Your call at Honfleur allows for a visit to Arromanches and some of the most important locations involved in the historic events of 1944. The D-Day landings, which took place on the beaches of Normandy, involved the largest military operation in history. In the early morning of June 6, swarms of Allied landing craft hit the Normandy beaches and tens of thousands of soldiers invaded the coast of France. The Battle of Normandy that followed led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi occupation, but not without severe casualties including 37,000 killed.
Arromanches was the site of the prefabricated Mulberry Harbour, which enabled some 2½ million soldiers to land in France. The remains of the port can still be seen. Visit the Musée du Débarquement (Invasion Museum) in Arromanches and, following lunch, the American Cemetery. The cemetery is located above Omaha beach, which was the site of the heaviest of the American casualties, and known as ‘bloody Omaha’ (the film Saving Private Ryan was based on the Omaha invasion). Here, more than 9,000 white marble crosses and Stars of David stand in perfect alignment on a plateau above the beach. A memorial contains the Tablets of the Missing, and a map outlines the battle sites of the Normandy Beaches. The cemetery is immaculately preserved and has a reflecting pond and chapel for silent prayer. Continuing on to Pointe du Hoc, see the positions the German soldiers held and the remaining observation posts, shelters, trenches and anti-aircraft platforms.
Alternatively, guests may choose to explore Guernsey’s natural beauty. Your walking tour begins Icart Point, a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the south coast cliffs and small coves. Following your local guide around the point and down into Saints Bay valley, have fantastic views of the Peastacks, Petit Port, Moulin Huet and the small fishing harbour at Saints Bay. Your walk continues past one of 15 granite towers built in Napoleonic times to defend the islanders from the French. A long, gradual climb takes you to the Hotel Bon Port, which offers great cliff top views along with delicious cream tea.
In the afternoon, Silver Explorer will reposition to anchor off the Isle of Sark. As you approach the picturesque coastline of steep cliffs, keep watch for peregrine falcons, dolphins and porpoises. Stepping ashore is like stepping back in time, as there are no automobiles on the island; locals get around by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or the only motor vehicle permitted on the island – a tractor affectionately known as “The Toast Rack” which will transport you to the top of Harbor Hill. At the top of the hill, a horse and carriage awaits to take you on a gentle, hour-long exploration of this unique island. Your tour proceeds at a lazy trot past granite farmhouses and green pastures, making a stop at La Coupee, a narrow isthmus that joins the two islands of Great Sark and Little Sark together. This high natural land bridge offers spectacular views from approximately 300 feet above the sea.
This afternoon enjoy a Zodiac cruise to explore the cliffs of small Skomer Island off the southwest coast of Wales. Accessible only by boat, Skomer has a large population of breeding seabirds that include Manx shearwaters, guillemots, razorbills, great cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, Atlantic puffins, European storm-petrels, common shags, Eurasian oystercatchers and gulls, as well as birds of prey including short-eared owls, common kestrels and Peregrine falcons. The island is also home to grey seals, common toads, slow-worms, a breeding population of glow-worms and a variety of wildflowers. The Skomer vole, a sub-species of Bank vole, is endemic to the island. And harbor porpoises can usually be seen in the surrounding waters.
Alternatively, join your onboard historian and local guides to see Dublin’s highlights. Dublin is the capital of the Irish Republic and particularly rich in 18th-century architecture. Visit the Old Parliament House, which is now Trinity College. Founded in 1592, it is Ireland’s oldest college and houses the world famous Book of Kells, a hand illuminated manuscript of the Gospels. Continuing your tour, pass Georgian squares and Dublin Castle en route to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Founded in 1190, St. Patrick’s is perhaps best known for its association with Jonathan Swift, who was Dean here from 1713 to 1745. Other tour sites include: The Customs House; River Liffey; National Gallery of Ireland; St. Stephen’s Green; The Mansion House; the Four Courts, Ireland’s courts of justice; and the General Post Office, scene of the 1916 rising and birthplace of the Irish nation. Enjoy some free time in Dublin city before returning to the Silver Explorer.
Epic struggles between warring Gaelic families caused many castles to be built in defensive positions along the North Antrim coast, and your next visit will be to Dunluce Castle. The rambling ruins of the 17th-century castle with its towers and gables cling precariously to a black basalt crag, and is dramatically surrounded by terrifyingly steep drops. Enjoy a guided tour of the castle before re-boarding the coach for a short drive to lunch.
Following lunch, experience the Giant’s Causeway – one of Northern Ireland’s most famous landmarks. Legend has it that the Irish giant, Finn McCool, constructed the causeway so he could cross the sea to Scotland and thus be with his lady love. In reality, the Causeway’s 40,000 stone columns, mostly hexagonal, formed millions of years ago with the cooling of molten lava. For centuries, visitors have marveled at the rugged symmetry of the columns and their ability to withstand the unbridled ferocity of Atlantic storms. Formed over 50 million years ago, UNESCO has recognized this unique site with World Heritage status.
During lunch the Silver Explorer will reposition to the west coast of the Isle of Mull. Making full use of your ship’s shallow draft and the fleet of Zodiac boats, plan to land directly on the shores of Duart Castle – a most impressive way to approach the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean and to recognize the power of the castle’s clifftop position in guarding over the Sound of Mull. In 1911, Sir Fitzroy Maclean repurchased and restored the castle, which is now occupied by Sir Lachlan Maclean, 28th chief of the clan Maclean. If available, Sir Lachlan Maclean himself will guide you around his fascinating 400-year-old castle home. Alternatively, tour of the castle with a guide, walking through the ancient keep, visiting the dungeons where officers of Tobermory’s Spanish Galleon were imprisoned, and stepping back through the ages in the exhibition of clan history.
For the final shoreside experience of your voyage, visit Brodick Castle and Country Park – the very image of a Victorian ‘Highland’ estate. Here learn of its 600-year history as you tour the house, and enjoy some leisure time to admire its stunning views and formal walled garden.