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What to See and Do in Barfleur, Normandy

On the northeast coast of Normandy’s Cotentin Peninsula lies the picturesque fishing village of Barfleur.

With just 700 residents, this petite village, has an authentic feel and is largely untouched by tourism. Though small, there is still plenty to see here and it is definitely worth a detour if you are in the area or heading to or from Cherbourg, just 28 km to the north.

Barfleur is officially one of the prettiest villages in France

Barfleur has been named a Plus Beaux Village de France, one of France’s most beautiful villages. It’s easy to see why as you stroll the cobbled streets. Charming white shuttered granite houses interspersed with inviting restaurants and creperies line the quay. Colorful fishing boats unload the day’s catch, it feels timeless. If you wander the lanes off the main street, flower covered cottages will enchant you (and they often have a sea view!).

History of Barfleur

Set in a natural inlet, Barfleur has a strong maritime history. Due to its location at nearly the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula, it was often used as a port of embarkation for England. The Normans left from here in 1066 to fight the Battle of Hastings. There is a medallion on a rock in the harbour marking this event.  In 1120, William Adelin the only legitimate son and heir of King Henri I perished when his ship went down off Barfleur. This set off a crisis of succession in England that led to civil war

Saint-Nicholas Church figures prominently at the end of the quay. Built in the 17th century, the exterior is rather stern and fortress like in appearance, contrasting with a quite beautiful interior. Saint-Nicholas was the parish church of Sainte Marie-Madeleine, born Julie Francoise-Catherine Postel in Barfleur in 1756. Sainte Marie-Madeleine harbored fugitive priests during the revolution at great personal risk. She was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. There is a beautiful stained-glass depiction of her in the north transept. You can also visit the house where she was born, and the chapel named for her, located on Rue Julie Postel.

Impressive lighthouse

Outside Saint-Nicolas Church, follow the path around the church and cemetery. From here you will have a view of Gatteville lighthouse in the distance. It’s the second tallest in France. There’s also a lifeboat launching station with tracks that trundle down into the harbour.

Just opposite the church, on Rue Saint Nicholas, you will see a house (marked with a plaque), where the painter Paul Signac lived from 1932 to 1935. Signac, a Neo-Impressionist, helped to develop the pointillist style of painting. Known for his paintings of the French Coast, Signac painted the harbour at Barfleur during the last years of his life.

Fishing features very prominently in Barfleur. The day we visited the tide was in and the boats, in a beautiful array of colors, were moored at the quay. In the bright sunshine it was a beautiful scene. The harbor is lovely and has benches for taking in the view. Some people were enjoying a picnic of oysters and a bottle of wine. In addition to oysters, Barfleur is known for its mussels. The local cafes just opposite the quay will be the perfect place to enjoy a moules frites!

Annie Caldwell is a writer who lives in Normandy.

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