Normandy: A Multi-Part Journey with Alexander Wilson

Normandy: A Multi-Part Journey with Alexander Wilson


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To many around the world, the word ‘Normandy’ evokes landing beaches, or even more specifically Bloody Omaha itself. And while there is a huge truth here – D-Day will always figure large in the history books – there is so very much more to Normandy than the sites and events of 1944, fascinating and crucially important though they remain.
Normandy is actually a vast and wonderfully varied region about the size of New Jersey and Connecticut put together. Easily accessible from Paris, it is an ideal getaway, offering beautiful countryside, charming towns and villages, a quite exceptional coastline, and an astonishing wealth of major cultural, artistic, and historical points of interest. After all, this was the heartland of William the Conqueror.
Join historian and Normandy resident Alexander Wilson for a series of talks that will take us on a five-day virtual road-trip, stopping at some of the highlights as well as some of the more hidden treasures. Starting at Rouen, the historic capital with its spectacular cathedral, we will go on to visit abbeys along the river before heading north to the cliffs of the Alabaster Coast. Working our way down to the great port of Le Havre, a Unesco World Heritage site for its stunning post-war reconstruction architecture, we will then cross the Seine to explore the old-world charm of Honfleur, an early hang-out for the Impressionists, and on to the chic seaside resorts such as Deauville. The final two days will be exploring first the British and Canadian WW2 landing beaches, just north of Caen; and finally, of course, the American beaches of Omaha and Utah, on the coast to the west of Bayeux.
On the way, of course, we can stop to admire the scenery and take in some of the local specialties, not least the famous cheeses, cider, and Calvados, the apple brandy named after the area. Much will be missed out, much will deserve greater in-depth treatment… But this virtual Normandy journey will hopefully whet appetites and inspire future post-Covid travel. Bon voyage!

This journey is offered in five, 1.5 hour sessions. For those who might have to miss a session, Context can send a recording.
Lecture 1: Normandy and Rouen–A Region and its Capital 
We will start our ‘Road-Trip with an overview of Normandy as a region, geographically and historically, highlighting its age-old links with Britain. Against this background, our first stop will be the bustling regional capital, Rouen, on the river Seine just 75 miles from Paris but with a distinctive Norman feel to it. Here we will explore the old town, visit the magnificent gothic cathedral, see where Joan of Arc was tried and executed… Then a short trip downstream to the wonderful Abbey of Jumièges, described by Victor Hugo as "the most beautiful ruin in France."
Lecture 2: Dieppe to Le Havre–From White Cliffs to Postwar Modernism
The spectacular chalk-cliff coastline of Upper Normandy, north of the Seine, is known as the ‘Alabaster Coast’. We will start out at the port of Dieppe, rendered sadly famous by the disastrous Allied raid in 1942, then stop at the fishing port of Fécamp to taste the Benedictine liquor still made there. At Etretat, we can admire the same cliff formations that so attracted Monet and his fellow Impressionists before reaching our final destination of the day, northern France’s biggest and busiest seaport, Le Havre. The necessary post-war reconstruction here means that the entire town-center is listed today by Unesco as a World Heritage site, for the scale and unity of its modernist architecture.
Lecture 3: Honfleur to Caen–Coastal Chic and Rural Charm
The impressive 1995 Normandy Bridge will take us from Le Havre, over the Seine estuary, and into Lower Normandy to the picturesque old port of Honfleur, so famous for its oft-painted harbor-front. Proceeding along the fashionable ‘Côte Fleurie’, we will stop at some of its Belle Epoque seaside resorts, such as Deauville with its 19th-century villas, casino, and ‘Les Planches’ promenade. Then it’s inland through the lovely ‘Pays d’Auge’ countryside, past apple orchards and grazing cows, to the half-timbered village of Beuvron, where we can enjoy some of the delicious local produce, including of course the famous Normandy cheeses, ciders, and Calvados apple brandy. Our final destination for the day is Caen, a fascinating town that still bears the imprint of its founder, William the Conqueror.
Lecture 4: Following the British and Canadian Landing Beaches to Bayeux
The three British and Canadian Normandy landing beaches – from east to west, Sword, Juno, and Gold – start just ten miles north of Caen. Our first stop of the day will be at the famous lifting bridge immortalized at the start of The Longest Day film, Pegasus Bridge. Here we can discuss the airborne operations before hitting the beach of Sword itself. Following the coast to Juno, we can look at some of the German defenses and of course, the vital role played by the Canadians on D-Day. At Gold, we will visit the artificial harbor at Arromanches before following the progress of the British forces to liberate the beautiful old town of Bayeux.
Lecture 5: The American D-Day Beaches and Cherbourg
Our final day will be spent exploring the American sector. At ‘Bloody Omaha’, we will see how the beach’s geography made it such a horrific landing, with German guns on the high ground firing directly down on the 5-mile long beach. Stopping at the Pointe du Hoc to realize just how extraordinary the story of the Rangers scaling the cliffs there really was, we will proceed to Utah beach and discover a very different topography. Inland at Sainte-Mère-Eglise (where the paratrooper John Steele got stuck on the church steeple), we can discuss the key role of the airborne divisions. And our ‘Road-Trip’ will end at Cherbourg, the major port and key Allied objective in June 44.

Alex Wilson, a History First from Oxford, has been living and working in France for 35 years. After running his own publishing company, he has been guiding in Normandy (and for Context) for the last ten years. While his interests extend from William the Conqueror through to the post-War reconstruction, his main focus is on WW2 and the Battle of Normandy.

How does it work?
This is a five-part journey series held on consecutive weeks and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A. 
How much is the journey?
$175 USD for five 90-minute lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes, a recording of each session will be emailed to attendees within 24 hours of the course's conclusion.

This conversation is suitable for all ages.

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 41 reviews
95%
(39)
2%
(1)
2%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A beautiful journey

A gripping storey telling of the American landing in Normandy

P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A very emotional journey

The British and the Canadians are taking assault of the coast of Normandy

P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A land of beauty!

A very rich itineraty on the beautiful coast of Normandy with careful description of all the richness of that country!

P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A coast of beauty

In this second part we discover the beauty of the coast of Normandy and learn about the rebirth of Le Havre.

A
Anonymous (Victoria, CA)

Guest did not leave comment

Customer Reviews

Based on 41 reviews
95%
(39)
2%
(1)
2%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A beautiful journey

A gripping storey telling of the American landing in Normandy

P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A very emotional journey

The British and the Canadians are taking assault of the coast of Normandy

P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A land of beauty!

A very rich itineraty on the beautiful coast of Normandy with careful description of all the richness of that country!

P
Paul Rivard (Québec, CA)
A coast of beauty

In this second part we discover the beauty of the coast of Normandy and learn about the rebirth of Le Havre.

A
Anonymous (Victoria, CA)

Guest did not leave comment