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NORTHERN FRANCE TOURS OF WORLD WAR SITES

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The best place to begin a Northern France tour of World War I and World War II sites is in Normandy. In June 2009, Normandy celebrates the 65th anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed 135,000 soldiers on Normandy beaches to liberate France from Nazi occupation.

Bourlon Wood Canadian War Cemetery with 226 graves from WWI
Bourlon Wood Canadian War Cemetery with 226 graves from WWI
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

During the Battle of Normandy, 40,000 Allied soldiers and 60,000 German soldiers died. Normandy has 27 military cemeteries, as well as numerous museums and monuments. Visitors can follow signs for eight driving routes along the landing beaches and historic battlefields.

Arromanches

Key sites include the D-Day Museum in Arromanches. It features archival films, working models, the Arromanches 360-degree wraparound movie screen and views of Mulberry Harbour (the artificial port built by the Allies in 1944 to provision troops during the Battle of Normandy).

Between April and October, Centre Juno Beach offers guided tours of the D-Day landing beaches and the remains of the Atlantic wall. The museum features films, exhibits and personal stories of Canadian soldiers who landed on Juno Beach in 1944.

Bunker in field near Cambrai, France.
Bunker in field near Cambrai, France.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Bayeux

The Battle of Normandy Museum, in Bayeux, uses films and displays to describe events between June 7 and August 29, 1944. Visitors see scale models depicting troop movements and military equipment, including Sherman tanks and anti-tank artillery.

Memorial Pegasus, in Ranville, has a full-size replica of a HORSA glider in the Museum of the British Airborne Troops. Photos and descriptions portray the capture of the Benouville Bridge by glider-borne troops. The original bridge, now called the Pegasus Bridge, is in the museum park.

German trenches at Vimy
German trenches at Vimy
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The Caen Memorial offers guided tours of D-Day landing beaches, museum displays and a library of books, videos and CDs about 20th-century history.

Nord Pas de Calais

Visitors can also find concrete bunkers, World War I and II cemeteries and memorials in Arras, Bethune, Lens, Boulogne, Calais, Dunkerque, Lille and other regions of Nord-Pas de Calais.

In 1918, the Canadian Corps Burial Officer created the Bourlon Wood Cemetery. During the Battle of Cambrai, in 1917, desperate battles were fought in Bourlon Wood and village.

Trees and quiet pasturelands now surround the tiny plot of ground, with its rows of stone plaques. Bourlon Wood Cemetery contains the graves of 226 soldiers from Canada, 16 from the United Kingdom, three from Chinese labour camps and 11 unnamed soldiers.

Vimy Ridge

Many war memorial monuments and cemeteries are north of Arras. The Canadian National Vimy Memorial commemorates Canadian soldiers, who fell in France, at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and other First World War battles.

British World War I cemetery near Vimy, France
British World War I cemetery near Vimy, France
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

At Lorette, the largest cemetery in France contains the remains of 20,000 French soldiers and 23,000 unknown soldiers. Nearby, are trenches dug by soldiers.

Visitors expect to see rows of crosses, surrounded by poppies. Most of the military cemeteries, however, have small, rounded, white or grey headstones, engraved with a cross or Jewish star, and the names of soldiers (if known). Poppies grow wild along the roadsides, but not in the cemeteries, because the graveyards are well maintained with closely cropped grass and planted flowers.

Normandy attractions

Besides military sites, there are many things to see and do on a Normandy vacation. You can learn how to make Calvados (apple brandy) at the Maison du Pays D'Auge et Des Calvados in Cormeilles. Crevecoeur, a feudal chateau, has tours, exhibits and music from the Middle Ages.

There are many chateaux in Normandy, including Chateau de Vendeuvre, Chateau de Bizy, in Vernon, Chateau de Pirou and Chateau du Champ de Bataille at Le Neubourg. Normandy also has many beautiful parks and gardens. Within driving distance of the landing beaches are Parc des Enclos, Jardin Botanique de Caen, Parc Floral de la Colline aux Oiseaux de Caen, Naturospace and Jardins du Chateau de Brecy.

The most famous landmark in Normandy is Mont Saint Michel, a medieval abbey, built on a rocky peak off the southwest coast. It's a French national monument.

If you're looking for a place to stay in Normandy, consult the Club des Hotels & Restaurants, Les Charmes de la Normandie. Compiled by the Normandy Tourist Board, it includes hotels, chateaux, inns (auberges), villas and hostels, with maps, descriptions, prices and facilities.

Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Nord Pas de Calais attractions

In addition to world war sites, the regions of Nord and Pas de Calais France offer many things to see and do. Three UNESCO World Heritage attractions include the fortified town of Arras. Cultural attractions range from the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille to the Nausicaa National Sea Centre.

Besides the beaches of the Opal Coast, nature lovers will enjoy walking in Avesnois Park, Cap Gris Nez and other parks. Restaurants in Nord Pas de Calais serve regional specialties like le Maroilles cheese, l'andouille sausages and cream-filled waffles.

Nord Tourist Board and Pas de Calais Tourist Board publish a guide that describes what to see, hotels, restaurants and shopping, with a map.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Normandy Tourism: www.normandie-tourisme.fr

More things to see and do in France:

Rediscovering Paris - Ile de France

Things to do on Remembrance Day:

Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland War Monuments, Museums and Cemeteries