Adventures in Paris: To the beaches of Normandy

When we arrived in Paris, we really anticipated staying in and around the city throughout our time in France.  In addition to a handful of sightseeing books focused just on Paris, we’d only gone one step farther from downtown with the book An Hour from Paris, which proved helpful in our visit to Provins.  Yet as time passed in Paris, Normandy kept coming to mind.  Not only would it provide a break from the city—it would also provide some fun on the beach (our boys LOVE the beach) and exposure to an important piece of world history with WWII sites along the coastline.

So we decided to pack up the kids and head to the coast for a few days!  We happened to be heading out of the city at the same time as most other Parisians (August is a month off for many, if not most locals), but we were still able to find a rental van (with some hassle) and a two-bedroom vacation rental that would fit the whole family.

While Normandy (I admit, as a French speaker, I’d rather write Normandie), is only couple of hours from Paris, it’s a world away when it comes to noise levels and pace of life.

We enjoyed a couple of days of exceptional weather.  We kicked off our stay exploring the area right around our vacation rental in Grandcamp-Maisy.  They boys enjoyed scouring the mossy beach for seashells and crab remains, and we liked wandering among the small boats at port.  There were even a couple of old German bunkers just above the sea wall, which gave our boys a taste of soldier life, overlooking the sea, waiting for the Allied forces’ arrival.

The boys were in heaven as we spent a couple of half-days on sandy Omaha Beach.  They built castles, racing and fortifying against rising tides (an act of exciting futility), and played in the waves, which were appropriately sized for the whole family.  Though our boys were the only ones in swim trunks (as opposed to European-style/Speedo suits), our family fit right in with our picnic fare and sand-filled fun.

We spent a couple of hours at the American Cemetery and Visitors’ Center in Colleville-sur-Mer, which was moving.  The free Visitors’ Center had interesting displays and video presentations, but it was a bit of a stretch for our two younger kids’ attention spans.  Yet it generated conversation for us as a family, helping the boys start to get a sense of the importance of this spot in world history.  It also helped prepare them for the solemn cemetery, filled with rows of white crosses and stars, that we saw once we left the center.

Later in the day, we drove just 2-3 minutes from our rental to the Maisy Battery—one of the largest German defensive positions in the Omaha sector on D-day.  After being buried, forgotten, and subsequently used as farmland for over sixty years, the site was rediscovered back in 2007.  Since then, it has been excavated, allowing visitors such as our family to freely explore the trenches, barracks, and artillery left behind so many years ago.  It’s not well-developed or very commercialized, but it was GREAT for our boys to run and explore, and it provided us added opportunity to teach them about the war.  Our timing was even right to find blackberry bushes overflowing with ripe berries for the picking throughout our wanderings.

Our final day at the coast turned out rainy, but it gave us a chance to try out the traveling circus that was in town for the weekend.  It was a one-tent event, entirely in French, but it didn’t require any language skills to smile and be amazed at the acts.  The only real downer of the circus (other than one son’s tantrum) was the extended (i.e. much too long) intermission aimed solely at generating sales of trinkets and treats.  But it was a great option for our little family on that rainy afternoon.

Some have asked whether Normandy could work as a day-trip from Paris.  This is technically feasible, and there are tours, both private and group, that manage to fit this in daily, but if you’re traveling with little ones, I’d say you’re better off either planning an overnight on the coast or saving the visit for another time.  While the drive is relatively scenic, it’s at least two and a half hours each way, and unless your kids are exceptionally tolerant of long hours strapped into car seats, it could definitely be a challenge (we know it would be for our family).

3 replies
  1. Carol
    Carol says:

    I loved these photos — especially the one of the boys running through the trench. It represents an adventure of the purest kind. If the photos of the house at the end are where you stayed — totally awesome. I’m not sure I could be on this beach and not just cry my eyes out. I have such vivid pictures in my head of the troops wading through the water to get to the beach, and so many being shot and killed. It would be a powerful experience!

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] and the kids, we would leave the apartment for at least 24 hours.  This urged us to pursue our Normandy plans, keeping us away from the apartment for 3+ days.  The rush to get out of there led to some […]

  2. […] week I wrote about our visit to Normandy.  It was truly a wonderful add-on to our adventures in France.  But it sure started out rocky!  […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *