At the end of August we head to Normandy in northern France, with our Jeep, the roof top tent and our fluffy friends. We combine our plan to travel along the coasts of the Normandy and Brittany with a little bit of history. Following the traces of D-Day, also known as the Normandy Landings, we want to visit the famous beaches of Upper Normandy: Sword Beach, Juno Beach, Gold Beach, Omaha Beach und Utah Beach.
The Upper Normandy region is dominated by farmland and steep cliffs that go vertically right to the coast. Many times it’s possible to drive on a dirt track between farmland and pastures right to the cliffs. But usually there’s about 50 metres of vertical cliffs that separate us from the ocean.
No Wild Camping on the Coasts of Normandy
Arriving in Upper Normandy, we head straight to a small village at the coast, Criel-sur-Mer. We take a little break to breathe in the smell of the ocean (as it’s low tide at this moment, the ocean smells like dead fish…) and to gaze at the magnificent steep cliffs that mark the coastline of Normandy. We stand there for merely a couple of minutes and suddenly a houseowner from the other side of the street comes walking towards us. Alex is having a chat with him and reassures him that we wont stay here for the night. The Gendarmerie (= Police) is controlling the coastline for forbidden camping quite often, especially during the main season, he tells us. It’s not that much of a problem in the countryside (as we know from experience), but actually it’s forbidden everywhere in France.
We decide to camp at camping sites, so we are left in peace. Especially after our last encounter with the Czech Rangers… I guess it’s easier in a van, because you don’t raise as much suspicion as with a roof top tent.
The Monument of Costes and Bellonte
On top of the cliffs above Saint-Valéry-en-Caux stands the Monument of Costes and Bellonte. In 1930, the two pilots Dieudonné Costes and Maurice Bellonte were the first ones to fly over the ocean from New York to Paris without stopover. Before them, in 1927, Charles Lindbergh was the one to accomplish this mission in the opposite direction.
Most Beautiful Campsite in Trouville-sur-Mer
Near Trouville-sur-Mer we find one of the most beautiful campsites ever, le Chant des Oiseaux right at the coast of Upper Normandy. As the name says (“The Singing of the Birds”), there’s almost no other sound than the singing of the seagulls. We are led to our fantastic camping spot by a girl in a golf cart. We have plenty of space and a marvellous view over the ocean. This is why we decide to stay herefortwo nights to recharge our batterys (our own and the Goal Zero).
Feeling the Tides in the Port Town of Trouville-sur-Mer
We visit Trouville-sur-Mer, a typical port town with a beach, a fish market, a casino and many shopping sites. In the port that divides this city from the town of Deauville, we feel the power of the tides. We see it especially comparing the same site to the next day when it’s high tide.
The Landing Beaches of D-Day in Lower Normandy
Honoring the soldiers that fought and fell in the Second World War, we follow the traces of D-Day. We visit the five famous landing beaches that were the starting points of liberating France on June 6th, 1944. We can’t even start to imagine what it must have felt like, landing here in front of those cliffs that tower like a wall of skyscrapers right in front of you. At the same time being shot at, with no shields. Strategically well placed, massive bunker constructions seem to be integrated in the coastline of Lower Normandy. Here’s a good summary about D-Day, Normandy Invasion.
Our route leads us in this order to the landing beaches:
- Sword Beach
- Juno Beach
- Gold Beach
- Omaha Beach
- Utah Beach
Sword Beach, the Landing Beach of the English Soldiers
Bright sunshine accompanies us on our overlanding travel to the history of the Allied Invasion of Normandy. The neat, small town of Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer marks the last point of Sword Beach, which was the landing beach of the British Soldiers. In this, as in many other towns along the coast, posters of fallen soldiers are hanging on light poles at the street. Driving by these posters, it makes you realize how many soldiers lost their lives fighting to liberate western Europe.
The Canadian Juno Beach Center in Courseulles-sur-Mer
Juno Beach, the next coastal section after Sword Beach, was assigned to the Canadian soldiers. The Juno Beach Park in Coursuelles-sur-Mer is a gigantic area with bunkers, memorials and a museum in the shape of a maple tree, the Juno Beach Center. Juno Beach Park was a German stronghold during the war and a big battleground.
Omaha Beach, the Longest Coastal Section of D-Day
Along Gold Beach, another landing beach of the British troops, our route takes us to the longest coastal section of D-Day, Omaha Beach. It extends over about 10 kilometres and was the main landing beach of the US troops. At some parts, the cliffs are about 30 metres high that made the invasion almost impossible.
Overlord Museum in Colleville-sur-Mer
In the Overlord Museum in Colleville-sur-Mer there’s a huge amount of relics from the war at Omaha Beach. It’s really worth a visit, I guess you could stay there all day long, always discovering something new. In front of the museum, there’s for example this landing boat that makes us imagine how unprotected and shieldless the soldiers arrived on the beaches. The museum is dedicated to the Operation Overlord at Omaha Beach, at which most of the soldiers died.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
On a beautiful piece of land in Colleville-sur-Mer at the Omaha Beach, lies the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. A gigantic Monument, the Memorial for all the fallen soldiers from Operation Overlord, stands tall in the middle of the cemetery. The amount of white crosses, geometrically aligned on the well-kept lawn, is immense. It makes one realize how many soldiers lost their lifes during the liberation of western Europe. From the cemetery there’s a wonderful overview of Omaha Beach.
There’s a big parking lot at the cemetery and it’s a pretty busy site. Unfortunately, but understandable, there are no dogs allowed.
The last coastal section of our D-Day excursion leads us to Utah Beach. One can almost feel the history of D-Day by looking at those partly bombed, partly completely intact bunker complexes. Graffiti and climbing plants bear witness to the war being long gone but not forgotten. Those bunker complexes are still a part of the landscape and a reminder of the liberation by the Allies.
Horses on Utah Beach
There’s a lot of activity on Utah Beach, but still so much space that we can let the dogs run around without being concerned that they go greet everyone. Tractors are driving to the mussel farms aligned in the sea, while a horse in front of a sulky is trotting over the beach.
A Smelly Jeep and a Puking Dog
After our historical field trip, we look forward to doing some fun stuff. As it’s low tide, we take a detour over the beach. Actually this is the tractors route to get to the mussle farms, but there’s no sign that it could be forbidden to drive there. It’s right next to the little town of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. So we take the chance and we drive right on the beach, covered with pretty bad smelling algae and even some dead fish that didn’t make it back in the sea. And this is exactly how our Jeep smells after this rideout. Like dead fish.
In Jonville we find ourselves a nicely located campsite, where we make ourselves a nice dinner. We sit a little further away from the Jeep than usually, as it smells really bad. Also the night in the roof top tent is not as cosy because of that horrible smell. The only one who seems to like it is Mila. She lickes the Jeep pretty intensely in the evening, just to puke it all out the next morning.
Ride out in the Dunes
With our freshly washed Jeep and a puked out dog, we find ourselves a route into the dunes, to have some fun in the sand. After a little driving around we find a little junction that leads us between fields right to the dunes. No prohibition signs anywhere and no people around. We have those dunes all to ourselves.
Amazing how diverse the landscapes in Normandy are. First we had those steep cliffs that mark the border between vast fields and the coast of Upper Normandy. Then we have the hilly landscape of Lower Normandy with its historical landing beaches and bunker complexes as witnesses of World War II. And now we find ourselves in the midst of grass-covered dunes, a landscape that could be on another planet.
The Mont Saint-Michel
Our last stop in Normandy before we head on to Brittany, is the famous Mont Saint-Michel. To be there before the crowds of people arrive, we decide to spend the night on the campsite of Mont Saint-Michel. Mont Saint-Michel is divided in two parts. One part is on the mainland with all the hotels, camping site etc. The actual famous part is on a rocky island and is dominated by the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. Right before the village on the mainland, we stand in a traffic jam in front of a barrier. People seem to type in a code or something in order for the barrier to open. So we take a turn and head to the public parking lot. A friendly parking attendant informs us, we have to make a reservation at the camping site in order to get into town by car.
No Access to the Town without Reservation
Without a reservation to a hotel or the camping site, you don’t get access to the town of Mont Saint-Michel by car. Then you can only park your car in the big parking lot in front of the town and walk in or take the shuttlebus. So we call the camping site, make a reservation and get the code for the barrier to open. The camping site is, to be honest, anything else than cosy. But at least we are in the pole position to go to the hill of Mont Saint-Michel first thing in the morning. Along with the costs for the camping site of about 30 Euros, additionally they charge 9 Euros per car for 24 hours.
Pilgrim Route to Mont Saint-Michel
The next morning we get up pretty early and hit the trail of about 30-45 minutes to the famous hill. There’s also the possibility to take the shuttlebus, but unfortunately there are no dogs allowed. Besides it’s a very nice walk that reminds us of a pilgrim route, the Mont Saint-Michel always in our sight. On our walk, the rising tide is our steady companion on the new bridge where no cars are allowed except for the shuttlebusses.
How the High Tide Upsets our Plan
Unfortunately we didn’t count with the tide, as many other visitors obviously didn’t either. We didn’t know that the new bridge would end right in the water at high tide and that Mont Saint-Michel is not accessible at these times except by Stand Up Paddle, a boat or swimming. This day, the difference in height between high and low tide makes around 11 unbelievable meters.
Due to the still rising tide it will take about one to two hours until Mont Saint-Michel is accessible again. There’s more and more tourists arriving in crowds and we decide to head back to the Jeep and maybe come back another time.
Mont Saint-Michel Now and Then
While I’m browsing through some old photos of my family, I found two pictures that were taken in 1992 at the same place. Back then, there was a big parking lot for cars and busses right in front of Mont Saint-Michel. As part of a renaturation project, a wooden bridge was built and the parking lot was moved to the mainland.
Wild Camping in Normandy
As we were in Normandy at the end of summer break, we knew it would be difficult to do wild camping at the coast. For this reason, we chose to camp on official camping sites, where dogs were very welcome. With the roof top tent we were the eye-catchers and that resulted in some good small talks with other tourists and locals. The municipal camping sites are mostly cheaper than the private ones, but they are also busier. So if you like some quiet, we recommend the private camping sites. Or wild camping of course.
Dogs in Normandy
Dogs are very welcome almost anywhere in Normandy. Just check the entry regulations before you go to France or any other country, especially concerning the listed dogs. We always carry a set of muzzles in the car that we never had to use yet.
Vegan in Normandy
Traditional dishes of Normandy are Mussles, Crêpes and Galettes (the salty version of Crêpes). We left those out because of the animal ingredients, in return we ate more baguettes (always vegan) and drank even more cider. There are many organic stores where you can find a wide variety of vegan food. Of course there’s a wide choice of vegan products in supermarkets, but in our experience it’s easier to locate those special food items in much smaller organic grocery stores.
Important French Terms for Vegans
Most important french terms for Vegans:
Plant-based = Végétal
Meat = Viande
Fish = Poisson
Milk = Lait
Egg = Oeuf
Butter = Beurre
Cheese = Fromage