Le Havre as a Port Stop
Carentan, Rouen and Bayeux
When your cruise ship docks at Le Havre, you will not be short of things to do or places to go and see. Therefore, I will have to cover this port stop in a number of blog postings as there are simply too many options. I have broken the primary choices into the following six categories:
Normandy - The Landing Beaches
Normandy - Other WWII Related Sites
Normandy – The Cities/Villages to Visit (Carentan, Rouen and Bayeux).
Paris – The City of Lights in a Lightening Fast Day Tour
Le Havre and Honfleur
This posting represents my third entry in the series entitled Le Havre as a Port Stop.
If your ship has docked at Le Havre and you have already seen the city and toured the World War II landing beaches, consider visiting some of the interesting and beautiful towns and cities close by.
I had first visited Carentan on a one-day port stop where I spent ten hours visiting World War II battle sites. Carentan was the site of a fierce battle between the US Airborne forces and the German Wehrmacht. The battle took place over 7 days in June 1944 and is the subject of an episode in the Band of Brothers series. It had come to my attention when doing research into the Battle of Normandy and I was keen to see the town but as a shore excursion there was not enough there to merit spending the day so it had to be done as part of a day trip that also encompassed other sites. I was basically there for only an hour. That quick stop piqued my interest and led to a week’s stay a few years later. We booked into a charming rental called Maison Sebline at 26 rue Sebline. The following is my review of the establishment:
We were a group of 4 people (2 couples), who stayed at Maison Sebline from the 16th of August until the morning of the 21st. Diane is an excellent hostess who made us feel welcome and ensured we had everything we needed for an enjoyable stay. The two-bedroom apartment exceeded our expectations, was clean and offered plenty of room. The kitchen was well equipped, the living room (lounge area), spacious and the outdoor patio a delight. Comfortable and well appointed, this apartment was an excellent place to stay. The market is a mere two-minute walk away as are stores, restaurants and the harbour. We had a rental vehicle and appreciated the private parking offered at Maison Sebline. The location is perfect for seeing the sights of Normandy such as the landing beaches, Le Mont St Michel, Bayeux etc. The free wi-fi offered, allowed us to daily update our social media on our adventures. We plan on returning to Normandy and we will once again use the Maison Sebline as our base.
The town of Carentan has a population of around 7,000 people with a central square that hosts a local market. The market was OK, but nothing of great interest to a tourist. For World War II historians, you can still visit sites where the fighting was intense in and around the town. For example, about a mile southwest of Carentan is Manoir de Donville where the Battle of Bloody Gulch took place. The German military had taken over the Manoir de Donville for use as its headquarters. Heavily defended by the 6th Fallschirmjager Regiment and the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, the US 101st Airborne, 2nd Armored and 29 Infantry Divisions fought their way along the road in front of the Manoir. Fighting was intense, horrific and the name Bloody Gulch arose from the blood spilled by those who fought their way to, and past, the Manoir.
For those who want to tour historical sites not necessarily associated with war, there is an impressive eleventh century church called Notre-Dame. I went to tour the church and arrived at a time when someone was playing the organ. I learned that the organ is considered a national monument for its case and pipes and was recently restored. The sound was enchanting. When you visit the church, pay attention to some of the beautiful paintings that you will find covering different periods from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. I highly recommend a visit to the church even if it is for a quick look.
An interesting side note is that Saint Leon (856 – 890). is reported to have been born in Carentan. It is said that while preaching in Bayonne, he and his brothers, Gervais and Philippe, were captured by pirates. His two brothers were killed in front of him and then he was beheaded. The legend states that he took a few steps with his head in his hands and where he fell, a spring began to flow.
If you propose to do a day trip from the port, Carentan is the type of place you would plan on spending an hour or two in and then moving on to other towns or cities.
The historic city of Rouen is another place I discovered on a quick stop while on a day trip from the port of Le Havre. A site continuously occupied for over 9000 years, it started to flourish as a city when the Romans decided it was a great place to build more permanent structures and roads. Originally called Rotomagus, it was strategically positioned for easy movement to trade or military points of interest. At its peak during Roman times, the city had an amphitheater, a forum, temples and baths. Although it lost a little of its momentum during the invasions by the Gauls, it began to flourish again during medieval times.
This is a city well worth exploring and one can easily spend a day here while on a port stop. There is plenty to see and occupy you for the entire day, indeed for several days. Consequently, I recommend a day trip to Rouen if you enjoy marvellous Gothic architecture, history and cobblestone streets lined with medieval half-timbered houses.
Following a quick stop in Rouen on a day trip, my husband and I returned to Rouen a few years later to spend more time there and enjoy the city. As the capital of Normandy, Rouen is located on the Seine and is known as the place where Joan of Arc was killed. We found the old part of the town enchanting and enjoyed the market square with loads on offer.
There are a number of things to do and see. For example, there is the Historical Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), experience that takes place in a restored bishop’s palace. It is an interactive display that takes you through the life and trial of Jeanne d’Arc. You walk from beautiful room to beautiful room and hear about the issues of the day and the allegations against her. There is a wonderful combination of actors, projections and audio/visual presentations. It takes a little over an hour and was quite interesting, but it might be a little over the heads of some children. If you have time before, or after, go visit the memorial to Jeanne d’Arc located above the city. In addition to the memorial, you will get to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
Those who have read my book or previous blogs, know that I like visiting historic churches because in medieval times, the church had the money to employ the best visual artists and engage stonemasons and various types of artisans. Consequently, there are structures and contents of exquisite beauty affiliated with places of worship. The Basilique Notre-Dame is no different.
Often referred to as the Rouen Cathedral, this impressive 12th century building is built on a site that has been a place for Christian worship since the early 4th century. In fact, a Romanesque cathedral predated the current structure however it was heavily damaged due to a fire and that resulted in the current, Gothic building we see today. The literature I picked up onsite, states that construction took place over 300 years although certain improvements and additions have been continuous. Most of the present church was constructed between 1200 and the early 16th century.
The cathedral was not immune to the events of the day and it was damaged during the French Revolution and the Second World War. An interesting side note is that the stunning stained-glass windows, some of which date back to 1210, were removed and kept safe during WWII and then restored to the cathedral. Consequently, the glass we see today, is original. It took me several hours to tour the cathedral but then I do spend a great deal of time examining the artwork. Plan your time here according to your interest in architectural detail.
A very easy walk from the cathedral, is The Church of Saint-Maclou. A stop here was a must for me as this church is considered one of the best examples of Gothic architecture and the outside of this church is stunning. Built in 1521, this church has an ornate and beautiful exterior. The interior can be toured quite quickly as it is a little on the plain side and lacks the intricate artistic allure of its neighbour.
No visit to the old part of Rouen would be complete without a stop to see the fourteenth-century astronomical clock call the Gros-Horlage. Made in 1389, this clock is located in a Renaissance style arch that crosses the Rue du Gros-Horlage. When under the arch look up and see the sculptures.
Also within easy walking distance of the cathedral is the Donjon de Rouen. Joan of Arc was imprisoned in this 13th-century castle, so I was anxious to see it. However, as we turned the corner and started walking towards it, we found the only thing remaining is a tower with weeds growing around it. We were not even sure it was the right place until we located the plaque that told us that this was indeed the location where Joan of Arc was imprisoned. If you are in the area, stop and see it but do not make a special trip for viewing as there is little to see and what remains is neglected and decrepit.
The Natural History Museum was another stop along our way. Built in 1828, it can be found at 198 Rue Beauvoisine. There was a great deal to see and we were specifically interested in the Roman exhibits that are tied the city’s Roman past. If you enjoy museums, this is a great stop. Be forewarned though, exhibits are annotated in French only so use of an audio guide in English is recommended. We ended up acting as translators for a number of people.
One of my favourite stops was the musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen. Founded in 1801 by Napoleon, the current building, which was built between 1880 and 1888, was subject to a massive renovation in the early 1990s. Drawings, sculptures and paintings await the visitor. Don’t forget to stop at the museum’s store where I spent time buying some reproduction prints of works that caught my eye.
The cross section of photos I have posted should give you an idea of what to expect in Rouen but feel free to contact me for more details.
I like the little town of Bayeux so much so that I have visited there several times and a few months ago, arranged a shore excursion from the ship that not only visited some of the landing beaches, but also included a stop in Bayeux to see the world famous Bayeux tapestry.
Located on the Aure river, Bayeux is another medieval town offering up cobbled streets and a Gothic cathedral named Notre-Dame. However, there is no sense that this place is the same as other towns of similar vintage and style in the area. Bayeux offers up unique charm and delightful photo opportunities at every corner. The half-timbered houses speak of medieval times while the true gem of the town, the unique Bayeux tapestry, can be found in a modernized building that I was told was once the Bishop’s Palace (11th–14th century).
The tapestry is far more than I expected. I knew the history of the Norman conquest of England and William the Conqueror certainly left his mark on England. But I did not know the how and why he came to be in England. The tapestry is an embroidered history of how Harold, the Earl of Wessex named himself king of England when that title was to have gone to William. William, who was the Duke of Normandy, decided to fight for the title he thought should have been his and brought his army to England. The deciding battle took place at Hastings on the 14th of October in 1066 and definitively settled the question of who would wear the crown of England. What history now refers to as the Battle of Hastings, ushered in the time of the Normans in England. You need not travel far and wide in England to see the fruits of the Norman conquest in the form of towers, castles and other fortifications.
In Bayeux, when you enter and pay for access to the tapestry, you are given an audio guide and directed to a darkened long hall. As you walk along the tapestry (on display behind glass for obvious reasons), you are treated to the story of what took place. The workmanship is exquisite and the detail amazing. It shows Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king, dying of an arrow to the eye.
There is a shop located in the building and you can buy reproduction embroidery pieces (both framed and unframed). I, thinking I would save money, bought an embroidery kit. I am still working on that and hope to finish it within the next 100 years.
The Notre Dame cathedral in Bayeux, is of the Romanesque and Norman Gothic styles so quite interesting architecturally. I believe it was originally constructed in the Romanesque style but following a fire in the 12th century, it was rebuilt in the 13th century in the Gothic style prevalent at that time. What exists today is a blend of the two design characteristics. When it was consecrated in July 1077, William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda of Flanders were in attendance. This took place 11 years after William was successful in his conquest of England. Overseeing the consecration was Bishop Odo, who was William's half-brother. Odo had accompanied William on his conquest of England and may have been the one to commission the Bayeux tapestry. The embroidered work is clearly a testament to William’s victory and was displayed for many years at the cathedral. It also features Odo at the battle of Hastings.
If you are doing a WWII battles tour, Bayeux was the first town liberated by the allies and there is a Memorial Museum to the Battle of Normandy. My notes show that we bought a three-ticket package for a reduced price so we were able to see this museum, the tapestry and the Museum of Art and History Baron Gérard through the purchase of this ticket.
As always, if you have any questions, comments or observations, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.