In 2014 I managed to get a beautiful road trip done to the northwest of France! I was always interested in the history of World War 2 and if you’re like me, you will find many interesting spots to take some typical France travel photos on the way. We drove from Germany to Verdun, and continued to Compiegne and finally the coast of Normandy. As I was interested in historic spots, places like St. Mere Eglise, Caen, Omaha Beach and Carentan were in my focus. But of course one shouldn’t miss a place like Mont St. Michel when he’s around the northern coast of France!
Hans’ Tips for our own trip to France
We started our roadtrip by visiting Verdun where the most fierce battle of the first world war took place. During endless sieges, thousands of soldiers were killed on both sides – only to find out that the frontlines remained the same afterwards.
When you’re in Verdun you should definitely go to the Ossuary first: its cellar houses all the bones of the soldiers that lost their lives during the battle. By paying a small entry fee you can go up the bell tower of Verdun’s Ossuary. There you can overview the hills of Verdun and the cemetary in front of it. Take care when you’re going up the tower at noon as the bell will start to ring pretty loudly.
There are multiple forts that both armies tried to capture and hold. I especially recommend visiting Fort Douaumont as you will find many old turrets and defensive positions. Just take your time and wander around the area, trying to imagine what was going on nearly a decade ago.
On your way out, stop by the former town of Fleury: There are no buildings anymore besides the chapel you see above, as everything was eradicated during the siege.
We traveled on and stayed near Compiegne for a night. Especially during summer the city offers lovely views and some beautiful cafes. Check out the mayor’s office you see above which is really great to photograph at night!
Next stop for us: the beautiful town of Bayeux! Besides the famous Bayeux Tapestry Museum, Bayeux’s Cathedral is a major sight you need to check out! During sunset the lighting is most beautiful as you will be able to spot all the details of the church. When heading inside you will find an awesome spot for photographers in France: all the beautiful church windows and little corners are great motives!
After Bayeux we headed towards Normandy, where the Allied invasion of World War 2 took place – so we historically went from World War 1 to World War 2. Our first stop was at Arromanches les Baines, a little harbour town east of Normandy. Here you will find some remaining pieces of an old Mulberry Harbour that served as a logistics center of the Allied forces. Especially during foggy days these offer good photography opportunities.
On the far western side of the coast where the invasion took place you will find the “Pointe du Hoc”: during the Allied invasion a paratrooper landing took place here. Especially the huge craters of the artillery fire from all the ships are an impressive sight. You can also visit some bunkers there, or admire the beautiful coastline.
When visiting the coast of Normandy you should definitely visit the German gun battery at Longues sur Mer. It is the only one in whole Normandy where the guns are still intact (although a bit rusty). The entry is free and you can wander around the area as you want to.
When you are at the Longues sur Mer battery you should walk some minutes towards the coastline. There you will find an old German lookout bunker that is still in great shape as you see above!
Near the city of Caen there is a small town called “St. Mere Eglise”. This one is famous for the paratroopers that landed here during (and before) D-Day. One paratrooper managed to land on the church tower by accident when his parachute got stuck there. To avoid being shot, he just acted as if he already was dead – and lived through the day.
The town of St. Malo is another beautiful place to visit, especially during summer. The old town offers some great little alleys with beautiful photography opportunities throughout the city. If you’re hungry – just get in one of the small restaurants and taste some of Normandy’s fine cuisine!
One of the most iconic photographs you can take in France is from Mont St. Michel, an old abbey on a small island. It’s a beautiful place with lots of things to see once you get inside. It tends to get very crowdy though, so you should get there early to get the best photographs possible.