Torch Relay Stage 20: Calvados, a land of remembrance. PARIS 2024

The Olympic Torch has spent twenty days touring the regions and meeting the French public. On Thursday 30 May, Calvados was at the heart of this popular celebration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games when it set off for Paris.

Ahead of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the Olympic torch began its journey on Omaha Beach. This iconic D-Day was also the setting for an equestrian relay, captained by Olympic champion Pénélope Leprévost and featuring Nicolas Canteloup. 

Calvados is a land of contrasts, where green meadows meet the blue-grey cliffs that hug the English Channel. It is also from where William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, launched his invasion. The 11th-century castle of Caen and the Bayeux Tapestry, inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, are testament to its heritage. Seaside resorts such attract many visitors, while the D-Day beaches keep alive the duty to remember.

On Thursday morning, the Olympic torch paid an emotional tribute on Omaha Beach, a world-famous historic site, to Maxime Wille, the great-grandson of Léon Gautier, who died last summer. He was the last surviving member of the Kieffer Commando, the only French battalion to fight on D-Day. 

Wille paid tribute to his great-grandfather, who passed away aged 100, and to the ordinary men who were driven to heroism on that day. In Lisieux, the second place of pilgrimage in France, the Olympic torch took in the view of the city from the top of St Theresa's Basilica. 

It then lit up the beautiful towns of the Côte Fleurie, from Cabourg and its beaches to Dives-sur-Mer and Houlgate, an open-air museum of 300 Belle Epoque villas. In the estuary town of Honfleur, the Torch enjoyed a unique moment on the quays of the Vieux Bassin, ending this stage at La Lieutenance, a historic building in this Norman port. 

The colours of the relay adorned Bayeux, the temporary capital of France in the summer of 1944. The torch illuminated the British cemetery and the Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum, which tells the story of the battles fought there during the Second World War. 

The route continued through the alleys to Notre-Dame de Bayeux Cathedral, a listed historic monument since 1862. There was another brush with history at the Castle of William the Conqueror, an imposing fortress almost as old as Normandy itself. The day ended in Caen, a city steeped in heritage and history. 

Horses have a special place here. Stud farms, racecourses and equestrian centres are woven into the fabric of Calvados. The 120 km of beaches are not only a haven for sailors, but also for show jumpers. This morning, Omaha Beach was the setting for an equestrian team relay showcasing the various disciplines of the sport, led by Pénélope Leprévost, a giant of show jumping. 

Whether on horseback or in a car, 24 participants came together to honour the whole spectrum of equestrianism. Among them were the 80-year-old François Lucas, who still rides, and Émilie Godard, who has just taken part in the French championships. The comedian Nicolas Canteloup, a French silver medallist in the over-40s eventing category, also made an appearance. 

Since 9 May, the Olympic torch has met many inspiring stories, such as that of Florence Alix-Gravellier in Caen's Place de Courtonne. Six-time French wheelchair tennis champion, two-time winner of the Australian Open, Roland Garros and US Open finalist and two-time bronze medallist at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, she is an advocate of inclusion and fights to raise awareness of disability through the French Tennis Federation. 

Studio Danielle, an online personality known for her social media interactions with her grandson, also carried the torch. The day was rounded off by Étienne Carpentier, aka SoLiCe, a street artist who lit the ceremonial cauldron at Caen Town Hall. A graffiti artist, she has left her mark on Caen's culture with murals such as the towering Orelsan fresco on the Presqu'île peninsula and a 38-metre-long work on the François Baclesse Cancer Centre.