My 16 Hour Normandy Road Trip

The day before I started my Euro 2016 road trip in France while I was still enjoying my Paris Perfect vacation rental in the City of Lights, my friend and I took a Normandy road trip. Normandy is best known as the site of D-Day; the massive allied invasion of Nazi occupied France known as Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944. Normandy is a big area and has a lot to see and do. Here’s what we did on a 16-hour Normandy road trip.
Normandy Road Trip, Map of Normandy, Normandy, Normandie
We left Paris at 7am in a crappy minivan rental and headed straight for Mont Saint-Michel. Mont Saint-Michel is a gorgeous island commune seemingly floating on water or mud at low tide. It really is stunning to look at from afar and well worth the highly caffeinated 3.5-hour drive from Paris!
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel
You can’t just drive up to Mont Saint-Michel. You have to park is a designated area to make sure they get money from you and then they have a shuttle that runs you up to the site. The only real issue is it doesn’t stop for you to take photos from far away angles so we agreed to walk back, 1.5 miles or so.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel
Walking into the walled castle/city is a little off putting at first because there are so many tourists and even worse, so many tourist shops selling all the usual crap. I always say that tourists only go to good places; which is true. However, this was a bit much with so many tour groups in a confined space. So we raced around them and climbed up to the top where the cathedral is located.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel, cathedral
The views from the top, even on a cloudy day, were pretty spectacular. The cathedral and castle itself were very impressive as we made our way in and down. The tour basically starts on the top and works its way down. In order to get to the top of Mont Saint-Michel, you have to climb a lot of steps and it can get pretty steep so take note of that beforehand for elderly and children.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel, view
We were a bit rushed as we had a lot more driving to go and opted to eat lunch on the way out of town after we walked back to the parking lot. This is a good decision because all the restaurants in Mont Saint-Michel itself are ridiculously overpriced. However, the photographs on the walk back were well worth the trip out.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel, inside
From Mont Saint-Michel to Point Du Hoc is about 1.5 hours drive if you don’t get lost-which we did! While GPS is a godsend, it’s also not perfect. I’ve had a lot of issues with Google Maps on recent road trips in Europe like in Slovenia when I couldn’t find the caves I was looking for and ended up in the middle of a forest!
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel, far view
Taking it back to a serious note, Pointe Du Hoc is one of the most poignant places I’ve visited for World War II memorials and I’ve visited many in Europe and the Pacific. When you first enter there is a video that is a must watch. It will bring a tear to your eye while it explains the allied invasion at Point Du Hoc and how they had to scale the 100-foot cliffs with ladders to defeat the Germans.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Pointe du Hoc
I was honored to be in the presence of a WWII veteran who was there with his family. He was in his 90’s and it was his first time back to Normandy. It was heart warming/breaking to watch him and his family, react to the video. I cannot imagine what his eyes have seen and like all WWII veterans, we owe them more than can ever possibly be given.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Pointe du Hoc, memorial
One of my grandfathers served on the ground in Europe and the other one made helicopters for the war at home because he had poor hearing an couldn’t enlist. I have the utmost respect for the military and think the Greatest Generation is just that.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Pointe du Hoc, cliffs
The whole world owes them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. The only way we do them justice is to learn, pay attention and pass along the knowledge to future generations that these allied warriors saved the world from tyranny. They did what they had to do selflessly, courageously, and triumphantly.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Pointe du Hoc, cliffs
Pointe Du Hoc will always be special to me because I will always share that moment with that man and his family, even though they didn’t even know I was watching. Then touring the battlefield that is so well kept was amazing. It shows you the real challenge the US Army Rangers faced climbing the cliffs and the bunkers that the Nazi’s had behind 3 meters of concrete.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Pointe du Hoc, German bunker
So many lost their lives but it was a strategic necessity as part of Operation Overlord. The American Rangers took Pointe Du Hoc as the rest of the Allies took the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Pointe du Hoc, crater
Only about 2 miles or so from Pointe Du Hoc is Omaha Beach, the site of the largest invasion in military history. It turned out to be the most important achievement in the battle for Europe.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Omaha Beach
Visiting Omaha Beach for me was surreal. Standing on the beach itself where so many Americans died trying to protect our freedom for generations nearly brought me to tears.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Omaha Beach
I’ve seen every documentary and movie about D-Day and WWII but when you’re there it’s another story. You put yourself in the invasion and you can’t imagine the courage those boys showed coming off the boats and storming the beaches in what had to be sheer horror.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Omaha Beach, memorial
I can’t even fathom doing something like that and so many saw so many brothers in arms go down. In the end, the Allies invaded at 5 different beaches and it turned out to be the turning point that eventually led to victory in Europe over the Nazi’s.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Omaha Beach
On our Normandy road trip we also stopped at Gold Beach because my friends Grandfather was a British soldier who landed there and survived. She was telling me stories that he used to tell the family and again, I just have the utmost respect for that generation of Americans, British, Canadian and every other nationality that fought on the side of the Allies. We owe them so much and I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be here if the Nazi’s had won the war.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Gold Beach
By the time we made it to the American War Cemetery atop Omaha Beach it was about 4pm. If you’ve ever been an American War Cemetery then you know how powerful they can be. I’ve been to them in Tunisia, Philippines and of course Arlington, Virginia but nothing comes close to the power of Normandy.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Omaha Beach, American War Cemetery
You walk around in silence staring at graves of people you never met. They are perfectly placed so they look in unison like good soldiers. The setting is beautiful, right above Omaha Beach. There are monuments all around but there’s no noise. It’s a respect that people show the glorious dead and to me that is the way it should be.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Omaha Beach, American War Cemetery
There is also a fabulous Visitor Center with a museum that is a must visit at the Cemetery. I learned so much about the battles, the planning, the delays, the deception caused by misinformation to deliberately confuse the Germans, and about Eisenhower himself. It was a hell of a day and I urge all Americans to visit Normandy at some point in their lives and pay respect to the glorious dead.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Omaha Beach, American War Cemetery
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” is written at the bottom of the above statue.
Normandy Road Trip, Normandy, Normandie, Paris, l'Entrecote
The Normandy road trip concluded in Paris around 11pm with a trip to my favorite restaurant in Paris, Le Relais de Venise l’Entrecote, for some much needed wine and food after an emotional day. A great day it was and I will never forget my Normandy road trip.

Comments

  1. Lee, I did a similar trip a few years ago although we didn’t stop in Pointe du Hoc. I also thought Mont St. Michel was really touristy but it was well worth the drive. Omaha beach and the cemetery were so moving. My grandfather was also a WW2 vet so I felt much the same feelings you had. Great post!

  2. Edward Knox says

    I am much older than you and my father served on the front lines. Visiting Normandy with him many years before he passed was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Thank you for the respect in your words and the great photos.

    Edward Knox

    • Edward thanks so much for sharing your experience and so glad you got to do that! Also thanks for your words and I have the utmost respect for the military and their sacrifice.

  3. Sounds like an amazing trip Lee. How much is gas these days in France?

  4. Can’t believe you packed that all within 16 hours. Awesome, but sounds so tiring, especially at the rate that you travel from country to country lately. Would you recommend breaking this trip up over 2 days/1 night in the Normandy area if you had more time to spare in France on this trip?

    • Hi Ray and yes 100% I would, it was exhausting! We had originally planned doing it over 2 days but the way it broke down schedule wise was either do it in one day or omit one or the other. Ideally I’d recommend starting in Mont Saint-Michel and then driving to the beach area and overnighting in one of the adorable little towns we saw. I don’t have a map in front of me and can’t remember names of places we stopped in along way offhand but tons of places to stay and that would have made life easier.

  5. I love the grey atmosphere of the photos! I also like the castle photos they are so stunning, I hope I could visit these places someday!

  6. I visited Normandy in 2012, and it’s such a humbling experience. The grave sites are adopted by local families and handed down from generation to generation, to be cared for and never to be forgotten. Graves are decorated for every occasion: soldiers birthday, military holidays etc. It’s a beautiful sight.

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