The day after our champagne tasting in Champagne, Greg and I again left Paris. Only this time we rented a car to drive out into the French countryside. It was just like you’d imagine, with rolling green hills, tree-lined roads, and cute French villages dotting the landscape.
We were headed to Normandy, the French region made famous by the Invasion of Normandy on D-Day during WWII.
Once there, we started our day at Omaha Beach where the American troops had landed. Due to its long stretches of beaches, it was the most difficult landing site on D-Day and also the one with the most casualties.
Now several monuments honor those who gave their lives during the battle.
And flags fly for every country that contributed troops and supplies on D-Day.
The monuments aren’t the only reminder of WWII. On the hillside you can still explore bunkers and a local museum offers historical information and displays artifacts from that period.
The Invasion of Normandy is widely viewed as a success, and ultimately it was, changing the course of WWII. But it also resulted in heavy casualties for the allied troops, with a significant number of lives lost.
As I mentioned earlier, Omaha Beach is where the American troops landed during D-Day, and where the most casualties were suffered. Of the approximately 4,400 allied casualties that day, 2,500 of them were Americans.
And while many Americans may have forgotten the sacrifices our countrymen made on that day, the French haven’t. The most moving part of our visit was seeing the number of French homes off Omaha Beach that to this day still fly the American flag in honor of our sacrifices.
Unfortunately the American casualties continued in the days after the D-Day landing.
Greg and I paid our respects at the Normandy American Cemetery which contains 9,385 of our military dead. We were shocked when we walked in and saw endless rows and rows of crosses, each one representing a brave soldier who was also a son, a friend, and likely someone’s whole world.
This photograph features just a small section of the 172.5-acre cemetery. It reminded me of Arlington National Cemetery, with the grave markers spreading out as far as the eye can see. But while the cemetery at Arlington covers a range of wars and includes veterans and family members, the Normandy American Cemetery is dedicated to those who lost their lives during the D-Day landings and ensuring operations. And the initial landing was so deadly that a large portion of these crosses are from the first hour of the invasion.
It’s overwhelming seeing a visual representation of the loss of life from the Invasion of Normandy, and how many soldiers we lost in one hour in one day.
My experience was made even more moving by the fact that my grandfather was at D-Day. He captained a boat that deposited soldiers onto the beach. He survived, something my family has always appreciated, of course. But seeing the number of crosses in the cemetery made me feel that much more blessed that he made it through.
It was an emotionally heavy day, that’s for sure. So when Greg and I left we rolled down the windows of our rented Audi and tried to appreciate the blue skies and sunshine.
We were headed somewhere special, to Mont Saint-Michel, an island off Normandy’s coast. You can see it off in the distance in this photo.
And as we got closer it loomed even larger.
When you arrive, you park in the parking lot on the mainland. Then you can board a free shuttle that takes you across the three-kilometer road bridge to Mont Saint-Michel.
When we arrived the tide was low, so we were able to wander around outside the island.
But it wasn’t long before our curiosity got the best of us and we ventured inside.
The roads are narrow, with a very medieval feel.
Which makes sense, because the island’s focal point is a monastery from the medieval ages. It looks like a castle, making the entire island feel like something straight out of a Disney movie.
We arrived after 7pm when many of the tourists had already left, which was perfect since we were able to explore in relative solitude.
We watched the island’s shadow stretch out over the land.
Before deciding it would be better to see the sunset from the outside!
For dinner we had our first crepes of the trip, starting with a savory and then a sweet.
And then we stayed overnight in one of the few hotels actually located on the island. When you go you should absolutely stay on the island. You’ll get the best experience that way, and after all, who doesn’t want to be able to say they slept in a castle on an island?
The next morning we woke up early and headed up the many steps to the monastery, which opens in the summer at 9am.
Its interior is beautiful.
As is its exterior!
Then it was time for us to head back down the steps and across the bridge, leaving the magical island behind.
It worked out perfectly visiting Mont Saint-Michel after 7pm, spending the night there, and leaving at around 11am. Most tourists had already left when we arrived. Then we were able to visit the monastery at 9am the next morning, right when they opened, again avoiding the crowds. By the time we got our bags and went to leave, around 11am, massive groups of tourists were arriving by the busload. Because the paths are so narrow, it would have been a frustrating experience fighting the crowds while trying to explore. Therefore I highly recommend our schedule when you’re planning your visit. And you won’t want to stay more than one night, since there aren’t that many things to do there.
Mont Saint-Michel has a beautiful sunset, so don’t miss it. And if you happen to visit during low tides, make sure to walk around the island so you can see what it looks like from the outside. Just make sure to bring shoes that can get muddy!
And a general tip for roadtripping around Normandy: expect lots and lots of tolls! It felt like there was one every 10-15 minutes. But don’t worry, they accept credit cards, and the tolls won’t slow you down too much.
Other than that, enjoy the experience! You’ll feel like you’re part of a Disney fairytale… without the evil villain (I hope)!
(You can find all of my France travel posts here).
P.S. My blue-and-white dress is by Stylestalker. You can find it here.