Above: Cliff Tops at Pointe du Hoc
The Beaches of Normandy, France
We visited Normandy for a day as a stop on an eastbound trans-Atlantic cruise in the spring. If you find yourself on a similar cruise you will be offered a number of tours including Paris and Normandy. Our choice was partly based on a desire to see the landing beaches but also thinking that a one-day trip to Paris would be just too short. After that day we now firmly believe that if you want to see Paris – spend several days at a minimum but do not pass up any opportunity to see Normandy.
If you are visiting Paris for several days, you should seriously consider a day trip out to the D-Day beaches. There are a number of tours available from Paris to Normandy and many can be booked through hotels. Another option is to rent a car and spend a couple of days in the area on your own. The countryside is beautiful and the people welcoming.
Your day should include a visit to the Caen Memorial Museum, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, a tour of Pointe du Hoc, as many beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword) as you can fit in, Arromanches-les-Bains and the Pegasus bridge. There are also a number of other cemeteries in the area honoring those that gave their lives from the British Commonwealth and many other countries.
Generally, on past visits to France, we have found the French less then accommodating, but, throughout our day, we discovered the people friendly, talkative and still wanting to express gratitude for the American sacrifice on D-Day. While at Pointe du Hoc we saw a number of French school tours visiting and there seemed to be a serious effort to keep that moment in history alive for successive French generations.
Even today, visiting the quiet beaches and the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, the enormity of that event in 1944 still has an emotional impact. It is overwhelming to walk thru the Normandy American Cemetery with the 9,387 head stones standing in row after row, like the fallen soldiers they mark. Walking in the cemetery it is hard to process the number of lives lost in so short a time. The land beneath the cemetery is U.S. soil and the cemetery is maintained and operated by American personnel.
At Pointe du Hoc the tops of the cliffs are spotted with the immense concrete German bunkers and the ground is still gouged with the craters made by the Allied naval gun barrages. The most impressive thing, however, is to look down those ninety-foot cliffs and realize that 225 American Rangers climbed them while under attack from German gunfire and bad weather.
In addition to the D-Day experience is a drive through the beautiful French countryside. There are farms and villages spotted with yellow canola fields and bordered by oak trees thick with clusters of mistletoe. All-in-all an unforgettable experience.