Normandy: A Multi-Part Journey with Alexander Wilson - Context Travel

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.

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 whet appetites and inspire future travel. Bon, voyage!

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 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 for five 90-minute lectures.

Is a recording available?

If you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

5 x 90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

Customer Reviews

Based on 34 reviews
94%
(32)
3%
(1)
3%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
K
K.
Terrific Virtual Trip to Normandy

This was a terrific series. Mr. Wilson knows Normandy well, and his love and connection to the area comes through, especially the stories of his father being among the British rangers who helped invade and liberate the beaches on D-Day. While I'm familiar with the history, this made it come even more alive. It was very moving.

j
j.
great series

Mr. Wilson's enthusiasm and personal connection with the subject matter made for a very interesting and engaging series. I'll look for another one of his programs.

A
A.
Excellent series on Normandy

Guest did not leave comment

A
A.
Great series

A real romp around Normandy - its sights, tastes end ever fascinating history. The tour of the DDay beaches was exceptional;. Thanks Alex for the tour.

J
J.
Fabulous Series

This was a wonderful series that covered so many aspects of Normandy. Alexander Wilson was knowledgeable and offered valuable insights.

Customer Reviews

Based on 34 reviews
94%
(32)
3%
(1)
3%
(1)
0%
(0)
0%
(0)
K
K.
Terrific Virtual Trip to Normandy

This was a terrific series. Mr. Wilson knows Normandy well, and his love and connection to the area comes through, especially the stories of his father being among the British rangers who helped invade and liberate the beaches on D-Day. While I'm familiar with the history, this made it come even more alive. It was very moving.

j
j.
great series

Mr. Wilson's enthusiasm and personal connection with the subject matter made for a very interesting and engaging series. I'll look for another one of his programs.

A
A.
Excellent series on Normandy

Guest did not leave comment

A
A.
Great series

A real romp around Normandy - its sights, tastes end ever fascinating history. The tour of the DDay beaches was exceptional;. Thanks Alex for the tour.

J
J.
Fabulous Series

This was a wonderful series that covered so many aspects of Normandy. Alexander Wilson was knowledgeable and offered valuable insights.