Battlegrounds and beyond
Picardy to Normandy
This 13-day tour through Picardy and Normandy will bring the history of WWI and WWII to life. The tour begins in the Somme region, where you can visit quaint seaside towns like St Valéry-sur-Somme or reconnect with the past at the small village of Agincourt, famed for the Battle of Agincourt. Move on to Normandy and take a moment to reflect on the beaches used for the D-Day landings or at the cemeteries and war museums across the region. Alongside this rich and troubled history, the are is packed with stunning cathedrals and fantastic coastlines for you to explore.
Stay 1: 5 days
We recommend: Domaine de Drancourt
Spend 5 days at the southern edge of the Côte d'Opale in the peaceful seaside town of St Valéry-sur-Somme and enjoy a wonderfully watery start to your holiday.
Stroll along the River Somme, catch the steam train around the estuary at Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme and stop off at Le Crotoy. In the evening, try the seaside resorts of Cayeux-sur-Mer or Le Tréport for a wonderful seafood platter.
For a truly memorable day, head inland to the regions around Albert and Péronne and walk amongst the cemeteries, battlefields, memorials and monuments of World War One. At Beaumont Hamel, walk through the trenches and peer over the top at the bomb-cratered landscape. Drive to Thiepval to see the impressive monument towers dedicated to the British, amongst others.
If you fancy hunting down even more history, head north from St Valéry to the little village of Agincourt, where the famous Battle of Agincourt took place on 24th October 1415, during the Hundred Years War. There's local museum you can stop at here to find out more.
Aquieter day can be found back on the coast at Côte d'Opale, where you'll finde 100 miles of wonderful beaches that stretch towards Calais.
Stay 2: 5 days
We recommend: La Vallée
Eastern Normandy offers a real balance of famous historical locations, alongside iconic hubs of modern culture.
Spend a morning at Pegasus Bridge, a key defence point during the war and named in honour of the British 6th Airborne Division. Stop for coffee in the Café Gondrée (the first building liberated by the Allies) and chances are you'll be served by Madame Gondrée herself - daughter of Monsieur and Madame Gondrée, the first French citizens freed by British forces.
You can easily spend a full day in the region's capital, Caen. This university town was effectively destroyed in June and July 1944, but thanks to the very accurate aiming of the British Navy, its two stunning cathedrals remain largely intact. The gothic Abbeye aux Hommes (1063) built by William the Conquerer and Abbeye aux Dames (1600) are impressive in their design and dominate the city's landscape.
For pure indulgence and a glimpse into modern day Normandy, a visit to Deauville is a must. In stark contrast to war memorials,you'll find a stunning casino, desogner shops and glamorous restaurants. In September, Deauville becomes the 'Cannes of the North' and hosts the American Film Festival. The town's Hippodrome is one of France's premier horse racing venues and is often the setting for France's most prestigious racing.
D-Day on film
The town of Arromanche-les-Bains is home to the amazing Mulberry Harbours. This area was crucial to the success of the entire invasion, as thousands of tonnes of supplies, ammunition and troops came through this tiny town en route to the frontline. Check out a different view of the war at Arromanches 360 museum, a circular cinema that projects film footage of events.
Of the 5 beaches (Juno, Gold, Sword, Omaha and Utah), we'd recommend starting with Omaha Beach to get a glimpse into the difficulties faced by American forces when trying to land. Trapped between high cliffs and the sea, the American Rangers faced impossible odds against stiff German resistance.
Nowhere is this more clearly illustrated than at Pointe du Hoc, where the cliff juts out into the sea and the landscape is completely covered in bomb craters. The whole success of D-Day rested with the success of the Omaha beach landing, and by the end of the 6th June, the Americans had a very slim, but crucial grip on this beach.
A must on any visit to this part of the landing beaches is the American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. It's a truly memorable experience to see the thousands of white marble headstones that mark fallen American soldiers.
Return to the seaside for a peaceful evening meal in the lovely fishing port of Port-en-Bessin. Home to a small fishing fleet, you are guaranteed the freshest seafood with some of the most picturesque views possible. If you have the energy, climb the steep cliff nearby and watch a wonderful sunset over the English Channel.
From tapestry to brewery
Whilst D-Day has a huge bearing on Normandy and its history, there is much more to see and do in this region...
You'll soon discover this on a visit to the cathedral town of Bayeux. Bayeux is most famous for its tapestry depicting life in Normandy almost 1000 years ago and detailing the Battle of Hastings. Take a tour around the tapestry's exhibition and pick up headsets that give an excellent commentary in a variety of languages. Look out for Haley's Comet, as well as King Harold and the infamous arrow through the eye!
You could also take a trip out to the countryside and stop at one of the many microbreweries to try the local speciality Calvados - a strong and refreshing drink mad from local apple orchards. Another local speciality is rich, creamy Camembert and where could be better to stock up your cheeseboard than direct from the farmer himself?
Stay 4: 3 days
We recommend: Château Lez Eaux
The end of your tour will take you to western Normandy, where you can visit the small village on Sainte-Mère-Église. It was here that the 82nd American Airborne Division parachuted in and Private John Steel was caught on the church steeple - as told in the film 'The Longest Day'.
The sobering German cemetery at La Cambe just south of Sainte-Mère-Église is a must for D-Day visitors. With the hugely difficult task of honouring the dead without any form of ceremony, this place reminds visitors that many more Germans died during the Battle of Normandy than the Allies.
Step back further in history to cross the tidal causeway and wander the old streets of Mont St Michel, arguably the most iconic image of medieval France. Visit the Benedictine Monastery and tour the gardens and cloisters.
Just up the road from your parc is the seaside resort of Granville and here you can jump onto a ferry to the Channel Islands. Here, you'll see usual British life with a distinct Gallic touch, and can pick up some tax-free goodies! For some more retail therapy, head south to Rennes, the commercial heart of neighbouring Brittany, where you can shop for all of your essentials before returning to home.