Normandy will forever be associated with its beaches and the historic landings which took place there during one of the most significant battles of the Second World War, the Invasion of Normandy. Today, as well as being a naturally beautiful location rich in tranquil scenery, Normandy is a place of pilgrimage for many visitors who lost relatives during the conflict and also for those who simply want to pay their respects. There are a number of river cruise lines which offer voyages along France’s iconic Seine River, departing Paris and heading for the Normandy region and the point where the Seine enters into the English Channel. From there, land transfers are offered to the region’s historic beaches.
The natural beauty of the French coast is undisputable and it’s often hard for visitors to imagine that it was once the site of such devastating conflict. On your river cruise excursion you’ll be able to see for yourself such iconic sandy expanses as Gold Beach and Juno Beach, two of the locations used by the Allied Forces for the D-Day Landings in German-occupied France. Perhaps the most well-known of these landing places was Omaha Beach, which was designated as an area for the US troops to land a part of the assault and which was perhaps most memorably recreated in the film Saving Private Ryan.
Indeed, Normandy has a particular significance for many American visitors and a trip to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in the coastal town of Colleville-sur-Mer is also often included as part of your Normandy excursion. Of course it’s a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made for all visitors, a place where rows of white crosses mark the graves of the fallen. The memorial itself is truly moving, featuring the names of 1,557 American soldiers whose remains were never found or identified inscribed on a wall which surrounds a peaceful garden. Fittingly, the memorial, which also features a large bronze statue and a reflective pool, faces the United States and is a truly humbling place to visit.
Another popular destination on your Normandy excursion is the Debarkment D-Day Museum in Arromanches, which tells the story of the landings, explores the history which surrounds them and which is built on the sight of one of the artificial Mulberry Harbours built during the landings. The museum itself has quite a long history, dating back to 1954 and is the first museum built to commemorate the Normandy Campaign. Guided tours of the museum are advisable and inside you’ll encounter a gallery of working models, collections of historical artifacts from the time of the conflicts as well as a film featuring compelling archive footage from the time of the landings. There is also a Diorama which uses both lighting and sound effects to bring the first hours of the D-Day landings to life.
While Normandy is clearly no stranger to tourists from all over the world, it’s important to note that many visitors will be coming to the region to pay their respects to relatives, so it’s important to behave respectfully, particularly if you visit the American Cemetery and Memorial.