PV-Holidays: Holidays for Boys: Normandy
Camembert, cider, charming fishing ports and sheltered bays are just a few of Normandy’s star attractions. Yet for those with a passion for history and war stories, a tour of Normandy’s famous ‘Landing Beaches” offers a seaside break with a difference.
Whether you’re looking for a boys’ own holiday adventure or would like to trace the footsteps of your grandfathers or great grandfathers who fought in WWII, a tour of the museums, memorials and military cemeteries along the northern French coast makes for a genuinely unforgettable experience.
The Allied Forces’ Operation Overlord began on the 6th June 1944, when in just one day 130,000 troops landed on the Normandy coast at Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah beaches – a mass deployment of troops famously known as the D-Day Landings.
First an air-based landing took place very early in the morning, with both British and American troops being parachuted in to occupied France, followed by a sea-based invasion.
Despite a great deal of lives lost (50,000 in Calvados alone), these battles represented the turning point of the Second World War in Western Europe.
Start your history tour in the town of Caen – the gateway to the beaches – at The Memorial Museum (Esplanade Dwight-Eisenhower). Officially named Le Mémorial de Caen, un musée pour la paix – “The Caen Memorial, a Museum for Peace,” this modern, hi-tech building is built over what was the Command Centre of the German defences of Normandy after D-Day. Widely considered to be the best World War II museum in France, since its opening in 1988, it has become the second most visited site in Normandy after Mont-St-Michel.
Here, you’ll discover all the key events leading up to and after D-Day and the Battle of Normandy via compelling interactive exhibitions and two powerful video presentations.
The museum also runs daily guided tours of the D-Day beaches by minivan, which depart from the museum and Caen station. Visit here for information and reservations.
If you’d rather take an independent tour, hire a car and follow the coast road to Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches – and Utah beach is just a little further afield.
Walking on the Normandy Landings beaches, and reading the inscriptions on the headstones in the vast cemeteries containing thousands of graves, laid out in well tended lines is an extremely moving experience.
Just off Gold beach at Arromanches you can see the remains of the floating ‘Mulberry Harbour” used during the landings. Mulberry Harbour was towed from England and erected on the floor of the seabed after the beachheads had been secured. Many of the iron floats still lie on the beach today, as well as the harbour itself.
At the nearby 6th June 1944 Museum you can discover how this amazing feat was planned and executed, including how the floating roads took the lorries out to load up from the ships. The museum has an excellent scale mode of Mulberry Harbour and shows two good films showing incredible live footage of the invasion.
At Arromanches, you’ll also find the fabulous 360 Degree Cinema. This cinema gives a graphic idea of the events of 6th June 1944 and the battles that ensued. Using original footage and sound, you can almost feel like you’re in the thick of the fighting.
Visit The Pointe du Hoc and you’ll see that the cliffs are still pitted with German bunkers and shell holes. These cliffs were captured using London Fire Brigade ladders to ascend the sheer cliffs under enemy fire.
Known as the ‘beach of blood” Omaha Beach was one of the key battlegrounds of WWII. American Allied forces showed incredible bravery in securing Omaha Beach, the events of which have been immortalised by Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, which tells the story of how the beach was captured and the ensuing Battle of Normandy.
The nearby American Military Cemetery is a poignant memorial to the fallen soldiers, and on the beach itself history buffs with metal detectors still find shrapnel, buttons and bullets.
Make your way to Pegasus Bridge, where you’ll find Cafe Gondrée, the first house to be liberated by the British soldiers during the night of the 5th to the 6th of June 1944. It’s still a bar today and features a small exhibition of photos and memorabilia.
Bayeaux, renowned for its famous tapestry was also the first city to be liberated after the Normandy Landings. The Battles of Normandy Museum in Bayeux brings history to life with 21st century technology to offer a better understanding of this decisive action in the liberation of Western Europe.
Situated in the outskirts of the town, The Allied Cemetery Bayeaux is the largest Commonwealth cemetery of the Second World War in France and contains 4,144 Commonwealth burials, 338 of them unidentified. There are also 504 war graves of other nationalities, the majority German. The Bayeux Memorial stands opposite the cemetery and bears the names of more than 1,800 men of the Commonwealth land forces who died in the early stages of the campaign and have no known grave.
Where to stay
The charming resort town of Deauville with its boardwalk, casino, hippodrome and chic boutiques is the perfect base for exploring the landings beaches, memorials and museums
with the promise of café and nightlife buzz when you return from your days touring. And the exceptionally picturesque ports of Honfleur and Trouville are also nearby.
PV-Holidays has a wide choice of affordable self-catering apartments in Normandy including the Pierre & Vacances – Deauville Golf Resort in Deauville which offers comfortable studios with fully equipped kitchens from just 310 Euros for seven nights from 7-14 March 2009. For further information on all apartments, special deals and availability, visit here
Current Special Offers
PV-Holidays have 12 properties available in the area, and have studios situated in Deauville, Branville, Omaha Beach, Trouville Cabourg, Honfleur and Mont St Michael, with many of these properties currently offering 15-20% off, especially when booked early.
PV-Holidays have also extended this offer during June, to allow customers to experience the anniversary of the landings.
You can find the selection of properties in the Normandy area here
Branville holiday village has been completed in time for 2009, so for families who wish to take a cultural break, this is the perfect base. Find more information here
*PHOTO CREDITED TO NORMANDY TOURIST BOARD, FIND MORE INFORMATION HERE: http://www.normandy-tourism.org
Thanks for reading,