“Do you know what this is?” Our guide, Stephane Kraus of Overlordtour, gestured for me to step over “this” ahead of him as we exit the church grounds at Angoville au Plain, our first stop on a ten-hour Normandy / D-Day / Band of Brothers tour. “This three-foot step allowed people to get in and out of the church but kept the cows out as they ran by.” With that simple fact and acknowledgement that I was not a D-Day history buff, Kraus drew me into the rest of the day’s tour.
Kraus is a master storyteller and emanates integrity, a remarkable combination that lets his interpretation of the facts stand for itself. He injected dry humour into appropriate places. He never glorified nor demonized any aspect the war and allowed time to pause and reflect at each location. Kraus wove cultural anecdotes throughout the military story as we tried to imagine the fear and horror while we stood on Utah and Omaha Beaches. He showed us photos from each location we visited helping us to see what life was like for the soldiers in those days and months after the invasion.
We toured through Angoville au Plain, Utah Beach, Marmion’s Farm, Drop Zone D, Brecourt Manor (a key location for Easy Company and a spot many Band of Brothers fans want to see), and the plane crash at Beuzeville-au-Plain before stopping for lunch in Sainte-Mere-Eglise where we had an hour to visit the museum dedicated to the 101st Airborne Division on our own.
The tour continued on to Pointe du Hoc, where the American Rangers stormed the limestone cliffs. We spent a sombre hour before close, also on our own, in quiet reflection at the American Cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer. The day finished up at Omaha Beach and the batteries of Longues-sur-Mer which were featured heavily in the movie “The Longest Day.”
Spending a day with Overlordtour is an intense way to spend part of a vacation, but well worth the time and money for the history and perspective gained. It was nothing short of a humbling experience.
Overlordtour has been recognized by American and Canadian World War II veterans as one of the best D-Day tour operators in the area, for its thorough interpretation of the events leading up to D-Day as well as what transpired after June 6, 1944. For full day tours which will run about CDN$85 per person plus gratuity to the guide, the company picks up clients at the Hotel Churchill in Bayeux at 8:30AM. Visitors travel in air conditioned, eight-to-ten person passenger vans or minibuses. For more information, visit Overlordtour at http://www.overlordtour.com and book with them through their online reservation system or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org if booking a tour in the next five days.
BAYEUX AT A GLANCE
ARRIVING Fly from any major Canadian airport into Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport on Air Canada or Air France. Hire a taxi or travel like a local on the Métro into the city and transfer to Paris St. Lazare train station.
The train from Paris to Bayeux runs roughly hourly each morning; it is a two hour ride with or without a transfer in Caen. Book at http://www.raileurope.ca.
SLEEPING A short walk to the centre of town, Hotel Le Bayeux (9, rue Tardif) offers a clean double room with free wifi access and a flat-screen television starting at CDN$85 per night. Breakfast and parking are extra. Book directly at http://www.hotellebayeux.com or +33 2 31 92 70 08.
Le Lion d’Or (71, rue St. Jean) and Hotel Churchill (14, rue St. Jean) are both pick-up spots for Overlord Tours. They offer double rooms starting at CDN$95 and CDN$175, respectively, with Le Lion d’Or (http://www.liondor-bayeux.fr) offering free parking and Hotel Churchill (http://www.hotel-churchill.fr/en/) offering free wifi access.
DINING Off the main road, L’Assiete Normande (1,3, rue des Chanoines; +33 2 31 22 04 61; email@example.com) shares a square with the imposing Notre-Dame cathedral of Bayeux. The restaurant offers traditional Normandy food, a wide selection of wine, and a terrific atmosphere. Prix fixe menus, which are not required but can be easier to navigate for new visitors to the area, start at 18 euros (CDN$24) excluding wine. Reservations recommended as the restaurant is quite busy. See more at http://www.lassiettenormande.fr.
For a quick meal at the end of a long day of touring, there are any number of quick crêpe restaurants in town. Pâte à Pat (2, Impasse Prud Homme; +33 2 31 92 95 09) is around the corner from L’Assiete Normande and offers sweet and savoury crêpes starting from 10 euros (CDN$13).
OTHER SIGHTS There is a wonderful audio tour associated with the world’s most famous tapestry, housed at the centre of Bayeux. Walk through the scandalous history portrayed by the Bayeux Tapestry at the Centre Guillaume Le Conquérant (Rue de Nesmond), open from 9:00 to 5:45 during peak season. An adult ticket is 9 euros (CDN$12). Plan on spending an hour and a half to two hours at the museum to take in the tapestry, the movie, and the interpretation room. To learn more, see http://www.tapestry-bayeux.com or call +33 2 31 51 25 50.