D-Day 75th Anniversary sponsored by University of Maryland University College Europe

Things to see and do in Normandy Part II

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Still wondering what to do in your down time on your trip to Normandy? You could be on the go from dawn to dusk and still not exhaust all there is to see and do there. Here are a few more places well worth your attention:

Take in Bayeux’s famed tapestry

In contrast to most towns and villages in the area, Bayeux weathered the war and retains its medieval character. Known for its cathedral and beautiful nighttime illuminations, Bayeux’s most famous asset by far is a 1,000-year-old tapestry, an embroidered cloth stretching some 230 feet which depicts some 70 scenes retelling a series of events starting with the Norman conquest of England and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. Its length, quality of workmanship and vibrant colors make it a historical and artistic masterpiece. The tapestry can be viewed at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux.

Check out Longues-sur Mer’s battery and observation bunker

Halfway between Port-en-Bessin to the west and Arromanches-les-Bains to the east, a 200 foot cliff towers above the sea. Here stand four German casemates, three of which retain their original artillery guns. These guns, with their 12-mile range, gave the Allied ships a severe punishment on the morning of June 6. The battery was captured and silenced on June 7. Today they stand as mute witness to the sheer scope of the Atlantic Wall.

Explore the port town of Honfleur

One of Normandy’s worst kept secrets in this tidy port town, and of particular note here is the St. Catherine Church. This 15th century timber framed church revered for its beauty and unique architecture is fashioned in the shape of an overturned ship’s hull. A bomb which fell through its ceiling at the tail end of the war miraculously failed to detonate.


Marvel at the church at Angoville-au-Plain

Just north of Utah beach is Angoville-au-Plen, a hamlet strategically located along the Cherbourg to Paris route and critical to the Germans. On the night of June 6, members of the 101st Airborne parachuted in and set up an aid station in the tiny town’s 11th century church. Over the course of a battle which raged for three days and possession bounced back and forth between the Allies and the Germans, two U.S. medics, Bob Wright and Kenneth Moore, treated the war wounded from both sides. When German troops burst in and saw the medics treating all war injured, they allowed them to carry on and placed a red cross on the church’s door. Today the church has been tidied up and a plaque celebrates the some 80 lives saved by these two, but the most vivid trace of war by far is the preserved presence of several blood-stained pews.

Tour a biscuit factory

In the famous village of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, an artisanal cake and biscuit factory turns out all manner of tasty baked goods, from cookies to craft cakes, meringues and other yumminess, all made without additives or preservatives. After touring the premises, sample the famous Biscuit of Sainte-Mère-Eglise or try one of its best-selling biscuits, shaped in the form of a parachute.

Stop in at Le Stop Bar

Every respectable historical re-enactment needs a gathering point and watering hole, and sure to be a lively one is Le Stop Bar in Sainte-Mère-Eglise, where you’ll likely find re-enactors in period uniform and paratroopers indulging in liquid refreshment between jumps.

Visit the Musée de la Percée du Bocage

Long after D-Day itself, the Battle of Normandy raged on, and to understand why, it’s crucial to understand the area’s topography. The battles soon moved from the beaches and into a type of landscape known as bocage, characterized by the presence of boggy ground and hedgerows, a thorny and impenetrable growth which hindered views, hid lines of fire and impeded movement. It was hugely disadvantageous to soldiers on the offensive and in contrast helped those in defensive positions. This museum between Caen and Vire recreates eight scenes of British soldiers’ struggles in this terrain and features real objects that belonged to them. An audio guide recounts the destiny of these soldiers as it played out in real time. The exposition also includes the motor of a P61 Mustang discovered nearby.


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