Traveling in France


The Hotel du Casino - overlooking Omaha Beach - Normandy

Looking out across a field of poppies - Audembert, France


Traveling in France is a joy, the countryside is beautiful and the people are wonderful and hospitable.

Let me guide you some of the areas that I have been to on my last two trips to France in 2013 and 2016.

Careful Planning
Transportation
Accommodations
Driving in France

Careful Planning


One of the first things to consider before even booking your trip to France is to plan carefully before you go, don't wait until you get there!

Figure what you want to see and where exactly you want to go. In regards to WWII museums and bunker locations in France you need to realise a a number factors to take into account first.

Normandy for instance is not entirely easy to get to, it's a trek, a beautiful one but it's a journey nonetheless so be prepared and don't worry I will prepare you in this section on how best to get there.

The Pas de Calais and other regions too will be featured here, what I like to call "bunker country". In this area there is some really beautiful countryside when visiting the remains of the Atlantik Wall as well as the nice variety of museums.

The first thing I did before booking my flight was to think about what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go. I always wanted to go to Normandy, so in 2013 I sat down and browsed through a few books on D-Day, the landing beaches and the coastal defense networks of the Atlantik Wall.

I selected a number of different locations and planned from there.

Looking at Google Earth I pinpointed the locations and the sites I had in mind.
From there I added place markers as to where my locations would be and once I had everything in place I exported the place markers from Google Earth to my desktop PC. The next step was also relatively simple. If you have a Garmin GPS for your vehicle I strongly advise you to purchase the French Road Maps package by Garmin. What you will need to do is to connect your Garmin GPS to your PC using the USB cable that should have come packaged with the equipment at the time of purchase.

After purchasing the French road maps from Garmin download the software to your PC. Connect your Garmin GPS device to your PC and then upload the French road maps software to your Garmin GPS device.

The next step is to make sure you have all of your places of interest ready to be downloaded from Google Earth.

When you are ready go to Google Earth and select with your mouse and click Save As. You are going to Save As to your desktop or folder of choosing and the file will be saved as .KMZ file. The file format is the format in which Google Earth codes the navigation data including latitude and longitude.

Click to enlarge example


Once you have downloaded the .KMZ files it's now ready to upload them to your Garmin GPS device. Now since my 2013 visit Google have removed a great feature that once allowed you to upload the .KMZ files directly to your GPS device, why they did this is a bit a mystery to many of us that loved that feature. But never fear! a solution is here!

There are in it's place a number of excellent mapping software programs on the market including Garmin BaseCamp, EasyGPS, Expert GPS and so on.

Once you have purchased this software you can easily follow the directions and upload your .KMZ files directly to your GPS device. From there you can re-name or keep the same names of the locations you want to visit, mount it in your car in France then select whatever location you want to go to based on the .KMZ files you uploaded.

To the left the Garmin City Navigator Map pack - France -
click to buy from Amazon.com
This saved so much time and hassle by having GPS set up, no messing around with a great big paper map! Though I do caution not to rely on GPS alone! Make sure you bring a map of the region you are visiting, I have listed 3 versions below that you can purchase via Amazon.com

The Michelin Normandy Map - a classic reproduction from 1944 - this is a must have! click here to buy from Amazon

Normandy Region Map - click here to buy from Amazon
Nord and the Pas de Calais Region - click here to buy from Amazon

The Hotel L'univers - overlooking the estuary that leads to Grand Fort Philippe

Accommodations

Lodging in France is easy and it's obvious to prepare your stay long before you actually make your trip, don't leave it to the last minute especially in the peak summer months.

There are number of great hotels to stay all over France but when booking in regards to a WWII tour of the beaches in Normandy or any number of the great WWII museums throughout the north I do have some suggestions.

The Normandy region has a great selection of hotels and B&Bs.

Omaha Beach

Hotel du Casino is one of my favourite accommodations and over looks Omaha Beach in the Charlie Company Sector.

The sun going down on Charlie Company sector beach on Omaha Beach, Normandy

This hotel has a great history and inside the lobby it features a nice selection of photographs of General Omar Bradley and his wife staying there after the war. It's a little pricey to stay here based upon it's location and proximity to the beach and other key locations including museums, it's also lovely and quiet as opposed to typical sea side beaches like Arromanches. This hotel has a wonderful restaurant with lovely staff and I highly recommend it.




Arromanches

The town of Arromanches with it's fine selection of restaurants and shops.

Further up the coast and at the site of Gold Beach the British landing beach on D-DAY you will find the nice little seaside town of Arromanches. The town is wonderful and has a fantastic selection of restaurants and shops to choose from. The beach is littered with the remains of Mulberry Harbor the brilliant British engineering artificial harbor built immediately in the days after the landings.




Audinghen

The Hotel Samoria - a rustic treat in Northern France

Leaving Normandy and traveling further North up the coast we find the rustic and well placed Hotel Samoria which is located right next to the Batterie Todt museum. This wonderful little place is located on an on old farm and is a real treat. It's a great place to stay and is not too far from a number of superb bunkers in the area of the Cap de Griz Nez region. This hotel also has a beautiful restaurant.






Calais

The Hotel Ibis sous la Manche- Calais

There are two Ibis hotels in Calais near the main train terminal at Frethun but both located next to each other in Coquelles. The smaller hotel is a budget hotel and I cannot vouch for this one but the larger one gets my two thumbs up for superior service and great rooms. The wifi is excellent as is the bed and bathroom. They have a nice breakfast buffet in typical French breakfast fashion which is a fine way to start your day. I liked this location a lot because it's a nice jumping point to a number of great bunker remains in this part of France.




Cite` Europe

Cite` Europe - an enormous shopping mall located across the street from the Ibis hotel 1001 Boulevard du Kent, 62231 Coquelles, France









Grande-Fort-Philippe



The Hotel L'univers - Grand-Fort-Philippe

Located in the town of Grand-Fort-Philippe this is a great little hotel ran by a local couple and their son. Highly recommended for a couple of nights or more. It's situated on the estuary that leads into the canal L'Aa Fleuve from the North Sea.








The Ferry Man

It's a really beautiful place and has a fascinating ferry system that get's you to the other side of the water way. There is a man with a little boat who ferries across passengers from one side to the other every 10 minutes.

St. Pancras Station, London

Transportation

There are three main transportation ways to get to France if you are not already in Europe. The first is commercial air travel, the second is ferry from the U.K. or by train on the Eurostar via the channel tunnel.

By Flight

Via flight there are so many options to choose from it really doesn't make sense to create a section with links to your favourite airlines but in case you do need some assistance here are some of my choices with flights to Paris:

Google Flights
Norwegian Airlines
Air France

Brittany Ferries

When coming from England one of the slower routes is via the Ferry. I chose this route on my 2013 trip to Normandy and I must say as pleasant as it was it was an overnight ferry and took a very long time to get there, I also strongly suggest you book a berth instead of booking a "Reserved Lounge Seat".

The recliner option on Brittany Ferries.

The shared room is certainly not for everyone as it has an occupancy of about 50 people, each with a reclining chair or reserved lounge seat. The lounge seat option is fine on a day ferry but for overnight book a cabin or berth.


The waiting lounge at the ferry port in Caen, Normandy.


Here is the link for Brittany Ferries.










Eurostar

The quickest and most pleasant journey to France from the U.K. is via the Eurostar train service which runs from St. Pancras Station to stops in Frethun, Lille, Avignon and Paris. It also has stops in Belgium.

Here is the link for Eurostar or you can follow the direct links below:
Eurostar Departures and Arrivals
Eurostar Timetables
Eurostar fares and fees information

St. Pancras is located in central London, the address is:
Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London N1C 4QP, UK
A direct link to their web site can be found here

After you have purchased your ticket on the Eurostar make your way to St. Pancras station. Because you are traveling internationally you will be required to bring your passport. You also will want to travel somewhat light. When I went in 2016 there was a limited number of baggage stowaway bins available and I was early to arrive.

Are we there yet!?

Once you have cleared customs you will be directed to a waiting area where there are some nice coffee shops and newsagents. The waiting area has tables and nice comfy seats, all you have to do now is wait for the announcement that your train has arrived.

Your train awaits you!



After your departure announcement has been made you will be led up an escalator where your train awaits you, but we warned don't mess around be quick! they leave on time and I mean on time. You really do only have a few minutes once the announcement is made to make your train otherwise it will leave without you.

If you are going to stop at Frethun or Calais which is the first stop in France the journey time can take about 1.5 hours to 2 hours. I believe when I went it was about an hour and a half, it really does go by very quickly. Please check the Eurostar time tables as listed above if you are traveling to other destinations in France.

But if you are going to the WWII museums and the Atlantik Wall bunkers then your stop will be at the Frethun station in Calais.

So how are you going to get about once you have arrived at the Frethun station in France? Well you need to hire a car and I do hope you have arranged for that already. If traveling from the U.K. your British driving license will suffice but if you are traveling from other countries such as the United States you will need your state driving license plus an International Drivers license, visit our Driving in France section for more details. I also hope you can drive a manual or a stick shift because 99.99% of the cars for hire anywhere in France are just that, manual. There are very few automatic options in France to choose from, I am not saying you can't hire one but they are few and far between and they are expensive.

A Toyota Hybrid hired through Avis

My suggestion is to book through Avis. They have a car rental place downstairs at the Frethun station. To book a car through Avis visit their website here. When you get to their web site type in Frethun as a pick up option. You need to make sure that you book under the "TGV" option, the one that says "(TGV High Speed Train &, Calais, France-(CA4)".

I was really satisfied with Avis, they gave me a great car and the customer service agent on site was really nice. She also worked with me on my broken French which was very helpful!

The departure lounge in Frethun, France.

After your epic travels throughout the beautiful French countryside you need to head back to London or you can continue your journey elsewhere. And just as you had departed St. Pancras in London you will also need to clear customs when leaving France. The Frethun station is smaller than the London station but still has a couple of nice cafe's and a waiting area. Also be reminded the Eurostar run a really tight ship and they arrive and leave on time so don't be late!




A well sign posted country road in Northern France

Driving in France

France is one of the greatest places to drive and unwind and every turn around a country lane has a new view to offer.

If you have never driven in France before let me give you a few driving tips before getting on the road. If you are traveling from anywhere in Europe including the U.K. your current drivers license from your country of origin will suffice. If you are traveling from outside of Europe such as the United States then you will need your current state drivers license plus you will need to purchase a short term international drivers license, they are relatively inexpensive. I bought mine from my automobile insurance carrier which was good for six months. If you stay longer you will need to renew from the country of origin.

You want to make sure that you carry these with you in the glove compartment of your vehicle whenever you drive. You also want to make sure that you carry your passport with you, preferably somewhere safe in your pocket for instance.

My suggestion when driving in France is to please put away your mobile phone device, don't text when driving! If the police or Gendarme as they are called pull you over for texting the fines are very steep and you often have to pay on the spot! That's right, if you get pulled over in France for texting or are caught speeding the Gendarme will have you pay then and there. I was told by someone that if you don't have the money on you they sometimes will drive you to you a a local ATM to withdraw the funds to settle the fine. And obviously don't drink and drive as you will be arrested and carted off, it's not worth it so don't be foolish and be respectful, your on holiday, have a drink when you are settled in your hotel at night, you can then look back at the great day you had and the photographs you took of the beautiful French countryside.

As mentioned in the Careful Planning section of this web site make sure you have a GPS device with you. When booking your car most car rentals will offer you a GPS at an extra cost that's already built into the car, make sure you get this option plus just to be on the safe side I would bring your own portable device. Again the smartest thing to do is to be prepared before you even step into the car. Get your trip ready and program your routes before hand, it's so much easier this way.

A typical sign post in France - this one letting you know the region you are heading into.
(click to enlarge)

I find that France is one of the best countries in the world for sign posts and directions. In Normandy for instance there are signs every few kilometers that detail the upcoming town or or area. There are also some great rest stops where you can have a nice lunch, go to the loo (restroom) or have a coffee etc. And anywhere there is a museum you will be guided long before you get there that the museum is coming up soon! I found this to be very helpful in case you have any self doubts that you are heading in the right direction.

The rest stops also have petrol / gas stations. France measures their petrol or gas by the litre not by the gallon as they do in the United States. It's all very straightforward of course, filling up the tank is the same as back home. When paying at the pump you will be required to use a credit card as there are no attendants to accept cash at the rest stop areas.

A typical toll booth in France

Now if you are making the long but beautiful drive to Normandy you will encounter a number of tolls. The way the French have these set up is that some issue just the tickets and then the next toll is where you insert the ticket and pay the toll. Make sure you carry plenty of Euros with you both notes and coin, not all tolls take credit cards.

This toll booth happens to have a nice toll taker.

Other tolls have toll takers as well. I think the drive to Calais to Normandy had about six tolls which came to about 50 euros.

When you return your car to the rental agency such as Avis or Hertz make sure the tank is full of petrol/gas. Keep in mind that some petrol stations are closed on Sundays.

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