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Uncover the cultural and historical highlights of Normandy and Brittany with VBT

France, Normandy, Normandie, Mont Saint-Michel, Abbey, Unesco World Heritage

At VBT we pride ourselves on providing active vacations that not only take you to wondrous locales throughout the world, but immerse you in the culture, cuisine and history of your destination. We have a brand new vacation in 2014 that is brimming with all three. For over a thousand years the French regions of Normandy & Brittany have impacted the course of European history. On this extraordinary VBT vacation you’ll visit historic WWII landmarks, medieval relics, an ancient island Abbey and even the home of Louis the IX’s favorite bivalves. Combined with deluxe accommodations and delectable French cuisine, it’s all for you to discover with us on our new Bicycling France: Normandy & Brittany vacation.

800px-Arromanches

D-Day
The biggest historical event in the region in recent history is the famous Normandy invasion on the shores of northern France and the many remembrances that have occurred subsequently. We’ll visit the coastal town of Arromanches – aka “Gold Beach” in the invasion – which played a vital role in the battle of Normandy. For it was here that the Allies built one of their famous Mulberry harbors—a portable, temporary structure that facilitated the transfer of troops and supplies from the water to the beach—the remains of which still can be seen at low tide today.  Learn more about the harbor, and the historic June 6, 1944 landings, at the D-Day Museum.

Nearby “Omaha Beach” to the west is perhaps the best-known of the D-Day beaches. You’ll have free time for lunch here 800px-Omaha-beach-cemeterybefore we join Guillaume Marie, a World War II expert and our local guide. His passion for his subject will be evident as he leads us along these now-tranquil shores and shares with us the dramatic events that once took place here. We’ll also cycle to the American Cemetery, a 170-acre, meticulously landscaped memorial overlooking Omaha Beach and the English Channel. The site contains 9,387 perfectly aligned white crosses and Stars of David marking the graves of the brave American servicemen and women who perished in Europe during World War II.

Saint-Malo
800px-Saint-Malo_remparts_003Our final destination on Day 7 of our Normandy & Brittany vacation is Saint-Malo, a beautiful medieval city along the Brittany coast. Saint-Malo became notorious in the 18th century as the home of the corsairs who were privateers, authorized by the French crown to conduct raids on the ships of any nation at war with France. Saint-Malo is also the birthplace of Jacques Cartier, who sailed the St Lawrence River and is credited with discovering Canada. After exploring the ancient walled city we’ll treat ourselves with modern day amenities at our luxurious hotel located outside the Old Town, resting at the edge of the beach. It features several spa and therapy rooms, including an indoor, seawater swimming pool.

Cancale Oysters
One of our favorite stops on our journey is the tiny fishing port of Cancale, nestled along the beautifully rugged Brittany800px-Huitres_Cancale coast. The town is known for its superior huîtres –oysters – in fact, King Louis XIV was reportedly so enamored of these briny bivalves that he had fresh oysters brought daily from Cancale to Versailles! Today these oyster beds harvest about 25,000 tons of oysters each year and we’ll have the opportunity to taste these acclaimed huîtres for ourselves during a visit to an oyster market.

Mont Saint-Michel
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Our last – but certainly not least – favorite location that we’ll visit is the spectacular island commune of Mont Saint-Michel.  Accompanied by a local guide, we’ll venture across the cone-shaped islet in the Gulf of Saint-Malo, connected by a causeway with the mainland. The island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is best known for the spectacular and well-preserved Benedictine abbey that sits at its peak. The abbey is surrounded by the winding streets and architecture characteristic of a medieval town. Small houses, shops and street stalls are found on its lowest level mimicking the hierarchy of the feudal society during which it was built.

These are just a few of the historical and cultural highlights we’ll visit on this awe inspiring trip to France’s northern coast. With multiple departures from May – October of 2014 there are plenty of opportunities for you to experience this incredible corner of the world with VBT. For more information about the scenic bike routes, world-class accommodations and unsurpassed value of our Bicycling France: Normandy & Brittany vacation, simply click HERE

Great Sculptures of Europe

Many VBT vacations to Europe include stops in cities with world famous museums – either on the trip or on our optional pre- or post-trip extensions. We wanted to provide a list for you of some of the great sculptures that you could see along your journeys. Some are masterpieces that cannot be missed and some are lesser known pieces found in places other than artistic meccas like Paris or Rome.

“Apollo and Daphne” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Galleria Borghese, Rome)
ApolloAndDaphneThis life-sized Baroque marble sculpture, commissioned by Cardinal Scipione, was created between 1622–1625. The sculpture portrays the story of Daphne and Phoebus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Although the sculpture may be viewed from every angle, Bernini intended it to be viewed from its side, to let the viewer see the reactions of Apollo and Daphne simultaneously.

 “David” by Michelangelo (Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence)
DavidThis masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture – and possibly the most famous statue in the word – was created between 1501 and 1504 by the Italian artist Michelangelo. The statue represents the Biblical hero David glaring off in the distance with a sling around his shoulder, perhaps a sign that he is intensely waiting for battle. This is in contrast to many depictions of David after he slayed Goliath.

“The Kiss” by Rodin (Museè Rodin, Paris)
The KissThis marble work was inspired by the passionate love affair between Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini made famous in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The sculpture depicts the 13th-century Italian noblewoman falling in love with her husband’s younger brother, Paolo. The lovers’ lips are not actually locked in the piece, suggesting that they were interrupted – and furthermore, killed – by Francesca’s husband Giovanni, without their lips ever having touched.

“Pluto and Proserpina by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Galleria Borghese, Rome)
Pluto and Proserpina
This large marble piece was completed the year Bernini began Apollo and Daphne and depicts Pluto, the commanding god of the underworld, abducting Proserpina, the daughter of Ceres – the Goddess of the Earth. Bernini develops a twisting pose by pushing Proserpina’s hand into Pluto’s face and you can see her hand crease his skin as his fingers simultaneously sink into her flesh.

“Venus de Milo” by Alexandros of Antioch (Louvre, Paris)
Venus De Milo
The “Aphrodite of Milos” better known as the “Venus de Milo”, is an ancient Greek marble statue created sometime between 130 and 100 BC. The statue represents Aphrodite (Venus in Roman), the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The famously absent arms are believed to have shown the right arm lowered across her torso as to hold up the sliding drapery while the left remained outstretched, holding an apple.

“Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons” by Edme Bouchardon (Rue de Grenelle, Paris)
The Fountain of the four seasonsTranslated as “The Fountain of the four seasons”, this monumental 18th-century public fountain is still located in the streets of Paris. The fountain is huge and richly decorated and although its grandiosity irritated Voltaire and other figures of the French Enlightenment, the fountain is the best surviving example of public architecture during the reign of Louis XV.

“Bronze David” by Donatello (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence)
Bronze DavidThis statue of David, which pre-dates Michelangelo’s by over 60 years, is known  for being the first unsupported standing work of bronze cast during the Renaissance, and the first freestanding nude male sculpture made since antiquity. It depicts David, posed with his foot on Goliath’s severed head just after defeating the giant.

“The Veiled Christ” by Giuseppe Sanmartino (Museo Cappella Sansevero in Naples)
veiled-christ-Lenghtwise
Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ is one of the greatest sculptures of all time. Since the eighteenth century, travelers of all levels of distinction have come to contemplate this artistic miracle and the oft praised finesse of its veil. Legend has it that famed Venetian sculptor, Antonio Canova, once said he would have given ten years of his life to have been the sculptor.

“Sculptures of the Night Watch” by Alexander Taraynov (Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam)

Night WatchAlthough Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum houses Rembrandt’s famous painting, The Night Watch,  Russian artist Alexander Taratynov created a bronze-cast representation of the painting as part of the celebration of the artist’s 400th birthday in 2006. In 2009 the sculptures traveled to New York City and Russia to be displayed before returning to the redesigned Amsterdam square where they serve today as a magnet for visitors.

“Salt Celler” by Cellini (Kunsthistorisches Musieum, Vienna)
Salt CellarCellini’s Salt Cellar table sculpture is crafted from ivory, gold, and vitreous enamel and was completed in 1543 for Francis I of France. The piece depicts Neptune and Ceres – symbolizing their unity in producing salt, mined from the earth. It is sometimes referred to as the “Mona Lisa of Sculpture” due to its famous theft in 2003. It was recovered three years later.

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