band of Brothers, The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan loaded up - really good mood movies for where you are and what your getting to see first hand.

 

Enjoy, it certainly is one of the best trips I have ever done. 


Edited by Glidertrooper, 19 December 2017 - 11:40 AM.


#9 ram957

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Posted 19 December 2017 - 08:19 PM

I would agree that Bayeux is a beautiful historic village that is a great "home base" for your Normandy adventure. I was there this past Spring and used ,http://www.normandy44-tours.com, for a private tour with four friends. The operator Olivier is a knowledgeable and excellent guide. We were never rushed and had a great experience with him...I highly recommend him !

#10 General Colt

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Posted 19 December 2017 - 10:05 PM

I went there for a short amount of time during my trip to Europe. I wasn't disappointed with any of the locations except for the Overlord Museum just outside of the cemetery.

 

Arromanches:

I stayed here for the trip. The short hike up to Arromanches 360 is neat with a sherman tank and an overlooking view of the beach there. The Mulberry harbors are really neat. There is a museum in the town that i never made it to.

 

Longues Sur Mer Battery-

These are REALLY cool. At least 3 of the bunkers still have the practically untouched 155mm or 210mm (i can't remember exactly) guns in the bunkers. There are also assorted MG and Mortar nest spread out around the area. There is a field observation post too that is just as neat as the guns.

 

Omaha Beach

I went down onto Omaha Beach for at least 20 minutes. Then, i made it up to the Big Red One memorial where WN62 was located. There are a few tunnels in that area. Right next to that is the cemetery. Incredibly emotional for anyone who visits. The headstones just keep on going in all directions. Pay your respects. The cemetery also provides a nice view of the beach below.

 

Ste Mere Eglise-

There are some decent lunch places in the town right next to the Airborne Museum. The museum there is truly incredible. They have a C47 and a fiberglass Waco glider with much, much more.

 

Utah Beach

I didn't have enough time to go through the museum on Utah, but I got to see the memorials surrounding it. On the way out is the Dick Winters memorial with his statue. Also an ESB memorial sits next to the museum and another navy memorial aswell.

 

This is just what I saw during the short time I had out there. I'm sure that other members that have been there for longer can provide you with other places other than this.



#11 General Colt

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Posted 20 December 2017 - 09:28 PM

Oh, I forgot Pointe Du Hoc! Also a very cool location. Still has the shell craters from the bombings and the navy shells. Some bunkers still exist too.



#12 Hookemhorns88

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Posted 20 December 2017 - 11:05 PM

All,

 

Thank you so much for your input and advice so far.

 

My natural inclination is to do it all!! However, I realize that time (and money) will dictate what I ultimately do.  I want to schedule in some buffer time just in case I get engrossed in something and decide that I want to spend some extra time at a certain place.  This recently happened to me; I visited Morgantown, WV (to attend a Texas vs. WV football game), Gettysburg, Antietam, and Harper's Ferry, and my daughter in NC.  I wanted to visit Appomattox as well but I ended up enjoying Gettysburg and Antietam too much and could not fit Appomattox in.

 

I am fairly flexible as to when to go.  So traveling out of season to avoid the bigger crowds is preferred.  I will suffer seasonal comfort in exchange for having the place to myself!!  I have had good luck with this strategy.  The Good Lord has provided decent weather for me so far except for a couple of weeks ago when in Russia I traveled through the Kursk Battlefield; it was bitter cold and a howling wind.

 

Keep the info coming please and I will begin to formulate a plan.  I want to do this trip justice.

 

Merry Christmas!



#13 earlymb

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Posted 21 December 2017 - 11:56 AM

Bayeux is good place to set up base, it is located very central and easy to reach all the interesting spots. We always stay there when we take our jeep to Normandy. Almost all sites and museums are located along- or in close vincinity to the D514 coastal road and just following it will take you past most. it's also just a fun road to drive with plenty of views of the landscape.

 

You can also just drive around a bit away from the coast and enter the area known as the 'bocage'; small roads and trails that are almost tunnels due to the thick hedges and banks on both sides. It's not hard to imagine why it took quite some time to drive the Germans from that area.



#14 Dogsbody

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Posted 25 December 2017 - 07:13 AM

Hello, if you also would like to incorporate something British during your visit I can recommend visiting the Pegasus Bridge at Bénouville and the Pegasus Museum which is close by. The orignal bridge is part of that museum now but the bridge that is now in place at Bénouville closely resembles the original one. At the site of the brodge  3 stone markers indicate where the 3 gliders came to a halt demonstrating what an amazing feat of flying occured during that fateful night in 1944.

 

Rene



#15 ScottG

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Posted 05 January 2018 - 11:58 PM

  I agree with what everyone has recommended and Bayeux is a great place to stay. I have also stayed in Arromanches which worked well. I would add a day to head to the coast and take a ferry to the Channel Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and Sark. You can do one in a day and will be amazed at what you see! The museums there are incredible and the German fortifications are largely intact and too numerous to mention, On Jersey there is a fully decked out German bunker at a crossroads in St. Helier near a car museum, it was an amazing collection and experience. They also have a huge German underground hospital that is well worth a visit, and several coastal bunkers that were museums. As I said, the cost is reasonable and you could do one of the islands in a day with ferry to and from France. Good luck with whatever you choose!  Scott



#16 dando1944

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Posted 12 August 2018 - 02:53 PM

HI - I would just add... that you should visit the Maisy Battery.  While Pointe du Hoc is now restricting its visitor numbers - one-in-one out every hour - the Maisy Battery nearby is fully open and it is a superb example of an original German position and it is huge. It has a great D-day and RANGERS history as it fired on both Omaha and Utah sectors on D-day.

 

If you check out their Trip-Advisor stats they actually receive higher results and feedback than Pointe du Hoc - which tells you something. EVERYONE who visits Maisy says it is actually THE BEST site that they visited during their Normandy tour.

 

It has not been sanitised like "Disney World" (the locals name for Pointe du Hoc)... so you get to see what 2.5 miles of original German trenches with cannons actually looked like - rather than the sanitised PdH.

 

Although not as well known as Pointe du Hoc - Maisy continued to fire on the Allied landings and was a Rangers D-day mission... the fact that the men were ordered by Lt. Col. Rudder to stay at Pointe du Hoc is another story.

 

That is my recommendation for somewhere to visit and it is backed up by pretty good customer reviews - I hope it helps.



#17 earlymb

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Posted 13 August 2018 - 12:36 AM

My personal favs are the Batterie de Longues-sur-Mer and the Overlord Museum in Le Bray (near the Colleville US cemetery); both are situated along the D514 coastal road. I visit at least those 2 every time I am in Normandy.



#18 Hookemhorns88

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 05:17 PM

Thanks guys for the continued advice. Unfortunately business travel has prevented me from making this trip so far.  How are the conditions in November?



#19 dando1944

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Posted 21 August 2018 - 01:32 AM

I would not go in November.  80% of the indoor places are close and December/January 99% of the places are closed.

 

If you just want to go and visit Pointe du Hoc, the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach and all the other free places - then its fine - but the weather might be a little wet.

 

But if you want to go into museums and get the full experience then November is not the time of year to go.  April is good because everywhere will have re-opened and have new exhibits etc. And of course you can get into Pointe du Hoc.

 

It is worth my mentioning that for the last month or two they have been restricting things at Pointe du Hoc.  A man on the new gate has been turning people away because the car park is full... they "close" the place outside of their "opening hours" - which is a joke because you just park on the road and walk in... they are starting to restrict access for dogs, camper vans, un-regulated tour buses etc.  It is getting pretty strange now and well away from the Pointe du Hoc of old.




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