Part 2 of beaches and surrounds, takes you through what else Normandy offers…
Check out Normandy: Beaches and Surrounds, Part 1, for travel tips on how to get to the beaches of the infamous D-Day Landings of the 6th of June 1944.
Getting to Normandy
From Poole in the United Kingdom, book a Brittany Ferries trip across the English Channel to reach Cherbourg in around 5 hours.
Lucky enough to take a car on the ferry, which costs more understandably, but at least there isn’t the need to hire a car in France, so less hassle.
After managing to visit four out of the five D-Day Landings beaches and cemeteries, decide to explore more historical areas in Normandy.
Between Caen and Ouistreham, Pegasus Bridge and the Memorial Pegasus (€7.50 entry) is situated on the Orne Canal in Bénouville, and an easy 15-kilometre drive from Caen.
A vital strategic position during the Allied invasion in France, previously named the Caen Canal Bridge, this bridge was renamed in 1944 in honour of the British Airborne Forces’ operation. Pegasus is the emblem worn by the 6th Airborne Division who landed in Normandy.
The role of the Glider Infantry unit was to “land, take the bridges intact and hold them until relieved”.
This strategy was to prevent German armour from crossing bridges and attacking the eastern side of the landings at Sword Beach. Also, following the Normandy invasion, this would limit the effectiveness of a German counter-attack.
The incredulous thing to mention here is that the first Glider landed as close as 47 yards (about 42 metres) from the objective, surprising completely the German defenders and within 10 minutes, taking the bridges.
Be sure to visit the excellent museum, where you will easily spend a few hours here learning about the bridge and its significance during the D-Day landings. A shop and cafe provide respite if you need a break from information overload.
The original Pegasus Bridge built-in 1934 is displayed at the Pegasus Museum.
The currently functioning bridge is a replacement.
Near Vieux, the memorial of the 43rd (Wessex) Infantry Division is not an easy site to locate…
…as the site is literally in the middle of nowhere and amongst beautiful French farm fields.
Hill 112 was a strategic highpoint, which offered commanding views out to sea and over the countryside to the south, west, and east of Caen.
Germans observed the Allies from this vantage point and so, this was the objective of capturing the hill from the Germans.
On arriving, we had this site to ourselves for a while, apart from another elderly couple but only until the tour bus arrived, spoiling the silence and ambience.
I’m one of those painful people that likes to absorb such shrines in silence as this is a time to reflect, remember, and pay respects.
A restored British Churchill tank sits quietly next to the memorial.
Take a stroll down the dirt road towards a small wooded area named Cornwall Wood and you will come across more solitary graves.
This woodland exudes an eerie presence. I’m not sure whether this is psychological or otherwise, but it feels like a place of death.
Sporadic plaques are all that remain in the woodland.
Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery
As the largest WWII cemetery of Commonwealth soldiers in France, this cemetery holds 4,648 burials of which most are from the Normandy Invasion.
Although Bayeux itself did not experience a particular battle, soldiers that died on Sword Beach and from around the regions were brought to this cemetery.
The Bayeux Memorial is opposite the cemetery and commemorates more than 1,800 casualties of the Commonwealth forces…
…that died in Normandy and have no known graves.
This region also offers many wonderful experiences, such as soaking up the Normandy medieval history encompassed by gorgeous architecture.
Visiting the Bayeux Tapestry is a must. Why not take in a wine tasting tour if you have time, or just enjoy the wonderful food on offer…
Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux
Wow! I’d heard about the Tapisserie de Bayeux in history lessons, but to actually see this in the flesh is amazing. To think this almost 70-metre long tapestry is 1,000 years old is mind-blowing.
Originally embroidered in wool, the tapestry was created to tell the story to illiterate people by using pictures of events, leading up to the Norman conquest of England – William (Duke of Normandy) and Harold (Earl of Wessex, later King of England), which culminated in the Battle of Hastings.
What an ingenious depiction, which has outlasted many wars and centuries.
You are not free to walk around the 70-metre long glass as you please. Instead, everyone is ushered around the reception desk where you can collect your headphones (free with ticket) and directed to the start of the tapestry. Here, you are encouraged to walk from the start to the finish in an orderly line. If you wish to stop longer at any point, you can step out of the moving line. Once at the finish, you exit and cannot go in for a second look, so make the most of your visit.
Wish I stepped out of the line more to really take in this amazing piece of history.
Photos are not allowed. The tapestry museum is also included in the €9 ticket price and is well-appointed with dioramas and wonderful intricate models of villages, which depict everyday life from 1,000 years ago.
The impressive and stunning Norman-Gothic Bayeux Cathedral dates back to 1077.
Experiencing damage in the 12th Century, the cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style. Some re-building started in the 15th Century but was not completed until the 19th Century.
Do visit Salon de The (47 Rue Saint-Martin) whilst in Bayeux, which is a wonderful tea house with beautiful surroundings.
Stroll through the door to be thrown back to the 1800s with a massive crystal chandelier, ornate white tables and chairs, a huge ornate mirror, and a fresco-like painted ceiling. Not to mention the scrumptious freshly baked pastries (€0.80+), wonderful Gateau (€2+), and handmade chocolates.
I think this is the cheapest coffee around €2.50 compared to €3-4 elsewhere in town.
A wonderful family-run business, very friendly and inviting but not so great for the waistline.
After an amazing but truly emotional 3-night, 4-day stay in Normandy, need to press on and continue driving to southern Italy as the Schengen clock is ticking.
What could possibly go wrong on this leisurely drive?