Godfrey Hall is an award-winning UK based travel journalist and member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. He has been in search of elves in Iceland, traveled to the depths of central Australia and been off the beaten track in Bulgaria.

For Those Who Served

Many of the brave soldiers who served during the Second World War lost their lives on the Normandy beaches during the D-Day landings. To acknowledge their courage and bravery there are now a large number of places along the Normandy coastline and also inland where you can visit not only the graves of these gallant soldiers but also some of the locations where the events took place. These include Pegasus Bridge, the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise and the beach heads at Omaha and Utah. It was here that huge numbers of American parachutists saw their first glimpse of France as they tumbled out of the sky and into the unknown. Many of these brave soldiers never returned and there are several American cemeteries and memorials which can be visited in the region to commemorate their sacrifice.

American War Grave Cemetery near Avranches in France (Godfrey Hall)

American War Grave Cemetery near Avranches in France (Godfrey Hall)

Places to See

A good place to start your visit to this area is at one of the American cemeteries. They are located at Colleville-Sur-Mer close to Omaha Beach or just outside Saint James, a village not far from Avranches around 100 miles south. These immaculate sites are financed and supported by the American Battle Monuments Commission. At the Saint James site you will find a monument explaining the events of 1944 and the end of hostilities and a cemetery containing over 4000 graves of American soldiers who died in the conflict. In the region there are also a number of Commonwealth Cemeteries where British and Commonwealth soldiers are buried along with several other nationalities including the Polish.

An Effigy of John Steele, the American Parachutist, Hanging from the Bell Tower (Godfrey Hall)

An Effigy of John Steele, the American Parachutist, Hanging from the Bell Tower (Godfrey Hall)

One of the most emotive sites must be the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise which is the home of the Airborne Museum. Here you will find a complete C-47 aircraft as used in the D-Day invasion of June 1944 and also a glider. Operation Neptune, which is also on site, recreates the actual events of the night of June 5th and the early hours of June 6th. In the middle of the town is a model of a parachutist hanging from the church steeple. This is John Steele who was injured by shrapnel on his descent in the early morning of June 6th,and became trapped on the tower. He was eventually captured by German soldiers but later escaped.

There is plenty to do in the town and there are some excellent shops selling World War II memorabilia.

Close to Sainte-Mere-Eglise is the Utah Beach D-Day Landing Museum and you can walk on the same beaches as those brave soldiers. There are several monuments near the beach and memorials to other events that took place during the invasion. Also notice the road signs which feature the names of soldiers involved in the conflict. On the road between the town and the beachheads there is a stone pillar indicating that there was an Allied prisoner of war camp which housed around 40,000 German prisoners.

Local Road Sign Commemorating Lt. R.A. Hinkel (G. Hall)

Local Road Sign Commemorating Lt. R.A. Hinkel (G. Hall)

Omaha Beach and the Overlord Museum are not far away. The museum contains over 10,000 items and 35 vehicles relating to events around the time of the attacks.

An ideal way of seeing the area is to get hold of a D-Day Normandy Land of Liberty Visitor’s Guide which gives you a comprehensive listing of all the relevant locations and museums.

The towns of Saint-Lo and Cherbourg are also well worth putting on your list. Saint-Lo was left in ruins after the invasion. A difficult town to take, it was bombarded on June 6th and 7th but wasn’t finally taken until July 18th. There are several sites of interest in the town which suffered a great deal during the struggle for its liberation.

Cherbourg is the main port on the coast and was a very important part of Operation Overlord. Taken by the Americans in late June 1944, it had previously been systematically destroyed by the Germans when they departed. The first Liberty ships from the USA arrived here in mid July.

A C-47 at the Airborne Museum (Godfrey Hall)

A C-47 at the Airborne Museum (Godfrey Hall)

You will see all along the coast line disused gun batteries and emplacements some of which can be visited. These include the Roule battery near Cherbourg and the Maisy Gun battery at Grandcamp-Maisy built in 1942 and rediscovered in 2006.

Another place which has strong links with June 6th is Pegasus Bridge. This involved British parachutists and a number of commandos.

On the night of June 5th, 1944, 181 men under Major John Howard, took off from Dorset, England in six Horsa gliders with the purpose of capturing Pegasus Bridge. Once they had landed it took less than 10 minutes to secure Pegasus and Horsa Bridge. Two men were killed in the action. Today you can visit the Pegasus Memorial and take a professional guided tour around the area.

Most of the tourist offices and hotels should also have leaflets on the various places of interest.

Utah Beach (Godfrey Hall)

Utah Beach (Godfrey Hall)

Accommodations

There are plenty of places to stay in the area including a number of smaller hotels and guest houses. Cherbourg is a good place to base yourself or in Saint-Lo. This will then put you within easy reach of the beaches and the other sites of interest. One of my favourite places along the coast is Saint-Vaast where there are several good hotels. The town has some pleasant shops, a harbour and cafes. There is a lot to see and it is within easy reach of the D-Day beaches. Cherbourg is a little bit further away but it is a much bigger town with shops, bars and places to eat.

French hotels in the countryside often have a lot of character but be prepared for the unexpected such as noisy plumbing or the early morning wake up call from the local cockerel!

Small villages may often have a bar or guest house with accommodation so it is a good idea to stop at the local tourist office and ask. If you are looking for a real local experience these are often more interesting than larger establishments. You may even get to meet someone who was around in 1944!

Sainte-Mere-Eglise (Godfrey Hall)

Sainte-Mere-Eglise (Godfrey Hall)

Food and Drink

It should always be remembered that in France breakfast is a much lighter meal. Rather than a fully cooked affair you will normally get a baguette (a long loaf of bread), some jam and coffee. Obviously in larger hotels the menu will be more comprehensive. If you are fortunate you may also have a selection of different rolls and pastries. Pain au chocolate is very popular and is made from flaky pastry with chocolate filling. Different cheeses and meats may also appear together with a glass of fruit juice.

Lunch is the main meal in France and you usually start with a salad followed by a main course which may not include any vegetables. Some restaurants then provide cheese with a dessert of crème caramel, an apple tart or some other kind of sweet pastry. It is usually possible to still get a complete ‘all in price’ for the meal which can range if you’re lucky from around 12 to 14 euros (USD$13-$16) upwards. I recently had an excellent four course meal in this region for just 12 euros which also included half a litre of red wine!

If you want something lighter, then you can have just one dish known as the ‘plat de jour’ or a croque monsieur which is cheese on toast with ham. This may come with a salad.

Monument at Utah Beach (Godfrey Hall)

Monument at Utah Beach (Godfrey Hall)

A small coffee, which is very reasonably priced at just over a euro, can be very strong but you can always ask for a small coffee with milk. Tea is also available but usually without milk. Beer is plentiful and there are lots of local brands. Wine is usually drunk with lunch and as long as you are not too fussy the cheaper ones are fine. Cider is also popular in this area and often drunk with galettes (buck wheat pancakes) which can be eaten as a savoury dish filled with ham, eggs and vegetables.

There are plenty of different wines available in the local supermarkets. The French generally prefer red wine and you will note that the majority are home produced. Other delights include excellent champagne and some light rose wines from the south of the country. Have a good look at the different varieties which are often very reasonably priced. For non-wine drinkers there are lots of different types of French mineral water including Perrier, Vichy and Evian.

Evening meals usually tend to be cold meats and cheese although most hotels will be able to offer hot dishes and a more complete service.

US World War II Truck at the Airborne Museum, France (Godfrey Hall)

US World War II Truck at the Airborne Museum, France (Godfrey Hall)

There are some amazing cheeses in this region including Camembert which is produced locally. This is a runny cheese which gets stronger the longer you keep it. Other soft cheeses are available along with those from further afield.

I would recommend that you also have a look around the local markets which normally have stalls selling a selection of cheeses and dried sausages. There is also often a stall selling crepes. These are sweet pancakes which can be filled with fruit and honey or left plain with a sprinkling of sugar.

Mussels, when in season are delicious especially eaten with freshly fried chips. Expect to pay around 12 to 15 euros for this dish, other shellfish are also popular including oysters and crabs.

Fishing is a main industry in this region and so there is plenty to choose from. Fish is often served with sauces, boiled or fried potatoes and green beans.

Great places to eat in Sainte-Mere-Eglise include Auberge le John Steele, Chez Jeanne and Un Monde Sans Faim. At the Utah Beach Museum you will find the Roosevelt Café which is full of memorabilia.

American Cemetery (Godfrey Hall)

American Cemetery (Godfrey Hall)

Nightlife

As with most rural communities night life is often restricted to the local bars and cafes. French people like to sit outside at night if the weather is fine and enjoy discussing politics and daily affairs.

Sometimes you may find musicians appearing in the local bars. If you are looking for something more organised then go into the tourist office and ask what’s on. When I’ve been abroad I have often gone to a church concert or musical evening in the nearby hall or school. These can be great fun and give you a real taste of everyday life.

Transportation

Arriving in France on the Night of June 5th (Godfrey Hall)

Arriving in France on the Night of June 5th (Godfrey Hall)

There are plenty of ways of getting to this area. Some people opt for organised D-Day landing tours which will include visits to most of the major sites. Others like to put together their own itinerary as family members may have been involved in the events linked with the Second World War. There is an excellent Brittany Ferry service from Portsmouth and Poole in the UK which go into Caen, Saint-Malo and also Cherbourg. The ships are comfortable and fares realistic. You can also reach the area from Paris by road and the TGV express train. Regional trains also serve many of the towns. There are plenty of flights from the USA into both Paris and London where you can make a connection via the Eurostar service. There are some excellent motorways and most of the roads in France are first class.

For more information about the region visit www.normandy-tourism.org. Information about ferries is available at www.brittanyferries.com.


Fly.com Expert Tips


How To Get There:The author provided a few different options to get to the D-Day Beaches, but the most direct way is to first fly to Paris and taking the train. Paris has two major airports: Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) and Orly Airport (ORY). de Gaulle is Europe’s second busiest airport (behind London Heathrow) and is served by over 100 different domestic and international airlines including Air France, Delta and United, with nonstop service from Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and more. Information regarding area transportation is available here.
From the Paris St. Lazare train station, you can take the train to Caen (about 1 hour and 45 minutes) and one-way tickets start from $29.  Reservations and schedule information is available through Rail Europe.
Best Time To Visit: The peak travel season in France is August when it is most crowded, and the average daytime temperature is in the low 70s. July and August are when the most of the festivals take place. The shoulder seasons of May, June and September will bring cooler temps, low to upper 60s, but the area won’t be as crowded.

Sample Fares: Calendars display lowest roundtrip fares over the next 90 days to Paris from:

* All fares are roundtrip including all taxes and are accurate at time of publication. For updated pricing, conduct a new search on Fly.com.


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Featured Image: Utah Beach (Godfrey Hall)

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