Eurfirst Trip to Caen, France
Updated December 18, 2006
Caen was once the home of William the Conqueror, who seized control of England in 1066. But most tourists who arrive in Caen now come to celebrate not the success of its famed warrior but to remember the great battles on the nearby shores in World War II
Located in the north of France, a short drive from Paris, Caen, is a great starting point to visit the beaches where the D-Day Invasions occurred and to stroll the cemetaries that honor the sacrifices made in the war.
The principal attractions in Caen are linked to William the Conqueror, who built the impressive Chateau Ducal. Over time, it has been expanded, modified, destroyed and rebuilt, reflecting the significance of the structure as a strategic location in Normandie. Nearby, there are two building, the Men's Abbey and Women's Abbey. In the church of the Holy Trinity in the Women's Abbey, Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, mother of two kings of England and grandmother of another king of England, is interred. For eight centuries, the Women's Abbey offered sanctuary to women of the region. The Men's Abbey also played a prominent role in the life of the city despite its repeated destruction during attempts to sieze the city.
The town suffered great damage during 1944 as Allied soldiers battled German troops for control of Normandy. Much of the architecture of the town has been rebuilt as it was centuries ago. As you wander the streets of the old town, you will see buildings dating back to the 10th Century next to more modern designs. Beyond the walls of the old city, Caen is a modern city with the conveniences you'd expect to find in any European city.
North of the city, in rolling farmland that appears as lush and green as it was when Allied soldiers liberated the country, is Le Memorial de Caen. The memorial is a moving tribute to the events that led to the war in Europe and a prayer to work for peace. The museum combines still exhibits with multimedia presentations to explain how France found itself involved in the second world war of the century. Allow about 3 hours to adequately absorb the presentation.
From the museum, it is a short drive to the beaches where the British and American soldiers landed. The recommended route starts in the city of Bayeux and heads to the town of St. Lo. If you begin in Bayeux, you may also want to see the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most amazing pieces of needlework in the world. The tapestry recounts the history that leads to the battle of Hastings and William's victory over Harold.
The World War II sites in Bayeux include a war museum, the largest British soldier cemetary and a memorial to Charles de Gaulle. For many Americans, the most poignant stop is at Colleville-sur-mer where the American Cemetary honors thousands of soldiers, including George Patton. For more information on planning a tour of the war memorials and museums, go to www.normandiememoire.com
There are many reasonably priced hotel options in Caen and the small cities nearby. We stayed in the ETAP in Caen, conveniently located near the train station.