As of this writing, Americans are unable to visit France due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, so consider this story as a way to plan for future trips.
If you’re looking for another region to visit during your next trip to France, head to Normandy, where foodies fawn over apple-centric eats and history buffs can view artifacts dating back centuries and learn about important WWII battles like D-Day by visiting the places they happened in person. Just a three-hour drive or train ride from Gare St-Lazare in Paris, the countryside is the perfect place to escape the big city hustle and bustle and see another side of France. Here are five things to do when you’re there.
See The D-Day Landing Beaches Up Close
Whether you choose to visit the region’s historic WWII sites on a guided tour or by yourself, the magnitude of what happened on June 6, 1944, is definitely going to sink in—it’s one thing to learn about D-Day in school and another thing entirely to actually be on the landing beaches, staring at the large expanse of uncovered sand and wondering how anyone ever survived it. If you’re short on time or would like a history lesson as you go, Bayeux Shuttle offers half- and full-day group and private guided tours to Utah Beach, Sainte-Mère-Église, Pointe Du Hoc, Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery from Bayeux (half-day tours only stop at Pointe Du Hoc, Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery).
Visit During D-Day Anniversary Celebrations
Plan your trip to coincide with D-Day anniversary ceremonies or every fifth year on June 6, when people from all over the world gather to honor those who were lost, remember those who survived and celebrate victory, all while dressing in 1940s attire and driving old-fashioned cars. I visited Bayeux during the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 and had the pleasure of meeting British and American veterans in their 90s who had returned to the area for the first time since 1944. It was such a special experience to hear their stories and see these places through their eyes.
Base Yourself In Bayeux
Stay in the middle of all the action in Bayeux, home to a stunning 13th-century Cathedral and the Bayeux Tapestry, a 1,000-year-old 230-foot (70 meter) work of art depicting how William the Duke of Normandy, conquered the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The botanical garden (Jardin Botanique de Bayeux) and Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy are also worth checking out, as is the moving memorial to journalists, located just outside the city’s charming Old Town.
Sample The Cuisine Normandy Is Known For
When in Normandy, do as the locals do and enjoy fresh seafood—mussels, oysters, scallops and lobster, anyone?—specialty cheeses like Camembert, Livorot and Pont l’Evêque; and delicious apple tarts for dessert. Sip Calvados apple brandy and don’t leave without trying some of the area’s apple ciders.
Day Trip To Mont Saint-Michel
About a 90-minute drive from Bayeux—or a four-hour drive from Paris if you’re short on time—at the western edge of the Normandy region, you’ll find Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the border with Brittany that was founded in the 10th century. Today, you can tour the Gothic-style Benedictine abbey and the small town built up around it, just be prepared to walk and keep an eye on the tides, which do come rolling in around midday, much to the surprise of anyone caught unawares. If you’re staying in or near Bayeux and would rather have someone else do all the driving, full-day tours are available through Get Your Guide and Viator.