Updated on 14 September 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes
Great for watersports and history lovers, this unique experience combines a great outdoor spectacle and a deep insight into the history of WWII. On the agenda for our day in Arromanches is a trip to the D-Day Museum followed by a sea kayaking excursion along the Mulberry Harbour’s famous Phoenix caissons.
No better place to experience history
Finally, the day has come! We’ve been planning this outing with friends for weeks and here we are, setting off for a full day dedicated to improving our knowledge on the largest military operation in history: Operation Overlord, commonly known as D-Day.
To start off, a visit of the D-Day Museum gives us some background information on the construction of the artificial port, with many models, photos and archive videos on display. We find out the harbour was designed and built in secrecy by British engineers across the channel in less than nine months. The first Phoenix caissons were sunk two days after D-Day. Six days later, the Allies started unloading the military equipment. The speed of events is hard to imagine; we are overwhelmed with emotion. The artificial Mulberry Harbour was one of the great engineering feats of the war and a turning-point in the Battle of Normandy. As we gaze through the window, we spot the remains of the structure on the horizon. In a few hours, we’ll be in the water for a closer look at these iconic landmarks.
Heading for the pontoons
Time for our kayaking excursion! At the nearby Centre Nautique d’Asnelles, we meet our friendly instructor Hélène, who happens to be a sand-yachting world champion as well as a kayaking expert and our guide for the day. Suited up in wetsuits, we head for the beach with our kayaks. The conditions are perfect: blue skies, sunshine and a calm sea.
After a quick reminder of various paddling techniques, we head towards the Phoenix caissons. After a few minutes, we come face to face with an impressive concrete block covered in shells and seaweed. “Nature claims back its rights over time,” says our guide. “A whole ecosystem has developed around the pontoons.” Some of the sea snails are edible, and Hélène points out the sea shell commonly named the Chinese hat snail before suggesting we taste them raw. The initial flavour of saltiness explodes onto our palates and it has a pleasantly chewy texture. A little dubious aboutthis culinary experience, we decide to leave this treat to the sea birds!
Closing in on the Phoenix caissons
We continue our nautical adventure. Hélène sets the pace and takes us to the entrance of a remarkably well-preserved caisson. We manage to enter it via a small breach. What an incredible feeling! Our voices echo inside the small space.
Further on, the highlight of the expedition awaits. A few paddle strokes away, we come across a concrete block of more than 10 metres long, making us feel really small. Hélène invites us inside. In silence, we listen to the breeze creeping into the different sections of the block. We are totally overwhelmed, considering the pivotal role played by these pontoons more than 70 years ago.
On our way back, we contemplate these timeless landscapes from the distance. Although there were originally 115 caissons, only several dozens of them can still been seen today, providing a vivid testimony of the past.
The beauty of sea kayaking in Arromanches is that we can get a real close-up of its heritage. Floating silently alongside these emblematic landmarks of our shared history and immersing ourselves in this spectacular, dramatic environment, is an adventure we will never forget.
World famous for the artificial harbour built by the Allies, Arromanches-les-Bains and its long sandy beach are also a hotspot for watersports such as sea kayaking, sand-yachting and stand-up paddle boarding.
Centre de Loisirs Nautiques d’Asnelles
Cale de l’Essex, 14960 Asnelles
By booking only (3 people min / 12 people max)
Wetsuits provided by the watersports centre. Please bring swimming things and dry clothes to wear after the excursion
From 1 June to 30 September 2021
Children over 12
Excursions suitable for adults and children over 12. Children between 8 and 12 must be accompanied by an adult on the kayak
Swimming is a prerequisite for kayaking. Prior to the excursion, adults are required to sign a form attesting to their swimming ability as are parents on behalf of their children
Places TO EAT IN ARROMANCHES
The D-Day Museum
Musée du Débarquement, place du 6 juin, 14117 Arromanches-les-Bains
2021 dates: Reopened on 1 June 2021
Since January, the museum has been undergoing a series of renovations, scheduled to be completed in 2024 in time for the 80th anniversary of D-Day
All of the above information is subject to change