A budget trip to the D-Day landing beaches of Normandy with geocaching days out proved to be the perfect family holiday
The push and pull of family interests
Many years has passed since my husband first watched the epic series Band of Brothers and like many who sat in revered silence, he too couldn’t wait to walk in the footsteps of US ‘101st Airbourne Division’. Our children, me included, were not too enamoured about the prospect of spending hours treading carefully and quietly around cemeteries, but when I suggested we have a spot of geocaching; (treasure hunting using a GPS) whilst in Normandy, this soon made the trip a reality.
Along with most families in England, the credit crunch had an impact on our style of holiday, so spending a fortune on luxury hotels and expensive days out was not an option. Our budget, in total, was approx 600Euros, so the only cost effective way for us to visit Normandy during the October school holidays, was to use the Channel Tunnel and stay for a week on a holiday park.
Static caravans? Surely not?
We booked a static 'Excelence' caravan in Domaine de Litteau through the British company, Siblu costing approximately 350 Euros. This, along with the Channel Tunnel of 130 Euros (return), would have taken up more than two thirds of our budget. However, due to some great deals and supermarket coupons, we reduced this to a staggering 55 Euros in total. The only extra we had to pay was approx 25 Euros in road tolls from Calais to Normandy, but these were easily paid en-route via the automated credit/debit card toll booths.
Not being a fan of the all-action packed ‘Butlins’ type holiday parks back home in blighty, Siblu, "French for holidays"; as the tag line goes, was a real eye opener. Domaine de Litteau was a small charming site, with its granite walled farmhouse and cafe/restaurant, it resembled a stage set from the TV series Allo Allo. As it was end of October, little entertainment was on the site agenda, however we did notice children braving the elements in the outside (but enclosed) heated swimming pool. The static caravans were very modern including decked terraces, patio furniture, BBQ’, and well equipped including English plug sockets, hairdryer and ‘welcome box’ containing tea, coffee and milk.
Walking in the footsteps of the 'Braves'
Domaine de Litteau is situated very near Saint-Lô and this makes it an excellent base to rainbow out of around the Normandy Peninsular on a daily basis. The coastline of the D-Day Landings has a host of famous names and places to visit including Omaha and Utah beaches and Arromanche’s floating harbour. What I thought would be a ‘Disney Land’ attraction, was in fact, a hauntingly stark but beautiful stretch of coastline, where towns and villages still pay humbled tribute to those who laid down their lives to liberate them.
Places such as St. Mere Eglise, which still has a WWII Parachute hanging from the church steeple; Chouain, south-east of Bayeux, where resides the smallest British cemetery in France, and Longues-sur-Mer, where a German battery still flanks the headland, gradually rusting in the sea breeze in un-glorified fashion.
However, what took me by surprise the most was although the many museums and souvenir shops across the region are profiting from its history, the State isn’t. In England, wherever you stop, there is always a parking ticket to be purchased, whereas along these infamous beaches and areas of tribute, parking was free, access to the sites was unrestricted and good picnic facilities, or indeed municipal camping grounds, were situated a ‘stone’s throw away’ from such poignant reminders of the past.
Does X really mark the spot?
The children remained respectfully silent in cemeteries and careful when exploring the bomb blasted headland of Pointe-du-Hoc, but when it was time for geocaching we let them run wild. Using our laptop and 3G card, we were able to check online on a daily basis which geocaches to hunt for (www.geocaching.com). The area is peppered with hidden ‘caches’, many of which are WWII themed and locate the position of something of interest such as a viewpoint or monument. Some treasures are as surprising as the narrow lanes and tiny hamlets which need to be negotiated to find the cache location. One such find was on the outskirts of Cerisy-La-Forêt. Here, near the grounds of the XI Century Abbey stood an array of recently carved contemporary marble sculptures dotting the landscape like lost souls.
A further hunt was made on a day trip to the beautiful city of Bayeux. The main focus of the day was a trip to see the Bayeux Tapestry (www.tapisserie-bayeux.fr) which was incredibly good value at 15 euros for two adults (children under 10 go free) and this included the use of a 'mobile phone' walking tour of the tapestry (available in various languages). While in the city a further 'cache' beckoned, which took us to the small peaceful cemetery of Memorial des Reporters (www.prixbayeux.org/index.php?id=46), where 2,000 journalists killed on duty worldwide since 1944 are remembered in a dedicated park.
To celebrate our frugal activities during the week, while in Bayeax we splashed out for a meal in Restaurant Il Bellagio (46 R. St Jean, 14400, Bayeux; 08 99 78 79 74) opposite the main entrance to the museum. Here, the formula meal was around 16 euros per head, 7 euros for children. The food and service was superb consisting of good quality fresh fish and plenty of it too.
During the week, we watched our money like a hawk, only spending when absolutely necessary on picnic food and obligatory alcohol. However, by bringing the contents of our food cupboards with us from England, shopping wisely in the supermarkets and picnicking daily, our total food costs for the week were 123 euros.
For me, France has three charms: her people, landscape and food. Stunning, sparsely populated swathes of countryside, courteous shopkeepers, and food which is still reasonably priced but a delight on the taste buds...and all of this on a very low cost holiday.