The Beauty and History of Normandy, France

It’s no secret to anyone in the western world what occurred in Normandy, France.

When this beautiful northern French countryside is mentioned it immediately invokes imagery of the D-Day invasions; American, British, and Canadian allied soldiers parachuting into enemy territory and assaulting the coastline to rid the world of the greatest tyranny in human history.

While the area is rich in history from the second World War, I would encourage anyone who can go, should go, whether history interests you or not. Its lush countryside, picturesque villages, and an impressive coastline make it a popular destination for travelers.

The Culture of Normandy

I have always held an interest in World War Two history, so traveling to Normandy was thrilling to me. Arriving there in the late summer offered beautiful weather and scenery, with the occasional hotter-than-hell days. Being so close to the English Channel, the humidity was about what you would expect for a luscious countryside surrounded by sea.

The culture in this part of France is different than what you would find in a larger and more populous city such as Paris. The people are very friendly, and view tourists from America, Canada, and England as descendants of the Nazi liberators that removed evil from the Earth, regardless if anyone in your family served or not. 

            Since Normandy is rural, there are very few bustling areas. Most of the population has farms or lives in quiet villages with amazing homestyle foods and drinks, as well as locally owned businesses selling a variety of hand-crafted clothing, accessories, etc…

Despite the tremendous hospitality, Normandy’s primary income is from the tourism generated from history buffs and their desire to visit the area where the largest amphibious assault in human history occurred. The area is packed with World War Two museums that hold pieces of history ranging from newspapers to tanks.

During my visit, I attended 4 different museums, all of which offered a different take on the D-Day invasion (my personal favorite was the Airborne Museum). 

What to See in Normandy, France

And the museums are just the beginning. In the town of St. Mere Eglise, they still leave a mannequin of 82nd airborne paratrooper John Steele hanging from the steeple of the church.

Local World War Two history connoisseurs even own their own 1940’s era U.S. Army vehicles and uniforms and will drive you around the gorgeous countryside, stopping at historical locations, and giving you a ‘living history’ tour. Even the modern U.S. and European militaries return to Normandy every year to do flyovers and drop paratroopers into the small villages as a salute to the soldiers, sailors, and airmen that fought well over 70 years ago. 

However, the ultimate experience in humility is stepping foot onto the beaches of Normandy. Today, they look just like any other beach around the world. Families and friends basking in the sun, playing in the cool Atlantic Ocean, and building sandcastles.

At the beachhead, there are monuments dedicated to the allies and their sacrifices. I took a lesson from the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and took a handful of sand from the beach as a souvenir. Further up the beach is la Pointe du Hoc, famous for its rocky cliffs and the 75th Ranger Battalion that scaled them under fire from the German occupiers.

On top of Pont Du Hoc, the German coastal batteries and bunkers still stand – war-torn and surrounded by craters created by allied bombing runs before the invasion. Despite that Normandy receives a constant inflow of visitors, the area is serene.

Tourists are respectful, and Normanites are warm and welcoming. Normandy is awe-inspiring and makes history feel grounded.

What to Pack and Transportation

The best way to travel around the area is by rental car it’s a necessity. Due to the distance between villages, museums, and historical sites, a rental car makes point-to-point travel not only easy but scenic as well. Depending on the duration of your stay and the season, packing should be somewhere from medium to light.

A smaller suitcase or duffel bag combined with a backpack should be sufficient to carry your items to and from your hotel, and a backpack is excellent for your daily adventures for carrying water and snack (restaurants are few and far between), as well as a camera, accessories, and extra room for something if you so decide to purchase something at a gift shop or from a local store.

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