Warning: this is a long one. But there are lots of photos, I promise
I’m finally recovering from Parents in Paris: Part 2.
After more than a year since their first trip, my parents finally made it back to Paris. We’ve been planning this since last year and I was so excited to see them.
Their first trip to France was a big deal, so getting them back for a second year in a row was a challenge… until we dangled Normandy as an option in front of my dad, a big WWII history buff (like everyone’s dad). From there, convincing them to make the trip was a piece of cake.
A long weekend in Normandy
My parents came over for about 10 days, but the main event was our road trip to Normandy, along with Frenchman and his own parents for a car full of family fun. We all piled in the clown car bright and early to head straight to Étretat, a place I’ve been eager to see in person.
You arrive at the water’s edge between two tall, green hills looking out over the water. To the right, beautiful cliffs topped with a little church. To the left, the iconic view of the cliffs, the arch and the needle (“aiguille”).
After exploring a bit to take it all in, we headed off to Honfleur where we walked around the old port town a while before dinner.
For the night, we had found the most charming B&B I’ve ever seen (shout-out to Manoir de La Guérie). The B&Bs are, I think, my favorite part of this whole trip, as each one was beautiful and such a fantasy in each their own way.
The next morning, after a delicious homemade breakfast including an old Normandy rice dish and local stinky cheeses, we set out for Caen. The Mémorial de Caen, also known as the Peace Museum, was at the top of my dad’s to-do list, and for good reason. This incredible museum is absolutely a must-see. It’s not fun, but it is incredibly moving, impressive, and very very full of information about every minute of the invasion (débarquement) at each site, powerful video footage, and what happened next.
The day continued on to Omaha beach, the American Cemetery at Colleville, and finally to Pointe du Hoc. This sequence of sites was, I think, well conceived, as we began with many images and powerful films and difficult information, then moved on to the beaches where the D Day landings took place including remnants in the water, then to the vast cemetery honoring those who fought, and then ended in a place so scarred with craters, even over 70 years later, that you can really see the literal impact the war and the D Day invasion had on the area.
This was a powerful, emotional day, and I am so glad I got to visit these places, especially to be able to bring my dad there as well.
After a heavy day, we lightened things up with a stop at a Calvados producer – located in a building built in the 12th century. Nbd. We tasted some calvados (a very strong apple-based aperitif) and, of course, all walked out with a few bottles of pommeau, cider, and calvados each.
For our B&B for the night, we stepped into another world as we stayed in a legitimate chateau, tower and all. My parents got the room attached to the tower (it was their bathroom!), but I wasn’t jealous because I got to sleep like a princess…
Day 3 and still so much more to see, despite the weather failing us a bit and turning grey and misty after getting so lucky with sun the days before. First stop was Sainte-Mère-Église, famed for the parachutist who got caught on the church steeple and hung there for hours through the battle and, incredibly, survived. Today, a model hangs on the church as a reminder.
After this final stop on my dad’s D Day landing must-see list, our next stop was Mont Saint Michel. An incredible sight to see anyway, this had special interest as it had been over 40 years since my mother visited it and stayed in the now quite famous Mère Poulard inn on the mont. The weather cleared a bit and we had beautiful views as we explored the medieval hill street and ramparts, the abbey, and the vast bay in low tide.
We left Mont Saint Michel to head to our last dinner and final B&B, of yet another sort, which turned out to be a 1200s-era building on a full hectare of meticulously kept French gardens and the most amazing breakfast of a dozen homemade jams, a tarte, fresh (homemade) breads, fruit salad all picked from the garden, and more. Such an excellent finish to the B&B tour (shout-out here to Le Clos Saint Gilles).
After such a wonderful few days, we were all sad to pack up and start the drive home from Normandy. But! we snuck in a stop in Giverny to stretch our legs and check out Monet’s home and famous gardens, which I will save for another time as I think this story is long enough already.
My parents then had a few more days left of their trip to spend in Paris and Saint Germain en Laye, which were spent checking out our new hometown and visiting a few museums that we missed in their whirlwind tour last spring.
All in all, we had a packed 4 days in Normandy, and we managed to see just about everything we set out to and lucked out with some gorgeous weather in a place not known for sunshine and blue skies. Everywhere we went was lovely, and I can’t wait for an excuse to go back for more rolling countryside and picturesque villages.