After our arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, we'll link up and load into our rental vehicles for the trip. Often people look at chartering a bus, but we discourage that until the group size exceeds 20. It's simply too costly. Rented vans and cars leave a much more authentic experience - and you can get to several places that a coach simply can't go...
On this day, we'll cover two key ingredients: a light and easy day after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight, and a cultural gem. Monet's prized gardens and home where he did so much of his painting are just off the route to the beaches.
With two full days to explore the invasion beaches, we'll strike out for the far eastern flank of the beachhead and work our way back to our hotel, located in the center of the area (location is everything!) First stop will be the ultimate war film, shown in a 360 degree cinema. This will set the stage for the next two days of sight-seeing and study. From a visit to the site of Major John Howard's successful glider assault on Pegasus Bridge, to the Grand Bunker Museum at Ouistreham, we'll work our way across from Sword to Juno to Gold. We'll stop to pay homage to the Canadians at their somber and tranquil Commonwealth Cemetery, before we end up back in Arromanches and its Mulberry Harbor.
There is a most important battlefield along the path to the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) that has great significance for the American military - especially the Marine Corps. Making the trek back out of Normandy and across the northern ring of Paris, we'll make a pit stop to pay respects to the brave men who were engaged in America's first heavy action in all of WWI. With the Germans threatening to take Paris in their final push of the war, and Allied units very depleted, it was here that the Americans showed their mettle, earning the Marines the nickname, "Devil Dogs." After visiting the nearby cemetery, we'll head for a chateau hotel nearby.
We'll start with a visit to the German gun batteries which could direct fire across a broad section of the invasion beaches. From there, it's a short trip to the famed American Military Cemetery and Memorial at Omaha Beach, where the most brutal fighting took place as the men came ashore. We'll then drive over to St. Mere Eglise to visit the Airborne Museum complex and learn about that important aspect of the invasion. After that, we'll make the short trip to visit Utah Beach and its museum complex, before finishing our day at the legendary Pointe-du-Hoc, where US Rangers scaled the cliffs and held off repeated counter-attacks.
Footsteps of the 71st Infantry Division in WWII, Sept. 13 - 26, 2015
This is truly where we excel... creating customized tours built around the simplest of requests. In this case, it was simple enough: my clients are a group of friends who are active travelers. They wanted to build a European tour around the path of 71st ID in WWII - as one in the group had a father who served in that unit in the Second World War. The only further requests were as follows: cover the D-day Beachhead and end up in Prague, with culture, food, and good drink mixed in...
This is the result.
After our afternoon and evening in one of France's most beloved hotels, we'll strike out for a final tribute to WWI. First up will be the giant ossuary and cemetery of Verdun - scene of one of the bloodiest battles in human history. This is the Arlington of France: 700,000 casualties in ten months of fighting. We'll then pick up the American trail for one final tribute to the doughboys and Marines of WWI. We'll visit the American Military Cemetery of the Meuse-Argonne. It was here that American units dealt the final blow to the Germans, and the price was hefty. It is the largest US cemetery in Europe. Then off to Belgium!
Waking from a relaxing rest in a first class retreat in the rolling hills of the Ardennes, we'll spend the day exploring the sights of the Battle of the Bulge. Popularized in numerous films, we'll explore the giant US memorial and war museum in Mardasson, visit the town square memorial, and head over to the Bois Jacques, fighting position of Easy Company, 506 PIR ("Band of Brothers"). Their foxholes are still there... Full of history, we'll head over to enjoy one of Belgium's most famous exports: beer. We'll stop at a signature brewery for a few, before we head back to our wonderful hotel for a five course meal and drinks on the terrace.
We'll load up after two nights of rest (we try to limit the number of hotel changes as much as possible for many obvious reasons), and head over to one of the best hidden gems of the Battle of the Bulge: Diekirch. We'll explore a giant museum, full of vehicles, uniforms, and panoramas that will give much life to the conflict. After that, we'll pay an obligatory stop at the gravesite of one General George S. Patton, before we head into Germany. We'll cross the border and into the town where the 72st first saw action and take a private tour of the West Wall Museum, before we head to Kaiserslautern for the night.
Today will be a drive day as we get across southwestern Germany and into Northern Bavaria for more sights and stops. We'll take a break from the military history for a bit and enjoy two charming cities in Germany: Bamberg and Bayreuth. The 71st fought here, but we'll celebrate their liberation of Germany with shops, museums, churches, and a wealth of impeccable German food, such as schnitzel, potato salad, schweinhaxen, and strudel. We always understand the daily travel experience, and with this being a significant travel day, we'll reward our clients with an elegant hotel, German style, with a giant whirlpool and spa.
Rolling south from Bayreuth, we'll swing through the town of Nuremberg to see the remains of the giant Nazi rally grounds and nearby history museum. It is hard to fathom how it all came to be in what is now a progressive, open, and peace-loving country. But such are the lessons of history... We'll then head along the 71st's route of advance, stopping in a few famous cities in Bavaria: beautiful Regensburg and then on to Passau, with it's magnificent church, St. Stephen's. Located at the convergence of three rivers, Passau is home to a cathedral with the largest pipe organ in the world and some wonderful architecture and restaurants.
After our overnight in a traditional hotel, located right on the old town square in a nearby Austrian town, we will carve a path down into the heart of the Bavarian Alps. We'll stop to see the ridgeline castle of Burghausen - Europe's longest, and weave into the mountains to Berchtesgaden, "Pearl of the Alps." This area is home to Germany's only Alpine National Park. Our clients will stay in a mountain top, luxury class Kempinski hotel, with a restaurant chef boasting a Michelin star. Our company CEO spends a great deal of off-time in this charming town, and we'll enjoy a stunning view and some hilarious local interaction.
With two nights at our splendid hotel, we'll take in the history and majesty of the region. Known for its crisp, clean mountain air, many Germans came here to heal up from lung issues. Such was the case with a World War One veteran who went by the name, Adolf Hitler. We'll visit the remains of his house and take a bunker tour, as all of the famous Nazis moved here and turned the mountain into an underground fortress. We'll head up to the famed Eagle's Nest, before taking a boat-ride out on the Königssee - a long, crystal clear mountain lake, ringed by towering peaks. It will be a lovely day of scenery, sights, and relaxation.
As our tour winds down, we know the importance of free time. It's a great time to strike out on one's own, soak in the experiences of the previous days, and go at your own pace. We've chosen a luxury hotel, right on the walking/shopping street in Salzburg, Austria. This gem of a city is one of Europe's very best: rich in tradition, architecture, and life... yet not overwhelmed with people, industry, and clutter. We'll meet up late in the afternoon for one of the most scenic and peaceful strolls in the world, heading up along the towering bluff above the city, and find our way to the most perfect beer hall in all of Europe.
We'll dive back into the history one final and somber time... Leaving our vehicles behind, we'll head east by train to Linz, Austria. Checking into our majestic hotel, located right on the main square with its cafes, restaurants, and shops, we'll take those who want to go and visit the museum of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The 71st ID liberated one of its satellite camps, and we'll learn more about the conditions of a work camp run by the SS, starving and working thousands of people to death. It will be a final and fitting reminder of the reason those soldiers went to war... We'll overnight in Linz. Only one more hotel left!
We're now in the home stretch... Boarding the train in Linz, we'll head over to Vienna for a walking tour of the old city and its impeccable architecture and arts... from St. Stephen's church to the National Opera House and the stately palace, we'll enjoy some time in the crown city of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Vienna is home to one of the greatest dishes on the planet, the Wiener Schnitzel ("Wiener" means "Viennese"). We'll dine at its favorite spot for the dish - a culinary experience well worth making as an event on the tour... We'll head back to the train station for a relaxing four-hour direct train ride to Prague...
Days Fifteen and Sixteen:
With a long flight ahead, we'll close out our wonderful journey across Europe with three nights in the best hotel chain we've yet encountered. We've looked at the options, but this one best represents a stately, throw-back feel to the imperial era and the charm of this gorgeous city. Untouched by the terrible bombings of WWI and WWII, Prague is an absolute masterpiece of Old Europe. We'll take in its many sights and charms on the first day, with a walking tour to orient our clients, before turning them loose for the afternoon and the entire following day. It will be a fitting close to our tour, with an over-budget hotel to show our thanks for being selected to lead them on such an experience. We take our customer satisfaction more seriously than you will ever imagine. It is the essence of hospitality...
Flight back from Prague the following morning!