Perhaps a most fitting emblem of the entire Normandy countryside, sculptures of soldiers in fighting stances top a hill of Arromanches, in a park just outside the Arromanches 360 Cinéma Circulaire. At first glance, the small holes throughout their forms render them somewhere between two dimensional and three dimensional. They are echoes of another time; they are memories given form.
Look beyond these soldier ghosts and you see the wide expanse of sky above the blue harbor below. In this picturesque vista, yet another charming town of the Normandy coast seems to beckon from below. By this time in your Normandy Coast Hiking Tour, you are fully confident that there will be good food, wine, sweets and other treats aplenty to help you digest the sites of the day, and re-charge after the 17 km (~10.5 mile) hike—or bus-- that brought you there earlier that day.
This is the Normandy coast during the off-season--where you too might find yourself in periodic wonder at how such soothing pastural scenes along the panoramic shoreline could have ever been where some of World War II’s most bloody carnage occurred. If you too have ingrained mental images of GIs sharing chocolate bars with smiling children, expect them to fade.
You will need to make room for images of towns turned to rubble, and come to learn of how so many Normandy families suffered huge losses before, during and in the weeks after D-Day.
The off-season Normandy Coast Hiking Tour of this report spanned ten days from late September to early October, though the first note of Normandy Coast Hiking Tour — Top Tips would be that you could—if life permits-- easily plan a much longer trip, both to enjoy more of Normandy’s bucolic coast and also for longer lingers in each stop.
All of these stops, save Bayeux, are along what you may think of as the English Channel, and which the French refer to as la Manche.
Over the course of a week+, you get to feel the moods of the sea, as it changes with the tides and weather.
By late September, rain is becoming more and more of a factor. The weather app on your phone—and the tides tables--- conspire to narrow the window for your several hours’ hikes each day. On most days, this writer/photographer team opted for pre-dawn departures. This itinerary has you hiking East to West, a photogenic plus because you aren’t looking into the sun in the early morning. What you DO see are dramatic skies, and especially near the beach. In these early hours you also cross paths with hunters, or stop in a relatively remote hamlet with only a central Tabac, where you see neighbors joining each other for a start-of-the-day café and pickup of fresh baguettes.
Most of the time, both your phone Maps APP and the GR 223 course-- the main Normandy Coast Grande Randonnée-- will guide you along the beach and scenic coastline, though in spots it is unpassable due to either impossibly high cliffs, or private property, or both.
Detouring from beach paths not only lets you avoid full sun, but also take in the charm of hamlets and houses with a distinct Normandy feel. For this writer, many roofs seem inspired by the shape of Napolean’s hat, or perhaps vice versa. Later in your tour – after your immersion in WWII history—you come to realize that many of the buildings that you might have thought were very old are actually mid-Century re-builds.
As your path crosses farms, wetlands and thickets, you seem to feel the flora readying for winter at this time of year, as the fields begin their post-harvest rest. Then--often with no warning--another small town pops up before you. Sometimes you are on a shared bike /pedestrian path. Often, you are walking past campgrounds, equestrian sport centers, golf courses, miniature golf courses, posh beach resorts or crowded restaurants during the lunch hours.
When the tides are low, you get to hike on the harder wet sand, or be treated to the feel of walking on a bouncy trampoline created by the layers of kelp atop rocks.
Though there are a few hills in the small towns along the coastline, this is almost entirely an easy hike that allows you to make good time with 10 – 15 pound or so packs on your back. There are buses, and there are offers of rides, even if you aren’t actively hitchhiking.
Starting with the train from Paris’ St. Lazare station – and later returning to same‑ this itinerary included: Deauville/Trouville; Cabourg; Houlgate; Merville; Ouistreham; Courseulles sur Mer; Arromanches; Port en Bessin; Colleville; Omaha Beach; and the small city of Bayeux.