With “I want to see the countryside” about as much direction as my parents gave me when they came to visit, I decided to rent a car for their first weekend so we could have complete flexibility on what they wanted to see. Plus, when I looked up trains to go to Normandy, it was about 75 euros each way, which would end up costing a lot more than a rental car. Here are some photos from our day trip. We started off by the D-Day beaches and ended the night at Honfleur before returning to Paris.
Approximately a three-hour drive northwest of Paris, we began our journey in the heart of the D-Day beaches where the Normandy landings took place on June 6, 1944 – Arromanches. After a quick lunch at Restaurant Le Pappagall (the mussels are highly recommended), we walked to Port Winston. This is not only where the Allied troops managed to move 600,000 tons of concrete and equipment across the English Channel to create an attack base against the Nazis, but it’s also where thousands died. You’ll see in the photo above that there was some sort of exhibit where human-shaped stencils were laid out along the beach to symbolize all the lost lives at this location during WWII. After taking this in, we walked about 20 minutes uphill to Arromanches 360, a circular theatre with nine screens that sits on the Arromanches cliff tops. Not only did we watch a 20-minute movie with unpublished archive footages retracing the 100-day battle that took place at Port Winston, but because of the theatre’s location, we were also able to take in the views of the town below.
After Arromanches, Rio and I would’ve probably gone to the American Cemetery, but my parents were ready to move on. So we headed about an hour east to Honfleur for a completely different take on Normandy. I can see why Parisians call Honfleur the 21st arrondissement of Paris. A quaint harbor town, Honfleur is lined with narrow cobblestone streets, timber-framed houses, small art galleries and shops, and a bustling port area packed with boats, bars and restaurants. Upon arrival, we bypassed the town and drove straight uphill to see the views overhead, but having done that, I feel inclined to tell you that it’s not worth it. The views are quite industrial, and there’s not a natural viewpoint (at least that we could find) along the street to see the rooftops of the town. So I recommend heading straight to the center of Honfleur (after parking near the outskirts of town). In Honfleur, you can easily spend a few hours getting lost in the snug streets and taking in the dockside activity. But be sure to pop in a store for a Calvados tasting (the local apple brandy), gaze up at the ceiling of France’s largest wooden church, Church of Saint Catherine, which resembles a ship if turned upside down, and see what inspired artists like Monet and Boudin to paint this small maritime city. That’s exactly what we did before eating a filling dinner at Le Hamelin, even for American standards, before making our two hour-plus drive back to Paris.