In honor of this year’s Memorial Day, we wanted to highlight one of the world’s most moving battlefield itineraries. The countryside around Normandy’s D-Day beaches still bears the scars of World War II, and the memorials and vast, immaculately maintained cemetery remind us of the sacrifices the soldiers made during the invasion.
The World War II sites of Normandy have such historical significance that it’s easy to forget they are in a particularly beautiful part of France, with elegant château-style hotels and charming half-timbered towns. Normandy’s cuisine uses the local apples, cheeses, seafood and salt meadow-fed lamb to great effect, enhanced with a glass of hard cider or fine calvados (apple brandy).
Together with our travel partner in France, Decouvertes, we’ve put together a Normandy itinerary that combines the most important D-Day monuments with the most entrancing local towns and restaurants.
Day 1: Depart from Paris in the afternoon and head to Normandy, stopping in Rouen to view the cathedral, immortalized in a series of paintings by Monet. Continue to your hotel, the Château La Chenevière, the Château de Sully or the Château d’Audrieu, all of which are within 10-20 minutes of the D-Day beaches.
Day 2: Begin your explorations of Normandy in Caen, one of the first towns to be liberated from the Germans. Here, you have the unique opportunity to meet with a former university professor who was part of the French Resistance. Monsieur André Heintz is now 92 years old, and he participated in the Battle for Caen. Hearing his personal stories from that time is a remarkable experience.
M. Heintz accompanies you to the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, where 9,386 crosses and Stars of David mark the graves of American casualties. Andrew Harper describes the visitor’s center here as “deeply moving and beautifully conceived.”
Nearby Pointe du Hoc remains virtually unchanged since American Army Rangers scaled its sheer cliffs under withering enemy fire. Pocked with bomb craters, the clifftop still houses numerous German bunkers.
Have lunch at La Marée in Grandcamp-Maisy, overlooking the harbor. Mr. Harper “started an excellent prix-fixe lunch with Utah Beach oysters, followed with grilled scallop ‘tournedos’ wrapped in bacon and served with a light truffle vinaigrette on a bed of delicious, finely diced celery root.”
Enjoy the rest of the afternoon at leisure.
Day 3: At the still-lovely village of Arromanches, 20,000 British personnel created a man-made harbor out of intentionally sunken ships, immense concrete caissons and miles of floating roadway, much of which still stands. One million soldiers passed through this port.
Just outside of Bayeux in La Cambe, the somber German cemetery is fascinating because of how different the layout and design are from those of the American cemetery nearby.
Bayeux itself has a well-preserved old quarter, including an impressive 12th-century cathedral. After exploring the city, have lunch at Le Lion d’Or, a cozy restaurant serving traditional Norman cuisine. Of course, Bayeux’s most famous attraction, the huge 11th-century tapestry telling the story of the Norman conquest of England, also merits a visit.
Have dinner this evening at L’Ecailler, which presents first-rate Norman seafood overlooking the harbor of Port-en-Bessin.
Day 4: Start with a visit to the Caen Memorial, which is widely regarded as the best World War II exhibit in France. It traces the history of war from 1918 through the present, but the D-Day exhibits are especially engrossing.
Devote the remainder of the morning and early afternoon to tasting local specialties, such as calvados and Pont l’Evêque cheese. The rest of the day is yours to explore on your own, or to relax and enjoy the facilities of your château hotel.
Day 5: Return to Paris, or head west to Mont-Saint-Michel and Brittany.
Mr. Harper has written a number of articles about Normandy, which you can view here: