Itinerary: 4 Days/3 Nights in Courchevel with Crystal Ski

 

Ah, skiing. There’s something about the mountains, the snow, and the feel of sitting in a chair lift as you climb up to sights unseen that never gets old. Since moving to London I’ve, sadly, only been able to hit the slopes once. While I had a great time in Andorra last year, this year I was keen to try something different. That’s where Crystal Ski swooped in and saved the day. Crystal specialise in ski holidays departing from the UK and a few weeks ago I had the good fortune of sampling a bit of what they have to offer.

Travelling with fitness blogging superstar Cantara of Gymbags & Gladrags, we embarked on a sponsored 4-day/3-night ski trip to Courchevel 1850, located in the 3 Valleys ski area of France. I later found out that not only is this the largest interlinked ski area in the world, but Courchevel 1850 also happens to be the mother of all luxury ski resorts in France.

So, without further ado, here’s a quick look at our travel itinerary for your reference. If you’re interested in a similar ski holiday, I’d urge you to take a look at either Crystal Ski or flexiski, as both have loads of different options for a range of budgets.

Thursday, January 15th

4am is never a good time to wake up, but the fact that I was headed to the Alps helped me a bit. With a 8:30am flight to Geneva departing from London Gatwick, I booked a car through my favourite local minicab service, Carrot Cars, which mainly operates in and around Canary Wharf.

The car picked me up promptly at 5am and I was at Gatwick within 80 minutes. The journey took longer than usual because of a torrential downpour (accompanied by hurricane-force winds), but I made it safely to the terminal at just about the same time as my fellow blogger and travel partner, Cantara.

After checking in our bags, we ate a quick breakfast before boarding our EasyJet flight to Geneva. Crystal Ski had arranged for their sister company, Flexiski, to handle our airport transfer. After we made it through immigration and baggage claim, we were promptly greeted by a driver holding a sign with my name. Our driver spoke almost no English, so it wasn’t exactly a chatty two-hour drive to Courchevel 1850. Despite the slight awkwardness it turned out to be for the best as I think we both ended up sleeping on the way over.

Hotel Saint Louis

Awakening from my in-car nap, I realised we had made the journey from grey Geneva to the winter wonderland of Courchevel. As we made our wake up the mountain, the views only got prettier. Before I knew it we reached the adorable Hotel Saint Louis, which is managed by flexiski, a sister company of Crystal Ski. The hotel was set up like an older style ski chalet, complete with wooden walls and a roaring fireplace. It’s not a five star hotel by any stretch of the imagination, but it was clean, comfortable, and charming.

After checking in and dropping off our things, it was time to pick up our ski equipment before enjoying a quick walk around town, followed by a much deserved nap – I did wake up at 4am after all.

Friday, January 16th

I didn’t sleep well on Thursday night to be honest, and the 1-hour time difference between France and the UK didn’t help things. But with the view of beautiful mountains right outside my window, I summoned myself out of bed and downstairs for a hot breakfast before gearing up and hitting the slopes with Cantara.

Cantara_Ski

Cantara, looking way cooler than me on the slopes ;)

We had a ski lesson at 2pm, so we figured we’d get a little practice in before lunch. After a year off I definitely needed to find my legs and Cantara was a complete beginner, so perhaps we were being a little too ambitious.

By the time lunch rolled around I was ready for a nap! Crystal hooked us up with New Generation Ski & Snowboard School and our instructor, Andrea, met us at our hotel at 2pm. We caught a ride up to the nursery slope and spent the next two hours skiing down green runs.

Saturday, January 17th

View of snow falling during breakfast from the dining room of Hotel Saint Louis.

On Saturday morning I woke up to fluffy snow falling outside my window. A bit tired from the previous day, Cantara and I decided to take it easy before our lesson. So instead of skiing all morning we borrowed a small sled from the hotel and went to town. Hotel Saint Louis is right across the street from a side entrance to a green slope, which happened to be practically empty on a lazy Saturday morning. It had been a good 20 years since I last sledded, but I can tell you that it’s no less fun in your 20s as it was when you were a kid. I probably could have sledded all day – and would have if the trip was longer.

Because I have a little bit of experience skiing and Cantara only just started the day before, on Sunday we split our two hour group lesson into one hour individual lessons. I was up first at 2pm and spent the next hour with Andrea working on technique, keeping my skis together, and using the poles properly (who knew they did anything other than prop you up?!)

Me, conquering a red run. (OK, not really)

After Cantara finished up her lesson at 4pm we (sadly) hung our skis up and dove into a little apres ski for our last night in Courchevel. After dinner we headed up the road to try the bar at Le Strato, which turned out to be a very swanky five-star hotel (let’s hope my boyfriend takes note of this!). The bar was lovely and filled with plush faux fur sofas that practically begged you to cuddle with them. The cocktails were, naturally, out-of-this-world good, and I later found out that the attached restaurant has a Michelin Star. Not a bad way to end a trip 😉

Gin Fizz from Le Strato

Sunday, January 18th

Leaving Courchevel

Sunday morning marked the worst part of the holiday – leaving. The one advantage to waking up early (our airport transport arrived at 8am) was that we were able to catch the sun rising over the Alps. It was truly special, as was the trip itself. I can’t recall the last time I was so bummed out about heading home, and when I did reach home later that day the first thing I did was start planning a return trip. If that’s not the mark of a good holiday, I don’t know what is.

Going Skiing? There’s an App for That

 

It’s been years and years and years (and a few more years) since I’ve had the pleasure of skiing in the Alps. Back in my day, lift tickets were still made of paper, ski lifts didn’t have those safety bar thingies, and cell phones were the size of briefcases. In short, it’s been well over 20 years since I visited the Alps to ski (or ride on the back of my dad’s skis) and a lot has changed in the last two decades.

I was quite the dashing little skier.

I was quite the dashing little skier in my day!

I’m happy to announce that later this January I’ll be hitting the slopes once more in beautiful Courchevel, France with fellow UK bloggers Cantara from Gymbags & Gladrags and Mimi from Mimalee. Except this time I won’t be riding on the back of my dad’s skis. Instead I’ve enlisted the help of Crystal Ski, a UK-based ski (and snowboard) holiday specialist.

For the benefit of veteran and newbie snow bunnies alike, the good folks at Crystal developed a super cool ‘Ski Explorer’ app. Available on Android and iPhone, the app includes:

• The latest snow reports
• A piste map showing your location
• Resort guide
• Where’s best to ski at what times
• Things to do in resort
• Off-the-slope activities

If you and your friends download the app and create profiles, you can track each other’s locations, the different runs you’ve been on, and lots of other fun stuff.

In preparation for my trip to Courchevel, I downloaded Ski Explorer for myself and had a quick look around. If you would indulge me, have a look at a few screenshots:

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Screenshot_2015-01-05-15-29-00

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I love how everything – maps, resort info, ski conditions – is packed into one little app, and can’t wait to try it on the slopes! I’ll be posting more info about my upcoming trip as it draws nearer. Until then, why not have a look at Ski Explorer for yourself?

Download the Crystal Ski App for iPhone

Download the Crystal Ski App for Android

All Aboard the Train des Pignes

 

Train des Pignes

What can I say about Provence in autumn? It’s spectacular. On my most recent trip to the South of France I had the distinct pleasure of winding through the Provence countryside for a blissful day full of hiking, photography, and exploration. My journey was made possible by the Train des Pignes, one of the many scenic train rides that snake through France.

The Train des Pignes originates on the coast – Gare des chemins de fed de Provence – to be precise, and ends in the mountain village of Digne-les-Bains. For day trippers like myself, the best route to take is Nice to either Entrevaux or Annot. If you’ve got all day, go ahead to Annot. Stop at Entrevaux if you want to get back to Nice in the afternoon.

The most convenient train departs from Gare des chemins de fed de Provence at 9:20. Unlike Nice’s main train station, you can’t get your tickets from a machine. Instead you’ll need to brush up on some French and muster up the courage to talk to the counter staff. Once you’ve got your tickets, you’re free to board the next train. The Train des Pignes is quite nice as far as trains go and are much more modern and clean than the trains I’m used to here in the UK.

Train des Pignes - Entrevaux

Entrevaux

After two or three hours of chugging along between rugged mountains and over trickling streams, we arrived at the medieval village of Entrevaux. With only about 1,000 inhabitants and topped with an imposing citadel, Entrevaux feels worlds away from the chic and cosmopolitan French Riviera. The train dropped us off across the street from the historic centre of the village. Just before reaching the gated entrance to Entrevaux we stopped at the very small (and adorably French) Restaurant du Pont-Levis for a leisurely lunch.

Train des Pignes - Restaurant du Pont-Levis

Restaurant du Pont-Levis

Nicoise Salad

Nicoise Salad

Local beef and lentils

Surrounded by autumnal foliage, bathed in midday light, and serenaded by the sweet sounds of birds zipping their way through the forest, this simple al fresco meal turned out to be the highlight of the whole trip. I could have sat and soaked in the views from Restaurant du Pont-Levis for hours, but alas, we had a village to explore.

Entrevaux France

Streets of Entrevaux

Entrevaux France

Exploring Entrevaux

Entrevaux is a maze of cobbled streets and medieval buildings. There are no straight lines here. Everything has had at least a few hundred years to settle and it’s easy to get lost within its seemingly endless supply of crooked passageways. By visiting in late October, we avoided the usual tourist crowds and at times it felt like we had the village to ourselves. Beyond a handful of small museums, restaurants, and a small tourist office, there’s not much to Entrevaux besides its crowning citadel.

Entrevaux Citadel

Hike up to Entrevaux Citadel

View from the Citadel at Entrevaux

View from the Citadel at Entrevaux

View from the top of the Citadel at Entrevaux

View from the top of the Citadel at Entrevaux

It costs €3 and a lot of thigh strength to make the hike up to the citadel. The route zig-zags up a mountain side and the ascent is steep. The views, however, are well worth the calories you’ll burn on the way up. What started out as a grey morning in Nice turned into a glorious afternoon in Entrevaux and as you can see from the photos above, October in Provence in a beautiful thing. The air is crisp, the skies are blue, and the trees tease with the smallest hints of orange and red. With time to spare before the next train back to Nice, we decided to head to the next town on the Train des Pignes route, Annot.

Fall foliage in Annot

Fall foliage in Annot.

Annot France

Annot

Annot is located deeper into the mountains and it was here where autumn was really in full bloom. For my money, France doesn’t get much prettier than this. With an hour before we had to head back to Nice, I happily explored the town with my camera phone in hand and snapped away at everything I saw.

Annot France

Colourful Annot

Annot France

Annot, France

Annot doesn’t really have any sites or attractions for day trippers besides a few hiking trails, and after heading up the citadel in Entrevaux, I was in no mood to trudge my way through the mountains. That’s not to say the town isn’t worth visiting though. It’s very peaceful and very pretty, and in my case, my only other option would have been to stay in Entrevaux for 2.5 more hours. I think I made the right choice.

More information on the Train des Pignes can be found on its website here. Return tickets from Nice to Digne-les-Bains aren’t exactly cheap – expect to pay over €30. Tickets to and from Annot aren’t much cheaper, but when you take into account that the route provides you with a full day of exploring, it’s well worth the cost.

Itinerary: 5-Days/4-Nights in Nice, France

 

Flight: British Airways

(hurray for Avios points!)

Hotel: La Villa Hotel 

La Villa Hotel

La Villa Hotel

La Villa Hotel Bathroom

La Villa Hotel Bathroom

La Villa is a 3* boutique hotel midway between Gare Nice Ville (Nice train station) and Vieux Nice (Old Town Nice). It’s a short walk from the corner of Boulevard Victor Hugo and Nice’s main thoroughfare, Avenue Jean Medecin, where you’ll find a shopping mall, restaurants, and coffee shops. There’s also a convenient tram that runs up at down Avenue Jean Medecin, which connects Vieux Nice with Gare Nice Ville.

La Villa is a modern that still manages to retain lots of French character. Our room was located in the corner of the building, which meant that we had lots of space and excellent views. Everything was clean and comfortable, and much nicer than what you’d expect from a 3* hotel in Europe – there was free Wi-Fi, a flatscreen television with several English stations, a writing desk, separate seating area, and an ENORMOUS bathroom with views of the neighbouring church.

Day 1 – Promenade des Anglais

We arrived at Nice Cote d’Azure Airport in the early afternoon and took the #99 bus straight to Gare Nice Ville. Tickets were €6 (they were valid for the whole day) and the journey lasted about 25 minutes. From the train station it was another 15-minute walk to the hotel where we checked in, and promptly vegged out in front of the TV for a few hours.

Nice Beach . . . in Nice!

Once dinnertime rolled around I managed to pull myself together and take a walk down to Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais. There are plenty of restaurants lining the coast, but they were all extremely overpriced. So what is a budget traveller like me to do? Go to Subway, of course!

My boyfriend and I started a ‘tradition’ of eating Subway sandwiches in France during our first trip to the country a few years ago. It was winter and we were staying at a not-so-nice hotel next to Lyon’s major train station. Weary from our travels, we flocked to the first familiar restaurant logo we saw – and it was a Subway. Since then, it’s been a bit of running joke that when we visit the culinary capital of the world, we eat horrible American sub sandwiches.

Nice was no exception. I ran into a Subway about two blocks from the beach and order a foot-long sub, a pack of cookies, and a drink. Our dinner for two in Nice was a whopping €7/person and we took our little subway bag straight to the beach, where I got to watch the sun set over the French Riviera on a fabulous autumn evening. THAT, my friends, was priceless.

Day 2 – Monaco and Nietzche’s Footpath

Day 2 turned out to be a real calorie burner. One of the main reasons I chose to visit Nice was its proximity to Monaco. Monaco, as you probably already know, is an über wealthy micro nation nestled along the Mediterranean coastline. It also happens to be a scant 20 minutes from Nice.

Monaco

Monaco

I took the SNFC from Gare Nice Ville to Monte Carlo after a bit of a late start to the day. Tickets were about €3.50/person and trains leave several times an hour, so I didn’t have to time my arrival. The short train journey to Monaco offered beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea and of lovely little seaside villages.

I was excited to arrive in Monaco, but after a few hours of wandering around, I discovered there’s really not much to do in the tiny country. I saw the famous Monte Carlo Casino (but didn’t go inside) and ventured over to the local beach to dip my toes into the water. I then followed part of the F1 race track before settling in for lunch . . . at McDonalds.

To be honest I was a little disappointed by Monaco. Yes, parts of the principality are very pretty and yes, there are Ferraris and Bentleys everywhere and plenty of well-dressed people, but everything was very much crammed together. There wasn’t a lot of space and a lot of the buildings clashed with one another — I guess to put it another way, Monaco seemed like a really opulent, beautiful mansion that is full of busy furniture and bad artwork. You can still appreciate the house for what it is, but the furniture is a little distracting.

footpath

Nietzsche’s footpath

After a deliciously fattening (but cheap!) lunch at McDonalds, I caught the 112 bus from Monaco to Eze Village, a pretty little medieval town overlooking the sea. The bus departs every few hours and you can pick up a schedule from any tourism office in Monaco. The bus ride was only €1.50/person and took us along a beautiful coastal road.

By the time I arrived in Eze, I was pretty tired and the thought of climbing further up to get a better look at the village had lost its appeal. Instead, I made the monumental mistake of thinking the hike down to Eze sur mer (to the coast) would be easier. The hike is called Nietzsche’s footpath, and it’s a rocky descent that takes at least 40 minutes. On the plus side, the views from the walk were absolutely spectacular and the natural surroundings were a nice contrast from cluttered Monaco. After reaching the coast, I caught the train back to Nice and promptly laid in bed. I probably walked at least 10 miles over the span of 5 or 6 hours and was completely spent.

Day 3 – Train des Pignes (read about my trip in detail here)

After running myself ragged the previous day, day 3 was meant to be a ‘relaxing day’. The plan was to take a scenic train right into the heart of Provence and enjoy a day out in the countryside. This is what happened in reality:

We woke up at 8am, which is 7am London time, in order to catch the 9:20 train out of Nice. Still monumentally sore from the previous day, I schlepped myself out of bed and began a mad search for the train station. You see, the scenic Train des Pignes doesn’t depart from Nice’s main train station. It departs from the tiny Gare des chemins de fed de Provence, which is a few blocks north. It took 20 minutes of walking before we found it and by that time it was 9am.

I purchased two return (round trip) tickets to Annot, a little town about halfway up the line. Because we didn’t have time to stop for breakfast that morning, we stocked up on vending machine snacks before boarding the train. Once the train departed and reached the outskirts of Nice, the scenery really began to transform. Gone were the tropical palm trees and Mediterannean villas. They were replaced by pine forests, mountain streams, and ancient villages.

Entrevaux

Our first stop was the medieval village of Entrevaux, where we were supposed to enjoy a nice lunch and have a leisurely stroll. The first part of this plan went off without a hitch. We found a great restaurant called Restaurant du Pont-Levis that served excellent local food. After lunch, however, we made the last-minute decision to climb up to the village’s citadel. Perched high above on top of a mountain, this turned out to take an HOUR. The footpath to the citadel was well paved, but it was pretty tough considering my legs were already sore from the day before. Nevertheless, we came, we saw, and we conquered. Next stop: Annot.

Annot

As it turns out, Annot doesn’t have a great deal to offer other than an impossibly cute central square and some great autumnal scenery. The train journey back to Nice took somewhere between two and three hours. I don’t know the exact time because I fell asleep. On our way back to the hotel, we picked up – you guessed it – Subway and enjoyed a feast of sandwiches and cookies before tucking in for the night.

Day 4 – Villefranche-sur-mer

Thoroughly exhausted from the previous two days, I really made it a point not to expend too much energy on day 4. After waking up blissfully late, we took a 10-minute train ride to beautiful Villefranche-sur-mer. Located between Monaco and Nice, Villefranche is built around a beautiful natural bay and boasts an actual sandy beach, unlike the pebble beach at Nice. The day we visited it was nearly 25 degrees, which was perfect beach weather. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my swimsuit so all I managed was a quick wade in the sea before heading in for lunch in the village.

villefranche

Villefranche – this photo doesn’t do it justice.

Day 5 – Vieux Nice

My flight didn’t take off until 16:45, so I still had a half day to do a bit more exploring. After checking out of the hotel, we walked down to Vieux Nice to have a look around before heading off to the airport. The weather didn’t quite cooperate with us and it drizzled most of the morning. Even in the rain, Old Town Nice had its charms. The neighbourhood comprised of twisting pedestrians alleyways and candy coloured buildings that bore a striking resemblance to the architecture in Venice. Indeed, Nice used to be a part of Italy and that definitely shows in its older buildings.

Old Town Nice

Old Town Nice

After touring old town thoroughly, I head back to the Promenade des Anglais for a quick lunch before catching the #98 bus to the airport.

The top 5 museums in Paris and how to get there without breaking your budget

 

If you’re studying, visiting, or living in London for more than a few weeks, then a trip to Paris pretty much has to be on your itinerary. The two cities are so tantalisingly close to one another that you can’t not visit Paris, what with all its fabulous landmarks, museums, and restaurants.

There are a couple of options when it comes to making it across the channel, but sadly few are budget-friendly. One of the few exceptions is iDBUS, which offers fix prices for all their lines – including London to Paris; meaning if you fancy a last-minute getaway you won’t be paying up to your eye-balls!

paris

View of Paris from the Eiffel Tower

Once safely inside Paris, if you’re an art lover or culture vulture like me you’re first stop will be one of the City of Light’s world renowned museums. Not sure where to start? No worries! Together with the folks at iDBUS, I’ve compiled a list of the Paris’ top museums :)

Musée D’Orsay
This museum is a converted railway station with rooms flooded by natural light that enters through a glass and iron canopy roof. If you’re a fan of impressionism, D’Orsay is for you. It boasts the world’s largest collection of impressionist paintings, including works by Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Degas and Gauguin, just to name a few!

Centre Pompidou
Centre Pompidou is better known for its unusual exterior than for the artwork it carries within its interior. It’s anomaly in a city filled with rows of Belle Epoque masterpieces. The decidedly modern facade is the product of three architects who decided to expose all the components of a building that are normally hidden from the outside, including plumbing lines, structural beams, and elevators.

In terms of the artwork inside, there is an interesting and eclectic collection of modern 20th century art, on par with that you would see in the Tate Modern in London (Think Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism and some abstract works).

Musée Rodin
Entirely dedicated to the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, Musée Rodin houses some of his most famous works, including The Kiss and The Thinker. Almost as remarkable as Rodin’s sculptures are the mansion and beautiful gardens that act as a backdrop to the museum. I recommend visiting in the spring, when the gardens are at their most lush and everything just feels so quintessentially Parisian.

The Pagoda
Like D’Orsay, The Pagoda is a bit of an anomaly.  This much lesser known museum is an actual Chinese pagoda right smack in the middle of Paris. Once the home of a Chinese art collector, the Pagoda houses some of the finest examples of Asian artwork in the West and boasts impressive interiors indicative of 16th and 17th century Chinese architecture.

The Louvre
No list of museums in Paris is complete without mentioning The Louvre. The former royal palace is one of the largest museums in the world, so don’t try to see it all in one day – it’s impossible. Instead,  plan what you want to see before you visit and stop by either early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the major tourist crowds.

mona_lisa

The Mona Lisa at The Louvre

The collections at the Louvre spans everything from sculptures and artwork from the ancient world all the way through to the Renaissance and beyond. It’s of course most famous for housing The Mona Lisa, which has a sizeable crowd surrounding it around the clock.

This post was sponsored by iDBUS.

My first trip to Paris and how I had a great time without the aid of travel blogs

 

It’s been almost 5 years since my first trip to Europe as an adult, so I thought I’d bring out some old pictures to reminisce.  These are photos from the Paris leg of my trip. Looking back, I didn’t know a thing about photography, I rented accommodation from questionable individuals off of craigslist, couldn’t speak a word of French, and really had no idea what I was doing. But you know what? I still had the time of my life.

Feeding pigeons at the Louvre.

Paris Catacombs

View from the Eiffel Tower.

View from the Eiffel Tower

Versailles – Hall of Mirrors

Palace of Versailles

In the five years since this trip I’ve been fortunate to travel to all kinds of different places. My photography skills are still not great, but they’ve definitely improved. I’m a smarter, more efficient traveller than the 20-year-old who took the photos above.

In reality though, none of this really matters in respect to my trip to Paris 5 years ago. What is far more important is that I had a phenomenal time . . . a concept that I feel gets lost today when there are so many writers intent on force feeding us “How to experience the real (insert destination here)“, and “Find out what you’re doing wrong when you visit (insert destination here)“. The fact is, there is no right or wrong. Your experience is subjective and completely your own.

Travel blogs and travel sites are excellent resources to learn about different destinations, pick up useful travel tips, and read about other travelers’ experiences. However, I’d urge travelers not to succumb to the pressures of feeling like they need to do what “real travelers do”. In the end, it really is all about you (and your travel companion(s)) and what you want to do, not about how others will perceive you.

Photo Essay: Lower Normandy

 

The moment I first arrived in Lower Normandy following a lengthy ferry ride across the English Channel, my first instinct was to exhale. After spending months cooped up in the choking density of central London I felt a sense of relief from being in the presence of open fields and grazing land. My moment of zen didn’t last long as I was on a tight schedule. Lower Normandy, as it turns out, is a bit of a logistics nightmare if you are traveling without a car. Depending heavily on public transport, I set out to explore three items from my travel “bucket list” – Mont-Saint-Michel, the D-Day Landing Sites and the Bayeux Tapestry.

Mont-Saint-Michel

I caught my first glimpse of Mont-Saint-Michel on the 2-hour train ride from Caen to Pontorson. It exposed itself for a brief moment behind a cluster of drab storage warehouses, giving me and a sprinkling of other tourists on the train a preview of what was to come. Following a short bus ride from Pontorson, Mont-Saint-Michel revealed itself in full view. The result of over 1000 years of construction, this fairytale abbey is perhaps the most photogenic spot in all of France.

View from within Mont-Saint-Michel

The abbey was built at the top of a small island just off the coast from the mainland in a shallow sandy bay. During high tide, water fills the bay and transforms the landscape, making Mont-Saint-Michel appear as a castle floating in the sea. Unfortunately I missed high tide during my visit, but that didn’t take anything away from Michel’s beauty.

Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

Mont-Saint-Michel is still an active abbey and a small group of nuns reside here year round.

Nun climbing the Abbey steps

Even at low tide on a cold and gray morning, the views from the top of Mont-Saint-Michel are stunning. The photo below shows the elevated road from the mainland to Michel as well as the surrounding bay.

View from Mont-Saint-Michel

Below the abbey is a maze of densely packed streets covered in cobblestones, cafes, souvenir shops and a few small museums.  The photo below is from a cafe located at the foot of the island with a cafe au lait in the foreground.

Cafe au Lait

Head east along the coastline from Mont-Saint-Michel and you’ll reach the D-Day landing sites.  Because I was without a rental vehicle, I took a D-Day tour departing from Bayeux.  The photo below is of Pointe du Hoc, just east of Omaha Beach.  It was here that US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs to destroy a cluster of German casemates on June 6th, 1944.

Pointe du Hoc

Facing the early morning sun, Pointe du Hoc makes for an eerily serene setting.

Pointe du Hoc Battlefield

Looking towards the English Channel, pockmarks on the ground left by bombs nearly 70 years ago are still clearly evident.

Pointe du Hoc Battlefield

Pointe du Hoc’s proximity to Omaha Beach (shown in the distance below) is part of why it was such a heavily contested area.

Pointe du Hoc Battlefield

Some of the original German bunkers are still in tact and are open to visitors.

German Bunker

Omaha Beach is located a short drive from Pointe du Hoc and is now frequented by dog walkers and joggers.  Nearly 70 years ago, 15,000 soldiers stormed this beach to help liberate Northern France from the Nazis.

Omaha Beach

The Normandy American Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the soldiers who fought on D-Day.  The cemetery is set on a cliff overlooking the English Channel.

Normandy American Cemetery

Most of the graves in the cemetery are named, but there are numerous unnamed markers inscribed with “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God”.

Unnamed Grave

Inland from the D-Day landing sites is the ancient town of Bayeux.  Like most European towns, it is anchored by a formidable cathedral.  The Bayeux Cathedral (below) is striking, but is best known for once being home to the Bayeux Tapestry – a 1000 year old embroidery than runs 230 feet long.

Bayeux Cathedral

Today, the Bayeux Tapestry is held and protected in its own museum just a few steps away from the cathedral.  Across the length of the delicate cloth are numerous panels detailing the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England and the subsequent Battle of Hastings.

Bayeux Tapestry

It’s estimated that the embroidery was created sometime around 1066 and the illustrations created from the stitching range from amazing to even comical (see the generously sized horse penis above).  The battle sequences and horses are of particularly high quality, while some of the portraits and faces are reminiscent of Quentin Blake illustrations.

Bayeux Tapestry