It was a bright and early start for our four day tour to Normandy. Everybody arrived punctually and we were well on our way by our appointed time. It was a remarkably easy journey to the Shuttle terminal at Folkestone and we arrived in good time for our train enabling us to sample the breakfast fare. (I’d certainly recommend the breakfast roll at Le Gare!!) Once in France we made our way directly to our hotel in Liseux. Unusually, we were able to park right outside the hotel in the street. After an excellent dinner, we prepared ourselves for the following day’s activities.
The next day, after having tweaked our itinerary with our excellent driver, Martin, we boarded our coach for the Chateau de Vendeuvre and gardens, the home of the Count and Countess de Vendeuvre. Our group booking meant that we had a private tour guided by the son of the house. This is a lovely property and contains an amazing collection of miniature furniture and automatons. After touring the house we wandered around the lovely garden which held many surprises, especially the aptly named surprise water garden! After coffee we made our way back to the coach, which was parked outside the grounds, unfortunately as the chateau was not officially open the gates were locked shut. This was the first (and probably the last) time that I have ever knocked on the front door of a chateau asking to be let out!
Once back in Liseux, we had free time. Martin drove those who wanted to go to the Basilica Saint Therese, a very imposing building on a hill, dedicated to Saint Therese of Liseux, who lived for only twenty four years dying of tuberculosis at the end of the nineteenth century. Pope St Pius X called her the’ greatest saint of modern times.’ The basilica can accommodate four thousand people and is the second busiest place of pilgrimage in France. Some of us also took the opportunity to look around the town.
Wednesday, was again another bright and sunny day as we travelled to the ‘D Day’ landing sites along the coast. First stop was the famous Pegasus Bridge near the village of Benouville. The bridge over the Caen canal along with one nearby over the river Orne were vital targets to be captured intact to ensure that allied troops landing on the beaches nearby could break out and make their way inland. The operation was successful although the first casualties of D day were sustained here. I think most of us visited Cafe Gondree, at the end of the bridge which has the distinction of being the first house liberated by the allies on ‘D Day’. The nearby museum was a must visit, this gave an insight into the battle for the bridge and has many mementoes and relics of the engagement, both inside and outside including a Horsa glider which conveyed many of the troops to the bridge and the original bridge, which was replaced in 1994. The old bridge was sold to the museum for the vast sum of
After leaving the bridge area we went to Arromanche, which is famous for still having the remains of a Mulberry harbour on its beach and out at sea. The man made harbours were floated across the Channel enabling vehicles, armaments and men to be quickly off loaded from ships. This was also a great place for a lunch stop. The museum nearby was well worth a visit and contained some excellent models showing just how the harbour was constructed and how it worked. We journeyed along the coast on our return journey to our hotel.
Thursday was our day to return, but having altered our plans somewhat we visited Honfleur on the way. Honfleur is a beautiful harbour, popular with artists over the years because of its pure light. As well as stopping for lunch or coffee, our group wandered around the town and harbour. The harbour really is beautiful surrounded by many cafes and restaurants. The ‘old town’ was also a popular place to visit with its old shop fronts and churches. We reboarded our coach and made our way back to the Shuttle. Although our train was delayed by half an hour we still had a good journey home, even negotiating a trouble free M25, which has to be a bonus. Everybody seemed to enjoy our Normandy adventure.