France, in Western Europe, encompasses medieval cities, alpine villages,
sumptuous chateaux, and many renowned wine countries. As one of the largest
countries in Europe, France covers an area of 551,695 km2
(213,011 sq mi) in European regions and has a total population of over 68
million (estimated in 2023). France has a rich history, and retains
its centuries-long status as a global center of art, science and philosophy.
It hosts the fifth-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the
world's leading tourist destination, receiving over 89 million foreign
visitors in 2018.
Getting there ...
|We went to SFO early so we
could have a lunch at the
restaurant in the
UA Polaris Lounge (we never had enough time to sit in the
restaurant before). When we walked toward our gate, we saw the
Air Force One parked
at the far end of the airport. It was a
smooth flight from SFO to
IAD and continued from IAD to CDG (with ~ 2 hours of layover).
It's about 2PM (on 6/21, 2nd day already) when we got our rental and
ready to embark our 20-day journey through France.
consisted of a few parts: 1) northern France with the focus on
military interests including the Battle of the Somme (WWI), Normandy
Landing (WWII), and
(the main trigger of this entire trip), 2)
Loire Valley with magnificent French
Chateaux, 3) Bordeaux region
for famous French wine and vineyards, 4)
French Alps with majestic snowcapped peaks and dramatic
landscapes, and 5) Burgundy and
Champagne for more wines
(including Champagne) and some medieval abbeys. We would stay
in local villages, vineyards, cabins, chateaux/castles, and actually
did not plan to go to any big cities in this trip.
[Somme & Normandy] [Loire Valley & Bordeaux]
[French Alps] [Burgundy & Champagne]
Day 2 (6/21) ...
Museum of the Great War, Péronne
The Museum of the Great War, located near the heart of the World War I
Somme battlefields, is housed within the Château de Péronne. Péronne
was under German occupation during the war, and inhabitants of it suffered
a lot because their town was almost completely destroyed. The
museum looks mostly at the Great War (WWI), and the years just before and
just after. It is the biggest museum in Europe about the First World
- Rancourt Military Cemetery
Rancourt has the sad privilege of
hosting 3 military cemeteries: one German, one British, and the largest
French necropolis on the Somme. At the heart of the necropolis is the
chapel, Chapelle du Souvenir Français.
This memorial, managed today
by the 'Souvenir Français', is the place of Remembrance for French
troops who fought in the Battle of the Somme. Surrounding it is the
largest French war cemetery in the Somme. It bears witness to the
terrible fighting that took place in the final 3 months of the offensive
We drove a short distance to the German cemetery
site, which has a totally different style but the same solemn feeling.
The Battle of
the Somme took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides
of the upper reaches of the river Somme in France. More than three
million men fought in the battle, of whom one million were either wounded or
killed, making it one of the deadliest battles in all of human history
(almost 60,000 casualties suffered by the British on the first day alone in
the Somme on July 1st). A side note: during the Battle of the
Somme in October 1916 Hitler received a wound in his left thigh when a shell
After a short break at our
chateau hotel, we drove to
Amiens (about 20-min drive) for dinner. It happened June 21st is
Day" (Fête de la Musique) in France. Launched in 1982 in Paris
by the Ministry of Culture with the aim of bringing down to the streets
the five million French who played a musical instrument, now over 120
countries (and over 1,000 cities) participate in Fête de la musique
across the world. It's a good chance for us to see the vibrant
side of France especially in front of the Amiens Cathedral, the largest
Gothic cathedral in France (200,000 cubic meters, large enough to
contain two cathedrals the size of Notre Dame of Paris!)
- Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux
we went to the memorial and cemetery at
Villers-Bretonneux for sunset. This imposing memorial, standing at the end of
a vast cemetery, pays tribute to the Australian soldiers who perished
during the Great War. It was in Villers-Bretonneux that they finally
halted the German offensive in April 1918.
Day 3 (6/22) ...
Chateau de Contay
We walked around the chateau in the early morning
to enjoy the quiet and beautiful ground and garden.
- Poppy Fields
The poppy is a symbol of Remembrance and hope,
including hope for a positive future and peaceful world. Many WWI
battle fields are covered in poppies today with many
legendary stories and poems. We came across a large field with
blooming poppies and it was a perfect way to start our
Remembrance Trail for the Battle of the Somme.
Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont-Hamel
The memorial at
Beaumont-Hamel gives you a moving and realistic idea of what the
fighting must have been like, thanks to a remarkably well preserved
system of trenches. The 74-acre (300,000 m2) preserved
battlefield park encompasses the grounds over which the Newfoundland
Regiment (Canadian Army) made their unsuccessful attack on 1 July
1916 during the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It
started to rain when we walked around the fields and trenches, and
it made us really feel the mood and sadness of the war.
- Thiepval Memorial
Memorial at Thiepval, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves
Commission (CWGC), is the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the
world. Standing 45 meters high, this monument bears the
names of the more than 72,000
British and South African soldiers, killed on Somme battlefields before
March 1918, who have no known grave.
- Le Tommy Cafe
Le Tommy Cafe is a simple restaurant decorated with
WWI theme and has a "museum" with trenches in its backyard. It's
not a fancy place, but it serves good food and good purposes in the
- Since it was still raining, we decided to skip other WWI memorials
and moved on to our next place. When we checked in our
apartment (right next to the Paris Airport - Le Bourget), we could
see some airplanes take practice runs from our balcony on the 4th floor.
Day 4 & 5 (6/23 & 6/24) ...
Paris Airshow is the largest air
show and aerospace-industry exhibition event in the world.
First held in 1909, the Paris Airshow was held every odd year from 1949
to 2019, when the 53rd Air Show attracted 2,453 exhibitors from 49
countries and occupied more than 125,000 square meters. It was
cancelled in 2021 due to COVID, and the airshow returned for the first
time after the pandemic on 19-25 of June 2023.
I had been
planning to come to see the Paris Airshow for years, and finally we made
it as part of our France tour this year. The apartment is very
close to the airport (1.5km according to Google map). But due to
some road closure and blockage, we needed to walk around a longer route
to get to the airshow entrance.
Woanyu decided to stay in the apartment on the 2nd
day (6/24) so she drove me to the airshow (close to the entrance) to save
me some walking distance. It turned out she got quite a few good
video footage of some flight demos right from our apartment balcony.
Day 6 (6/25) ...
We started to drive to the Normandy
region in the early morning. Caen is known for its
historical buildings built during the reign of William the Conqueror
(1028-1087). Heavy fighting that took place in and around
Caen during the Battle of Normandy in 1944, destroyed much of the city.
We walked from the Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey) to the Château de
Caen (Castle) through the quiet streets in Caen (it's Sunday morning).
- Mémorial de Caen
The Mémorial de Caen is a museum and
war memorial, dedicated to the history of
violence and intensive, outstanding conflicts in the 20th Century and
particularly World War II and the Battle of Normandy.
Located beneath the Mémorial de Caen museum, the command post of General
Richter, commander of the 716th German Infantry Division, played a
crucial role during the Occupation and the Battle of Normandy.
With its coalface back to the sea and the thickness of the rock, the
70-meter long and 3-meter high tunnel structure was well protected from
- Radar Museum 1944
Through a permanent exhibition in two refurbished bunkers, visitors can
discover the history of the radar station since its creation by the
Germans in 1943 until the liberation during the Battle of Normandy.
All the radars on the site were destroyed during the fighting. The
radar presented today comes from another station, where Professor Yves
Rocard, father of French radio-astronomy, had recovered it to make a
radio-telescope. In the early 1990s, the city of Caen and the
Memorial acquired the radar, and ensured its identical restoration and
its installation in the Radar Museum of Dover, created in 1994 on the
occasion of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The
Würzburg-Riese (Giant) radar, thanks to its parabola 8 meters in
diameter, can track aircraft up to 80 kilometers. 1500 copies were
produced during the war.
Different from other "general" war museums,
this small but special museum with detail restoration work was my
favorite museum in Normandy.
- Juno Beach
Juno Beach was one of five beaches of the Allied
invasion in the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 (5
beaches from the east to west: Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, and Utah).
Taking Juno was the responsibility of the First Canadian Army, with sea
support provided by the Royal Canadian Navy and the British Royal Navy.
- British Normandy Memorial
The British Normandy Memorial records the names of the 22,442 servicemen
and women under British command who fell on D-Day and during the Battle
of Normandy in the summer of 1944. This includes people from more than
30 different countries. On 6 June 2021, the 77th anniversary of
D-Day, an historic moment took place as the Memorial was officially
Gold Beach & Mulberry Harbour
Mulberry harbours were two
temporary portable harbours assembled off Omaha Beach (Mulberry "A") and
Gold Beach (Mulberry "B") during the Second World War to facilitate the
rapid offloading of cargo onto beaches during the Allied invasion of
Normandy. The still only partially-completed Mulberry A harbour at
Omaha Beach was damaged on 19 June by a violent storm. After three
days the storm finally abated and damage was found to be so severe that
the harbour had to be abandoned. The Mulberry B harbour at Gold
Beach was used for 10 months after D-Day, and over 2.5 million men,
500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of supplies were landed before it
was fully decommissioned. We went up to an observation point at
Arromanches to overlook the Gold Beach and Mulberry
Harbour from the hill above.
We drove inland to the small town Bayeux, the first major
town secured by the Allies during Operation Overlord. However, the
main purpose to visit Bayeux is not WWII related, but to visit another
war story happened about 1,000 years ago led by
William the Conqueror. The
Tapestry is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 meters (230 feet) long
and 50 centimeters (20 inches) tall that depicts the events leading up
to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, led by William, Duke of
Normandy challenging Harold II, King of England, and culminating in the
Battle of Hastings. The audio guide is very nicely designed to
tell the story along the scenes from the tapestry. Although the
photo is not allowed inside the museum, we still enjoyed the visit and
story very much.
- Omaha Beach
After a light dinner at Bayeux, we moved to the
Omaha Beach where our hotel room was just right beside the beach.
Day 7 (6/26) ...
- Omaha Beach
I walked to the Omaha Beach for the sunrise. It
was a calm and tranquil morning to take a stroll on the beach.
It's really hard to imagine that at the similar hour (6:30AM) on June 6,
1944, the most bloodiest Normandy landing happened here at such a
beautiful and peaceful beach. An accurate figure for
casualties at Omaha on June 6 is not known; between 5,000 and over 6,000
American soldiers were killed, wounded, and missing. The
German 352nd division suffered 1,200 killed, wounded and missing; about
20% of its strength.
- WN 65
WN 65 is a concrete casemate located in the center of Omaha
Beach. The casemate housed a 50mm anti-tank gun which is still
present today. After it's capture on D-Day it became the first
American Headquarters on Omaha Beach. We took a trail behind the
bunker to a hill which has a nice view of the beach below.
- Normandy American Cemetery
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is located on a bluff
overlooking Omaha Beach, on the site of the temporary American St.
Laurent Cemetery, established by the U.S. First Army on June 8, 1944 as
the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. The
cemetery site, at the north end of its half mile access road, covers
172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 of our military dead, most
of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.
- Overlord Museum
This museum tells the story of World War II from the period of the
Allied beach landings to the liberation of Paris. Started in the
1970s almost by chance by Michel Leloup (1929-2011), the Leloup
collection was built through hard work over nearly half a century. The
volume, diversity and quality of the material exhibited in the museum
are, to date, of an unequaled richness. Open on June 5,
2013, the arrangement in the interior is in the style of large dioramas,
which allow objects to be shown in contemporary real environments (like
my hobby to build airplane models but in 1:1 scale).
- Pointe du Hoc
Pointe du Hoc is a 100-foot cliff and the highest
point between Omaha and Utah Beach. Prior to the invasion of
Normandy, the German army fortified the area with concrete casemates and
gun pits. U.S. Army Rangers, 2nd Ranger Battalion, were
assigned to capture and disable the German six 155mm guns after scaling
the cliffs, a successful mission which was deemed impossible. At
the end of the two-day action, the initial Ranger landing force of 225+
was reduced to about 90 fighting men. When walking around
the concrete casemates, you can see uneven hilly landscapes which are
actually hundreds of bomb craters.
- Maisy Battery
Maisy Battery is a group of World War II artillery batteries constructed
in secret by the German during 1942/1943. Prior to D-Day,
the battery had been recorded as the second highest D-Day target in the
Omaha Sector group of fortifications, but the exact location had been
lost from later records. The site was completely buried and
forgotten after the war. British military historian Gary Sterne
rediscovered Maisy Battery in January 2004, based on a hand-drawn map in
the pocket of a US Army veteran's uniform he had bought. Maisy
Battery is now open to the public after being buried for over 60 years.
You can walk through 2km of original German trenches and explore WWII
- La Cambe German Cemetery
La Cambe German Cemetery is actually the
largest cemetery in all of Normandy, France with a total grave count
over 21,000. In the center of the cemetery is a
mound-shaped mass grave
holding the never-identified remains of almost 300 German soldiers.
Unlike Allied cemeteries, the crosses and headstones are of a dark tone,
creating a setting which is simple and sober.
- Utah Beach
Utah Beach is the westernmost beach of the five
landing areas of the Normandy Invasion. D-Day at Utah began
at 01:30, when the first of the airborne units arrived. Infantry
and tanks landed in four waves beginning at 06:30 and quickly secured
the immediate area with minimal casualties. The 4th Infantry
Division landed 21,000 troops on Utah at the cost of only 197
casualties. Airborne troops arriving by parachute and glider numbered an
additional 14,000 men, with 2,500 casualties.
After finished our visits to WWII memorials, we
drove to another main attraction in Normandy: Mont-Saint-Michel.
Mont-Saint-Michel is a tidal island and mainland commune in Normandy.
The island lies approximately one kilometer from land, made it
accessible at low tide, and defensible as the incoming tide stranded
would-be assailants. For centuries it is one of Europe’s major
pilgrimage destinations. Today this holy island is now a UNESCO
World Heritage Site, as is its breathtaking bay.
Unfortunately it was getting too cloudy to have any
splendid color at sunset (I walked more than 3km to wait for sunset...).
Day 8 (6/27) ...
I went to the
bridge (Barrage du Mont Saint Michel) for sunrise. For a brief
period of 2-3 minutes, the sky turned purple orange with layers of
dark/heavy cloud that made some quite unique photo opportunities.
After a quick breakfast in the hotel room, we took one of the earliest
shuttle bus (7:30AM) to the island. When we got to the island,
there were still no other tourists (there were about 10 people from the
same shuttle bus) and we could take pictures at the gate without anyone
else. Our visits (yesterday afternoon/evening and this morning)
were both at low tide (high tide was at about 1:30AM) so we could not
have the chance to see the island surrounded by the sea.
The legend of the
Mont-Saint-Michel begins in 708 when Bishop Aubert received, during his
sleep, three times the order from Saint Michael to erect an oratory on the
Mont Tombe, which was renamed Mont-Saint-Michel au péril de la Mer ("Mount
Saint Michael at the peril of the sea") in 710 after an oratory was erected
to Saint Michael. From 966 onwards, the dukes of Normandy,
followed by the French kings, supported the development of a major
Benedictine abbey on Mont-Saint-Michel. Magnificent monastic buildings were
added throughout the Middle Ages. The Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel
became a renowned center of learning, attracting some of the greatest minds
and manuscript illuminators in Europe, and the abbey was also a fortress of
the Duchy of Normandy during the Middle Ages. During the Hundred
Years War, the Mount underwent an English siege from 1423 and emerged
victorious in 1434, it then became a symbol of victory for the kingdom of
After the visit to the abbey, we had a nice lunch
(crepe with strawberry) at a restaurant in the small village below the
abbey. The narrow street was packed with tourists already.
After the lunch, we were ready to move on to the next part of our France
journey: Loire Valley.
Somme & Normandy] [Loire Valley & Bordeaux]
[French Alps] [Burgundy & Champagne]
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