Celebrating D-Day in Normandy
“You are about to embark on the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower, Order of the Day
D-Day, the day that Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, was a day that rocked Europe during World War II. Today, the people of the Normandy region continue to celebrate the beginning of the Allied invasion into Nazi-occupied France. Every year there are hundreds of people who travel to towns such as Sainte-Mère-Église, Bayeux, and Carentan, along with many others, to remember the men and women who fought for their freedom.
When we were planning our anniversary trip to Paris, we realized that while we were in France, we would have the opportunity to also visit Normandy for the 71st D-Day anniversary celebration. Josh is an enormous Band of Brothers fan, so we agreed that our Paris trip would be my anniversary present, and celebrating D-Day in Normandy would be Josh’s anniversary present.
We fell in love with the picturesque town of Bayeux, which was from where we based our wanderings. I highly recommend staying here (or at least visiting) while exploring Normandy. There's a good assortment of restaurants, an excellent bakery, museums, and shopping . . . something for everyone!
Our Bayeux highlights:
- The Bayeux Cathedral. It's GORGEOUS, and what a rich history--it dates back to 1077!
- The historic town center. The buildings are beautifully preserved; it's like walking into a storybook. Take a stroll along the little canal, check out the old timber-framed houses, and just have fun wandering around.
- Wander into an antique shop. We found one that had a lovely collection of copper pots and various war relics (read: unbeatable presents for the military history lover!).
- La Mie Caline. A French boulangerie-pâtisserie franchise with a lovely location in Bayeux. Their strawberry tart and brioche made me want to cry, it was so good.
Outside our time in Bayeux, we drove around the coast and stopped by several war monuments, museums, and events. Normandy has an incredible amount of war sites available to see year-round, and they really go all out for the D-Day festival.
Here's what to see when visiting the war sites in Normandy:
Normandy American Cemetery. Plan to spend several hours here. Start at the Visitor Center--there's an amazing museum that's well worth walking through. Afterward, spend some time in the cemetery. Find a bench and take time to process. Then find the path that leads down to the beach and walk along the shores of Omaha Beach. (Normandy American Cemetery website here)
Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument. Just west of the Normandy American Cemetery, plan to spend a few hours here as well. Stop in at the Visitor Center for a map, then walk through the sites as listed in the map. The ground is still pockmarked with bomb craters and one of the reinforced bunkers is still intact. You can walk through the bunker and a few of the trenches, and make sure to stop by the large stone monument and take in the clifftop view. (Ranger Monument website here)
Utah Beach Museum. Head out to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont and spend some time in the museum, located right on Utah Beach. Don't miss the original B-26 plane display or the naval monument just outside the museum. (Museum website here)
Our favorite festival event was the Parachute Reenactment Drop, where reenactment parachutists jumped out of an authentic WWII C-47 over the fields of Sainte-Mère-Église. The sky was filled with hundreds of these paratroopers on D-Day in the same location, and it was a powerful experience to get to see just a handful of the reenactment jumpers.
Tip: Normandy is hopping with events during the annual D-Day celebration, so keep up to date with the latest D-Day Festival information through their Facebook page.
Oh, and while you're driving around the countryside, be spontaneous and pull off at one of the many cidreries. Trust me, it's worth it--Normandy is home to the area of Calvados, which hosts incredible apple orchards and a history of making cider and apple brandy (which is also named Calvados). Calvados brandy is quite strong, so be responsible with your tastings!
Recommendation: Cidrerie Lebrec (website here). This family has been making cider and brandy since before WWII, plus their tasting room is located in an old château!
Have you been to Normandy? What would you recommend?
Note: this is not a sponsored post.