One can easily rent a car in Paris and strike out on a number of 3 to 4 day drives that could include the wine country of Burgundy, the south to Provence or to the coast. One such drive that can easily be done in this time frame is a trip to Normandy, not just well known for the World War II landings that turned the tide of war in western Europe, but also an area rich in the history of France.
One can get to and get around Normandy by public transportation. However, as Normandy offers such a large number of experiences and vistas, the freedom a car permits is probably the best way to go. One cautionary note, GPS coverage can be spotty outside of the Paris area and into Normandy, so be sure to stock up on good road maps as well.
One way to tour the peninsula is to pick a base of operations. A city that perfectly fits this role and provides its own touring pleasures is Bayeux, the home of the famous tapestries depicting another invasion, the conquest of England by the Norman knights led by William the Conqueror.
Bayeux is an easy 3-4 hour drive from Pairs and offers a good variety of accommodations at all levels of prices. Bayeux also offers a multitude of cuisines for all budgets, all of which is quite good. Local touring include remnants of the medieval town and a number of museums devoted to D-Day.
One day trip is a drive to the coast and a tour of the D-Day landing beaches. Due to the large area and plethora of small museums catering to slices of the battle story one should independently explore these online or in guides to target one’s interests. One must see stop, however, is the Omaha beach area. Here one can stand on the shore and look up at the same fortifications and obstacles that caused such difficulty to American troops landing here on June 6, 1944. A number of shrines, points of interest and markers commemorate various aspects of the battle and numerous stories on individual courage and sacrifice.
A drive around the peninsula will also reveal many interesting sites from medieval castles and towns to vineyards and farm houses. There is a huge number of bed and breakfast options in Normandy with signs seeming to appear every few hundred yards on the back roads. So take a chance and try one. The author stayed in nicely furnished guest rooms in working farm houses and had wonderful experiences, including delicious country breakfasts. So take a chance and maybe find that unforgettable memory.
Bayeux Tourism Website:http://bayeux-bessin-tourisme.com/en
D-Day Beaches Driving Tour Website: http://www.normandybattlefields.com/self_drive.html
Besides the D-Day beaches and the Bayeux tapestries the other must see stop in Normandy is the abbey at Mont-St-Michel which still has an occupied monastery, continuing a tradition that goes back to the founding of the abbey.
Mont-St-Michel is an island connected to the coastline of the Normandy region by a small narrow strip of land that is famous for being flooded during high tides once a month. It has its beginnings in the early 1000s as a place of pilgrimage for devout Christians and slowly a town has built up around the island to support the monks but still remains quite small due to the fact the island became isolated every so often. One should plan several hours for a visit to the island and its sites.
Access to island is through a trolley that runs quiet often until about 1 or so in the morning free of charge but the parking is not. The trolley drops one off a bit from the gates of the island so one must walk a short distance. The town itself is very much a tourist destination as every building houses some sort of shop or restaurant and therefore the food there is expensive.
The main attraction on the island is the abbey located on top of the island which is a bit of a steep climb with no other way to get there other than walking. Around the foot of the abbey are a few shops and a museum that details some of the more sordid history of the island. Tours are available near the ticket office near the main entrance floor of the abbey after another small climb. Tours are offered in multiple languages with an English one every hour or so.
Viewing of the abbey is almost all done through tours with an implied fact that one cannot wander around the abbey on one’s own. The tour lasts for about an hour and covers all the major parts such as the nave, the crypts, the monks’ cloisters etc. and ends near the exit which will take one around a raised walkway offering dramatic views of the bay and of the Normandy coast line.
After the tour, one can spend a fair amount of time walking around the island and seeing the various shops and small alleyways. There is a raised walkway near the entrance to the island that brings one around the entire front of the island offering good views of the bay as well. The island offers a few restaurants though they are expensive.
Mont-St-Michel Website: http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/index.htm?lang=en