Any attempt to tour the Normandy invasion beaches in a single day from Paris is likely to turn out to be the "Longest Day" in a most unsatisfactory sense of the term. There is, however, a two-day itinerary I can recommend using a very early train from Paris and a rental car in Caen. Then you can pretty well cover the American sites of D-Day with the added bonus of a night at France's most visited tourist attraction outside Paris – Mont St. Michel -- or a trip to the grandiose Caen Memorial. The train from Paris will put you in Caen just about the time auto rental agencies open around the rail station.
Invasion landmarks encompass a slice of France 70 miles long -- from the northern beachhead at Ouistreham to the U.S. airborne landings at Ste.-Mere-Eglise. You obviously have to target the highlights.
I usually drive to Arromanches from Caen where there is an interesting museum and a bay full of rusting barges from the "Mulberry" artificial harbor used briefly by the Allies. After a stop at Arromanches I continue to the guns at Longues and then to the American cemetery above Omaha Beach -- two sites that seem to recapture the era, valor and heartbreak of June 6, 1944.
The Longues casemates of Hitler's Atlantic Wall, some with 6-inch guns intact, are off the normal tourist trail and in their solitude embrace a feeling of the loneliness of this stretch of coastline. One can almost imagine the German sentry here suddenly seeing 1,000 ships on the horizon.
Not far distant lies Omaha Beach, looking up to the bluffs where 9,387 American solders are buried in a manicured outpost of hallowed U.S. territory. Mural maps along the edges of the cemetery outline the drama.
Other suggested stopping points after Omaha Beach include Pointe du Hoc, climbed by U.S. Rangers, and Ste.-Mere-Eglise behind Utah Beach, where the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions jumped (and Red Buttons dangled from a steeple in "The Longest Day" film).
It's a two-hour drive from Ste.-Mere-Eglise to the rocky tidal island of Mont St. Michel. Time your arrival on the parking causeway for sometime following 5 p.m. when the tourist hoards have departed for motels on the mainland. Then the isle then turns from a packed sardine can of sightseers into a quiet, timeless village surrounding an abbey that has attracted travelers and pilgrims since the Hundred Years War. There are usually hotel reservations available on the isle. Mont St. Michel is at its most beautiful and its most deserted with the western sunset glinting off the tidal rivulets sweeping across the sands.
Awaken early for an undisturbed look at the island now inundated by the sea – but escape before 10 a.m. when crowds arrive. By noon I'm usually back in Arromanches for brunch of an ocean catch as the tide in that bay draws back to reveal the jumble of barges that, for vital hours, was the only Allied harbor.
Choices for other visits before catching the late train to Paris include the Bayeux Tapistry museum, celebrating another cross-channel invasion almost a millennium ago, and the Caen Memorial.
Small hotels on Mont St. Michel include Auberge St. Pierre, Croix Blanche and Mouton Blanc. Some rooms have a tidal view (one hotelier even sold us a room with a view that turned out to be through restaurant windows across the street.