Paris is gorgeous, but is it really safe to go to these days?
That was my first question when originally planning this 'Paris & Beyond' trip. The past two years or so have really been tough for Paris...It's been the target of several terrorist attacks for a number of seemingly unknown reasons and that should be nerve-wracking for just about everyone.
Obviously, what happened in November of 2015 on the streets or Paris shocked the world, and the attacks themselves were absolutely a travesty...no one should ever have to endure or live with something like that in their capital city. However, with that said, Europe these days is most definitely a different world than it was 10 or even 20 years ago, but for the modern day traveler, what are you supposed to do? Stop traveling?
No. In fact, you should do the exact opposite. The answer is pretty simple, actually: Keep traveling. And here's why.
Numerically, the odds are more in your favor of winning the lottery than landing yourself in one of those situations, but it's more than that. You should keep traveling because the world is limitless in its beauty. You should keep traveling because fear should never keep someone indoors. You should keep traveling because experiences matter over money and the list goes on and on. People who commit those acts of terror are trying to halt the world in its tracks, and its collectively our job to keep pushing forward, keep traveling, building bridges, and break down the barriers that separate each and every one of us.
With all that said, this 'Northwestern Paris' trip was a special one for us to plan. A non-profit group doing research on physical fitness and it's effects on PTSD called, Endurance For Veterans came to VoyEdge RX and asked us to plan a trip around Normandy (Northwestern France) and mix in drop-ins, history, the D-Day Beaches and a few surprises along the way for them, and it was really all our pleasure to do so.
Having been to Paris and some parts of Northwestern France myself, I know there is SO MUCH more to France than Paris, and I personally cannot wait to travel around the countryside and see some of these small towns.
And if you haven't checked out the trip page and read some of the descriptions about each and every one of these places, I highly suggest you do so, or continue reading the blog post as I'll tell you WHY we've included these cities into these epic weeklong trip.
Now, lets dive into the cities on our upcoming 'Northwestern France' tour happening next May18th-27th, 2018. Click the image below to head to the trip page now, or continue reading.
The tour itself kicks off in Paris. And as is the case with all VoyEdge RX tours, flights are on you. But once on the tour, all ground transportation, accommodation, breakfasts, drop-ins, dinners, tours and more are included. And with Paris being as big of a city as it is, that's only the tip of the Iceberg when it comes to this incredible itinerary.
Now, this trip was created in close association with Endurance For Veterans, a non-profit company who we engaged in talks with and ultimately asked us to craft this tour and itinerary for them. E4V focuses on outdoor activities and physical fitness as a means for healing veterans of our military, and we think it's a fantastic cause. Follow them and support them wherever you can!
Now, let's get to the meat and bones of this whole thing....why we chose the cities we chose for this itinerary (and why you need to go to them).
Paris is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's also one of the most densely packed cities, with its own set of issues, but the history, beauty and culture makes the entire trip worth it.
And with this weeklong plus trip, we will be spending our first day after arrival in Paris, with a walking tour, group dinner and hike up the Eiffel Tower. There's really no better way to see Paris than to do it casually. It's not the kind of city you want to be rushing around in, so through the Champs De Elysees, around Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower we'll go on our first day here. Hit some cafes, bars, restaurants and get ready for a packed day 2.
We'll also organize a box drop-in for the late afternoon if you're eager to stretch your legs after the long flight. Reebok CrossFit Louvre looks like a good option for the group as of right now. We'll also look to find an affordable, upscale hotel in the same area to make it convenient to get around.
The Royal Palace of Versailles just may be one of our my favorite places I've ever been. Having only been once myself, I immediately fell in love with the architecture, gold-plated everything and innate French baroque scattered throughout every nook and cranny of the Royal Palace.
It was the home of King Henry the VI, who funded most of the construction himself, and the palace is truly breathtaking. From massive hallways, paintings and the most majestic gardens you've ever seen, we're going to head to the palace in the early morning of Day 2 and spend a few good hours here. It's a quick 35 minute train ride to the town of Versailles and a few minute walk to the gate, but again...it's completely worth it and will easily be one of your new favorite places. Obviously it's a tourist hot spot, but an absolute must-see for anyone going to Paris and beyond.
Fun fact: I loved the French Baroque artwork, I decided to get a 17 hour-long tattoo on my ribs modeled after my experience here at Versailles. Call it crazy, call it dedication, but I fell in love with this place, and it had a lasting imprint on me, literally.
After Versailles, we'll make our way up to Ètretat.
Ètretat is probably the town I am most excited to go to on this trip. Having never been there, I had a blast scouring the internet for the best, off the beaten path places to go to in Normandy. With the drive to Ètretat being about 2.5 hours from Versailles, we'll plan to spend the late afternoon along the 'Chalk Cliffs of Ètretat (pictured above), and holy shit, they look amazing.
Now, I've been a few places in my life, but from the photos I've already seen of Ètretat, you can tell it's a small coastline fishing town with some amazing scenery that not many tourists even get to. If you're French, or from Europe, sure, you might go here, but as an American, do you know anyone that's been to Ètretat? Probably not. Just get the camera ready, and we'll spend through sunset touring the Chalk Cliffs and finding a nice spot for a group dinner for us to relax in and soak in the French spring.
After a few solid hours exploring the cliffs and coast, the group will head 30 minutes south to Le Havre to check in to our accommodations in this massive French port town.
Being only 30 minutes away from Ètretat, I found some very interesting things about Le Havre, other than it being the second biggest shipping town after Marseilles. Ever since the 1500's, Le Havre has been a major fishing point for most Parisians, with fish from all over the world entering into France's second biggest point. Le Havre really flourished in the 1700's as well, but was completely decimated when WW2 came around, and took over 30 years to full restore the city, which also lost a vast number of priceless pieces of artwork that were destroyed in the rubble of many churches and museums.
Anyway, the city of Le Havre itself struck me as a must-see due to its Port. With thousands of shipping containers transferring here, this is a very busy, blue collar town and looks to also have an awesome CrossFit box in CrossFit Le Havre. Which is centered right in the middle of the docks and shipping port. The box itself looks MASSIVE, and I figured our accommodations in Le Havre (since its off the beaten path) would be pretty cheap, and they would probably have some AMAZING seafood there too.
The other interesting thing about Le Havre is the 'brutalist' architecture. With so many of the buildings having been previously destroyed in World War 2, Le Havre was mostly reconstructed in this style (fortress-like) of architecture, and even the churches (picture above) were reassembled with mostly concrete and a severe lack of paint. And whatever Le Havre may lack in culture, it surely makes up for in work ethic.
We'll spend until about 1pm here, then we'll head another 30 minutes south to the more colorful city of Hornfleur.
The port city of Hornfleur was among one of the many cities along the Normandy coastline who earned their place in the history books. And in the modern day, its close proximity to fine beaches, other shipping ports and narrow cobblestone walkways surely provide a welcome atmosphere for travelers of all kinds.
The main port of Honrfleur is decorated by tall apartments with slate roofs and many, many cafes and restaurants to entice you with amazing cuisine. With most of these houses built in the 16th century, the look, the vibe and general atmosphere of Hornfleur looks to be perfectly enticing, as the whole city sits at the top basin of the River Seine. You can even transfer from Hornfleur to the English port city of Portsmouth, but ironically there's no direct link from Paris to Hornfleur, as it sits across the bridge from other cities like Le Havre, and Rouen.
You'll spend half a day here before heading to Caen, but for the most part, Hornfleur is easily walkable, has access to a number of bustling cafes and restaurants and will surely entice you from the picturesque (and impossibly tall houses), as well as the Hornfleur Palace, just outside the port area and number of shopping districts and farmers markets. If you didn't like Le Havre much, you're going to LOVE Hornfleur. Trust me on this one.
After our free afternoon in Le Havre, we'll depart an hour to the west for the city of Caen! The first city liberated in the Allied Invasion from the D-Day beaches of Normandy.
Caen was the site of a major battle between the Germans and Allied forces in 1944, known as the 'Battle For Caen,' in which nearly 100% of the city was destroyed. In the modern day though, Caen is a medium-sized city with plenty to do, see and explore through.
Since its reconstruction, modern day Caen houses about 108,000 people, while the city proper is home to nearly 400,000 people and is the second largest city in Normandy, after Rouen. Again, the city is filled with flower beds, an active buzz and centered at the end of a river and is decorated with tons of incredible things to see.
Caen is also known for it's incredible architecture, perfectly aligned piazzas and of course, the Memorial de Caen, which you will be going to (ticket paid for by VoyEdge RX) in the early morning after a drop- in to CrossFit Caen.
You'll have the morning to explore Caen, the churches, castles and more before we depart up to Bayeux (20 minute train ride) to start our D-Day Beaches tour and head back to Bayeux, where we'll stay the night. And with all these towns being nearly 20 minutes away from one another, this jam-packed day should be the highlight of the trip. Especially once we get to the beaches.
Bayuex is a small town of about 16,000 people just nearly 20 minutes north of Caen, and about 4 kilometers from the English Channel. It's a major tourist attraction for French and English people due to the Bayeux Tapestry, that commemorate the Norman Conquest of English in the 11th century.
The town itself will not take that long to explore, but it will serve as our accommodations for the night and lunch tour for the D-Day beaches (which will last about 6-8 hours) and we'll make our way back to the hotel for the night to enjoy this quaint town and head off to the Chateau De Balleroy and Mont Saint-Michel tomorrow.
THE D-DAY BEACHES
The Allied Invasion of Normandy was the largest, coordinated ground assault ever witnessed in modern history and boasts an enormous amount of memorials and scenes to see. I personally think it will be the most emotionally charged aspect of the trip and is something EACH and EVERY American should go visit.
From what I've read thus far, you really only need half a day to scour the beaches and memorials. No more, no less is needed as every second of being there brings a lot of emotion to be felt. This is the thing I am looking forward to most, as I'm beginning to get the chills just event thinking about going here. From the tours I've looked into, we'll depart from Bayeux in a comfortable, air-conditioned minivan and travel along the picturesque Norman coast to Pointe du Hoc, a German battery devastated by US soldiers on D-Day.
From the tour operator themselves:
Listen as your guide offers fascinating narration of the bloody battles that occurred here, and then capture photographs of fortification remnants blown to pieces by destructive bombs. Return to the vehicle for the short drive to Omaha Beach and delve into the dramatic procession of D-Day events that unfolded on this beach. Stop at two points at either end of the sandy stretch to appreciate the scale of the expanse and then head to Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial to pay tribute to fallen American soldiers. Feel emotionally stirred as you stroll around Europe’s largest American cemetery and then venture to the Normandy American Cemetery Visitor Center to enrich your knowledge of the region’s history. Browse exhibits that speak eloquently of the events that took place on Omaha Beach; listen to personal stories, narrative texts and interactive displays and appreciate the insightful nature of the museum.
Read more about Normandy Beaches Half-Day Trip from Bayeux | Viator at: https://www.viator.com/tours/Bayeux/Normandy-Beaches-Half-Day-Trip-from-Bayeux/d909-3193NSTB?pub=vcps
At the end of the tour, the group will head back to Bayeux for the night to recoup and prepare for a trip to Chateau de Balleroy and Mont Saint-Michele.
CHATEAU DE BALLEROY
The Chateau de Balleroy sits on 400 acres of gardens and wonderfully pristine land. And after visiting the D-Day beaches, it's going to be a nice change of pace too.
It really first caught my attention as the place to go, since King Henry IV used it as a wine producing summer home on the Normandy coast and the reviews of the tour have been excellent. It's also been a tourist hot spot, with Mick Jagger, President Ronald Reagan and more having been here.
There's a small cafe, a hot air balloon and guided tour and walk through the vineyards in the back. Personally, I think it's going to be a cool pit stop after the beaches, Caen and Bayeux. You can read up on the Chateau a little bit more here as well.
Next stop, UNESCO World Heritage Sit: Mont Saint-Michele
Mont Saint-Michel is the second most visited tourist attraction in all of France, after Paris - and rightly so. This place is incredible. Located just a kilometer off the coast of France, it was originally built as an abbey for monks, and then later used as a prison under King Henry the VI and has a population of only 50 people today...
There is only one walkable road into Mont Saint-Michel and the connection has changed over centuries....it used to only be accessible during low tide, and has only recently (well, 1879) formed a permanently dry causeway. The Mont itself used to be a strategic defense fortification to prevent England from attacking France, where Mont Saint-Michele later remained unconquered in the hundred years war, where the Mont successfully fought off a large attack by the English in 1433. The entire place has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979 and it's an incredible place to see with your own eyes.
Being just about an hour and a half from the Chateau de Balleroy, we will spend the afternoon touring through the Mont, which is home to about fifty shops and plenty of restaurants and a few, very expensive hotels.
When we're done here, we'll head up north to Granville (about 45 minutes) to stay in what's known as the 'Monaco of the North.'
Granville really caught my eye as a prime destination to hit on this trip because of its nickname, 'Monaco of the North.' With a rocky coast and population of about 15,000 people, Granville looks to be a prime destination to hang out and relax after a few days of moving around.
With a small port, CrossFit Box, and plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes, and the ability to go for a sunset tour around the coast, we'll spend the night here and focus on having a good time. You can even see Mont Saint-Michel from the coast here as well. If you want to read up on Granville, you can here as well.
Another place to go to that caught my eye was the city of the city of Rennes, France. A quaint town of 200,000 people that was almost nearly destroyed in a fire in 1720 and then was rebuilt from the wooden remnants of the city.
Much of modern Rennes is lined with half timber, half stone houses which are brightly lit at night by a plethora of street lights, giving it a charming and amazing vibe. A river also runs through the town and is the administrative city of the French Region of Brittany, where a museum dedicated to the Roman, English and even Celtic origins in the area. With a number of universities as well, the population tends to skew a bit young and is lively with a ton of cafes, restaurants and should be the perfect day trip after being up in the northern coast of Normandy.
Wanna work out in Rennes? We got you covered with BZH CrossFit.
There's a ton of offices and businesses here, so expect an awesome walking tour with plenty of shopping and sightseeing as well. We'll head here (about an hour and a half) after waking up and working out in Granville, France. You'll have from about noon to dinner time in Rennes, then off to Le Mans!
Rennes is also touted as the best city in France for expats to live. Why is that? Cheap rent, local airport with international flights, awesome public transportation and amazing green space (voted one of France's greenest cities) Read more about it here.
Ever heard of the '24 hours in Le Mans'? The city of Le Mans is one of the world's oldest active sports care race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923 near the town of Le Mans, France. IT's one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world and is often called the "Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency." The event represents one leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, the other being the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix. The Le Mans race is organized by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) and runs on the Circuit de la Sarthe, which contains a mix of closed public roads and a specialist racing circuit, in which racing teams have to balance speed with the cars' ability to race for 24 hours without sustaining mechanical damage and has spawned copycat races all over the globe.
It's held annually every June and brings thousands of tourists to Le Mans and the surrounding communities. And even though we won't be here for it, we'll see the fortifications and race preparations going on while we're here.
Pretty interesting, eh? Le Mans is a cool place, and when I learned about the race, I knew it'd be a cool city to check out after Granville and Rennes. Plus, the architecture in Le Mans is pretty damn interested. With a well preserved old town (see above) the Cathedral of St. Julien and Arboretum de la Grand Prèe are absolute must-sees. Plus, Le Mans also used to be a Roman fortress town, so get excited to see the 2,000 year old walls surrounding the city, where some outdoor baths can still be seen. The walls are also lit up during the summer months for tourists to see, and boards are put up detailing the history of Le Mans since ancient Roman times as well.
If you want to read up more on 'Le Mans' scope out the full wikipedia page here and get excited for a night and morning here! Wanna WOD when you wake up? We have you covered with an optional drop-in to CrossFit Le Mans. Explore the city, get a good night sleep and get ready for some French National Parks tomorrow.
PARQUE DU NATUREL de perche
The Perche Regional Park of France is just an hour away from France and about 40 minutes away from Le Mans. After waking up in the morning in Le Mans and exploring a bit, we're going to head to this Regional Park and spend the day exploring the rolling foothills, Medieval manors and lush green pastures. While the regional park is full of horses, farms and vineyards, it's very much a relaxing place (with little WiFi) so you'll be able to get attune to nature a bit more than the rest of the cities we've ventured through thus far. With fresh food sourced from local farms, you'll be in for a treat, as we'll spend all afternoon sifting through manor villages, tight-knit castles, old villages, lakes, foothills, walking paths and more. You can rent a bike, picnic and so much more here.
You will spend the night here, before heading back to Paris for a free day and to catch your flight tomorrow, so enjoy the final day here and I'd highly suggest going for a horse ride. Those are some truly incredible beasts...
Read a bit more about the Perche from the France-Voyage.com page below.
Le Perche Regional Nature Park (Parc Naturel Régional du Perche) is horse breeding country. It spans 182,000 hectares and two départements, the Orne in Normandie and the Eure-et-Loir in Centre-Val de Loire. Comprising countryside alternating between forests, hedged farmland, meadows and gentle hills dotted with old manor houses, fortified farms and typical villages, the park is a popular destination for nature lovers and fans of traditional architecture. It is also a paradise for horse riding enthusiasts with its many studs, riding centres and footpaths.
The park visitor centre (Maison du Parc) in Nocé, housed in the elegant Manoir de Courboyer and its outbuildings, features an exhibition on the history of Le Perche and a tourist information centre. The 87-kilometre tourist discovery trail departing from Nocé is a good way of exploring Le Perche's most beautiful manor houses.
No doubt Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world. And when you arrive back here, you'll see it and feel it. Nothing makes you appreciate Paris more than traveling elsewhere in France, at least I believe. Yes, it's packed, crowded, rather expensive, but the history, and allure....French History was one of my favorite things to read about (and by read about, I mean play video games like Assassin's Creed: Unity) because of its complexity. From the French Revolution, to the American Revolution, Hundred Years War, WW1, WW2 and so much more...France is full of stories and has been one of the pinnacle civilizations in the modern world.
That being said, after we awake in the Park du Perche, we'll head back to France. You should aim to book your return flight for this trip in the afternoon, so you can have some time to explore France, but we will cater to the group and do multiple drop-offs, or pay for your cab/train/bus to the airport to head home in time.
For this tour, we'll also have an option to book an extra night in Paris, in case you want to stay and explore more of the surrounding area (highly recommended) and can be checked off at check out for this trip.
All in all, I hope you see the majestic beauty and effort we put into this trip. Sourcing small, off the beaten path towns and cities to tour through in just over a week was no easy feat. I think our team at VoyEdge RX is really interested in uncovering the places you don't hear about, because it's so often that those are the places you'll have the most memories from. Whether it's using hand signals to cite your points to someone who speaks no English, or having a fresh-sourced meal right off the cliffs you're standing on...it's the things you won't expect that will have a lasting return on you for the rest of your life.
And whether you choose to come on this trip or not, I hope you continue pushing yourself, your limits, and travel to the most exciting places you can. Life is about experience, other people, learning and listening....not material goods.
Till next time people...shoot me an email with questions, comments and concerns here. I'm even happy to set you up with a custom promo code if you can't wait to get on this trip. Just hit me up at: Cam@voyedgeRX.com and check out the trip page below.
Veterans....Endurance For Veterans is subsidizing the cost of your flights to go on this tour. Please contact Robert Estrada at: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
Put down your $300 deposit and save your spot here!
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