By Kaitlyn Webster, ISA Marketing Associate
But first, some history…
On the morning of June 6, 1944, over 150,000 American, British, and Canadian soldiers landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of coast in France’s Normandy region. The Normandy Invasion, also known as the D-Day Landing, is the largest seaborne invasion in history and resulted in the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
While Normandy was once the location of an epic battleground, it is now a peaceful stretch of land on the northern coast of France, filled with monuments and museums to honor the brave soldiers who helped free Europe. If you’re studying abroad with ISA in Paris or Lille, you have the opportunity to join us on an excursion to this historic region.
Here’s what you’ll see on ISA’s weekend excursion to Normandy…
Day One in Caen & St-Malo
Just a few miles from the landing beaches of D-Day is the town of Caen (pronounced “kahn”). Your ISA excursion to Normandy will begin at the Caen Memorial, the museum and war memorial which commemorates World War II and the Battle for Caen. If you’re unfamiliar with World War II history, the Caen Memorial is the ideal place to get a comprehensive overview of the twentieth century and the events that set in motion the Second World War.
On a peaceful bluff overlooking Omaha Beach is the American Cemetery where more than 9,000 white-marble tombstones honor the brave soldiers who lost their lives during World War II. The cemetery site covers over 170 acres and offers sweeping views of Omaha Beach where so many men fought in the Invasion of Normandy. France granted the U.S. a special concession to the land without charge or taxation so that they could honor their fallen soldiers. It’s a powerful place to go and remember those who fought so bravely during the war.
While it may look like a tranquil stretch of coastline today, Omaha was the largest of the five D-Day beaches and the most heavily defended by the Germans. It was one of two American landing sites at Normandy and had the highest casualty rate of the invasion. The battle at Omaha Beach has been portrayed in many films, including Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day. Walking the beach today, it’s hard to imagine it was once the site of such an infamous battle.
The Pointe du Hoc Ranger Monument is perched on a 100-foot cliff that U.S. Army Rangers scaled during the invasion to seize German artillery pieces that could have fired on the American landing troops at the Omaha and Utah beaches below. It was an incredibly dangerous, but successful mission. In honor of the Rangers’ bravery, a monument was built on that same cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. From the top, visitors can see the D-Day beaches below and appreciate how treacherous that climb must have been.
After spending the day learning about World War II, you will journey to the historic port city of St-Malo in France’s Brittany Region. This walled city has a history of piracy and was once a stronghold for privateers. If you’re a fan of shellfish, there’s no better place to sample some authentic French seafood dishes, like les huîtres (oysters), or a plate of moules frites (mussels and French fries).
Day Two at Mont Saint-Michel
The last stop on your Normandy excursion is at the island commune of Mont Saint-Michel. Legend has it that the Archangel Michael visited the bishop of Avranches in his sleep and instructed him to build a church atop an island just off the coast of France. Since its construction between the 8th and 9th centuries, the abbey has been a place of pilgrimage, a prison during the French Revolution (basically, France’s version of Alcatraz), and now one of the most visited cultural sites in France.