St Malo- Mont St Michel- Brittany/Bretagne region- Bayeux- Pointe du Hoc- Omaha Beach- Normandy/Normandie region
Every part of France is so unique; every region has its own taste and feel. By living in France again, now 22 years old, I have the opportunity to experience more parts of it than ever before. With my goal of trying to advance in French, any traveling I do should ideally take place within France and I wanted to stick myself to it. With that in mind, I bought a carte jeune, which is a student reduction card for the trains in France, and thus came about the Northwest of France trip for my first set of vacations this school year. I had never been to this region before and was curious to what it would be like.
What I found in the Northwest of France became so much more meaningful after being there and discovering all the history that is unfolded with every street, shop, and museum. Being in Normandy where all the landing beaches of D-Day happened struck me and showed me how important this set of events was for America, France, Western Europe, and the world. History has never come so alive when you get to set foot where brave soldiers fought years ago and you walk through the streets of old towns that lived through the Nazi occupation. Most importantly, I got to witness first hand the strong alliance between the French and American people that exists to this day because of the events that happened on the beaches of Normandy. You still see it through shop windows with signs saying, “Welcome to our liberators,” or in the streets where American, British, and Canadian flags are seen waving in the wind. It feels good to me that two countries I love very much have this shared and powerful bond; and even though it’s based off tragic events, it’s rooted in valor and trust.
The first part of our trip took place in the Bretagne or Brittany region and we stayed in a town called St Malo. It’s a gorgeous walled in city on the sea which is 3/4 surrounded by water. There are ports filled with many boats and sailboats, dispersed islands with old fortresses on them, and a charming village inside which goes off it’s own special sea time. When we were there this October, at least to what we saw, the city doesn’t really wake up until around 8:45-9am because of how late sunrise is. For a port city, we wondered how this could be the case but it definitely didn’t contradict my preferred sleeping schedule.
We had arrived just in time for the city’s annual “Rhoute du Rhum” which is a big festival out by the ports that seemed to attract a lot of people. It’s a competitive, modern sailboat race all the way to Guadalope which is quite a famous course. St Malo was founded by the Gauls and was at one time a pirate town where without a doubt they drank a lot of rum.
My friends and I found St Malo to be absolutely beautiful with its beaches, ramparts, and rustic charm. Our Airbnb apartment gave us a little taste of life there in the little town and it was full of beach themed decor. There were cute wall plaques saying, “la plage 500 metres” and “rules of the beach.”
One of our favorite moments of the entire trip took place in St Malo overlooking the most beautiful sunset any of us had ever seen. The sky was full of every color and the sea seemed sparkling in its midst. We relished in every moment until it had mostly faded away into darkness but I don’t think any of us will ever forget the mental image or how it made us feel. Natural beauty is one of those things that takes heed over our material wishes and wants of the world and puts the simplicity of life into perspective.
We also did a day trip outside of St Malo to see the famous Mont St Michel- the solitary church and its mini village fixed atop a hill on a small island. It’s a place unlike any other and was beautiful to just stare at. One of my favorite parts of the visit happened to be the hour long walk marching up to it. Every so often we’d stop and take photos as it got closer and became more real to us. It was remarkable to say the least.
At low tide Mont St Michel is easily accessible for visitors by bridge, but at high tide the island is completely surrounded by water. My friends and I took a tour inside the abbey and it was all the same stone walls and floors, but you could sense it used to be a very quiet place where the monks would pray and go about their daily routine. The views from up above the water were also beautiful and so serene.
The second half of the trip was spent in the region of Normandie/Normandy and we stayed in a picturesque town called Bayeux. My first impression of the town was that it seemed a bit medieval, historic, and still very connected to the events that occured there during WW2. They had American, British, and Canadian flags in numerous places and everything seemed to point toward the fact that D-Day occured right in the area.
We visited American and British cemetery’s, multiple landing beaches, a museum, and other interesting sites in the town of Bayeux. There’s always so much to see and do in a new place and you just can’t make it to everything! Picking and choosing is half the fun… and in the end you have formed a unique adventure. This is dependent upon the people you travel with, the new people you meet along the way, and of course any unexpected surprises.
For our full day in Bayeux, we rented a car at Renault Rent to travel around the historic beaches and it turned out to be an excellent idea. Our baby blue car was adorable and after we bought some bread and snacks for the road we could not have felt more French. I have been itching to drive in France so I had a ball cruzing through the French countryside and we were lucky to find an automatic car too.
Our version of a professional tour guide was researching the facts and history inside the car on our phones before entering a site and this whole day cost each of us about $15. I can’t stress enough that you can still get by traveling on a budget while also learning a lot as a student or young teaching assistant. It’s all about being resourceful and having a positive attitude.
We first went to Pointe du Hoc which was most impactful to me. Before you walk around where all the bombs were hit and have still left their marks in the grass, you can read up on the history thanks to the wonderful and engaging site. It felt surreal to be there and imagine the American soldiers climbing the treacherous cliffs to defeat the Germans. It was very moving and definitely left a lasting impression on me.
Next, visiting a quaint musuem at Omaha beach also gave us a lot of insight of the area. The Musée Mémorial d’Omaha Beach is small but speaks volumes with all the memorabilia, old photos, and re-creations of war scenes on display. I was mostly interested in the black and white photos because as we all know just one photo speaks a thousand words. Additionally, what hit me the hardest were some brief narratives from soldiers who recapped their unfathomable experiences. Hearing their words was the most impactful and made it seem all the more real and eye-opening.
On Omaha Beach itself there is a grand work of art displayed in the sand, all made of metal, and with a heartwarming message. Besides the waves crashing loudly, there was a distinct silence and peace in the air that really transfixed the epitome of where we were.
Our final stop of the day was at the Cimetière Américain which is actually a piece of land that is U.S. property, by special concession, granted by the French as a final resting place for the 9,387 fallen soldiers in WW2. So thanks to international law, we were technically on America soil for a brief moment. It was a very grand and vast property and you could feel the American spirit within it. It’s situated right on the cliff of the landing beaches and as you walk around the white tombs, you can view the ocean. The hommage to the brave soldiers there was incredulous and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw a rainbow! The symbolism was off the charts; after rain, there is light, and so many more meanings…
In Bayeux, the Cathédrale of Bayeux, is also a must-see, and it really can’t be missed because it’s so huge! It dates back to 1077 and it’s still just as beautiful as ever. I lit a candle inside which only cost me one Euro and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do inside a French church. I’ve been inside countless French churches between now and my study abroad and they always have this cool option for visitors passing through to leave their mark.
To end the trip right, we took a long déjeuner at the best crêpe place around! Northwest France is known for their artisanal crêpes & galettes gourmandes, special buttery biscuits & caramels, and Normandy specifically is know for their apple ciders which we got to try at the restaurant! It was true to taste, light, yet surprisingly strong. The place we went to was right next to the church and it was called Au Louis d’Or. The prices were excellent for our budget too; we got a hot and cold drink plus a savory and sweet crepe for just 12 Euros. We sat next to a mom and her daughter who were French American and learned that the mom lives in Dubai and the daughter works as a lawyer in New York. We chatted a bit and I wish I could have gotten more of their story!
We really loved all the places we went mostly because of the welcoming and warm spirit of the people who lived there. At another restaurant we went to, Le Florentin, the owner was very welcoming even though we were his last customers of the night and at the end of the meal we talked for awhile. I appreciated how he was in no rush to kick us out and even after the dessert asked us if we wanted coffee or tea. The next day we walked by the restaurant and he waved to us! The littlest things like that you just don’t forget. Also at the car rental place, the man who helped us was such a kindhearted soul and it was touching to have made such nice acquaintances on our short, yet unforgettable trip.
Thanks for reading up on my adventures and there’s plenty more to come… Grenoble, Paris, I’m coming for you once again! I can never get enough of France and that’s for sure.