There were a lot of whirlwind tours leaving from Paris that did most of the top Normandy sites in a day...but the thing is you didn't really SEE anything and you spent half the day driving to/from Paris in a crowded bus. Couple that with the fact that many of the tour buses would just drive by the major sites, often without stopping the bus and you have a pretty awful sightseeing tour.
After a little research The Boy found the PERFECT tour, D Day 1994 Tours, run by an English couple (Ben + Jaye) who have lived in Normandy for years. Best of all we would travel up from Paris on our own by train and stay in Ben + Jaye's manoir house that dates back from the 1550s! Even better than the tours are private so we didn't have to share our tour with anyone else. The weekend cost us 600 Euros which I think is pretty reasonable.
I have to say I loved this tour which surprised me. I knew I'd like the countryside but had no idea I'd find the "war bits" themselves so interesting. I think this is a credit to Ben who has researched many of the personal stories of soldiers than fought in his immediate area. He brings the individual element to the tour which makes it much more accessible.
Along with details of the major battles, and seeing the major battlefields, we also learned about individuals who fought during D Day, their lives, their families and their deaths rather than just "on this day xxx happened". He also had piles of photos of soldiers taken on the actual spots where we were standing - mainly just happy snaps taken by the soldiers themselves - which was amazing to see! It made it all very real and relatable for me. I actually learned quite a bit on this tour. Yep, really.
Of course touring is hard and hungry work so we had a quick lunch stop overlooking Omaha Beach. I had a croque monsieur (my first ever and it was fantastic) and in honour of the Americans who fought on Omaha Beach The Boy had a cheeseburger...with fries.
An unexpected highlight of the stay with Ben + Jaye (for me) was the food. Whilst Ben was out touring around with us, Jaye was busy in the kitchen making us a wonderful feast. The food she cooked for us during both nights of our trip was WONDERFUL and it really highlighted the seasonal nature of French cooking. We came home from our tour to find Jaye pouring over cookbooks as the seasons were changing and she was looking for new ways to cook the next seasons ingredients. Fantastic! Whilst we have seasonality at home it's not as evident as it is in France. Once something is out of season that's it....it's gone of the shelves until next year.
Dinner on day one was a wonderful rock melon salad with feta, tomatoes and mint (yum), a very French dish Salmon en Papillote (salmon cooked in a bag) and stone fruit with ice cream for dessert. I loved these dishes so much that I'm going to make them at home (Jaye kindly gave me the recipe for the salmon so watch this space).
Dinner on day two was also great - we started off trying some of the local apple cider (apples are big business in Normandy) and it was so tasty I think we just about polished off the entire bottle.
Our entree was an amazing twice-baked Roquefort soufflés. Oh boy, this was GOOD! Main meal was another traditional French winner, beef daube (beef stew with red wine for which I also brought home a recipe for) and we took a trip to the UK for dessert with a delectable sticky toffee pudding. I was also joined during dinner by their lovely dog Saffy. Sorry Saffy, Miss Piggy never drops her food on the floor (or almost never).
We finished the day with Ben loading up his canon (he has an impressive personal collection of military artifacts, many found locally, including this canon that he built himself) for The Boy to fire. They then spent 10 minutes trying to find where the canon ball went - but I think this rates as one of the highlights of the WHOLE trip for The Boy!
All in all it was a great tour that I would highly recommend to anyone...even to history imbeciles like me.
You can find out more information on the D Day 1944 Tours here.