The majority of people who arrive at the port of Cherbourg in La Manche in Normandy, hit the road and head south. Or the Loire Valley, or somewhere else. Sometimes they stop at Mont Saint-Michel en route, and who can blame them, it’s one of the most famous sites of France. But, this Norman department has plenty to offer visitors who stay. Discover its history and charms including the little-known-outside-France village of Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, voted “Le Village préféré des Français” in 2019 (favourite village of the French).
Top things to see and do in Manche
The no. 1 must-see in Normandy, in fact it’s a top site in France, is the UNESCO listed the Benedictine Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. It is one of the most incredible medieval feats of architecture in the world. From the 8th to the 18th century it was one of Christianity’s most important pilgrimage sites. Now it’s one of France’s important tourist sites.
Thanks to a long bridge built in 2015, Mont-Saint-Michel has been returned to its island status. You can walk the bridge, take a shuttle bus or even ride by horse and carriage. As the tides here are some of the most dramatic in the world you need to be careful of walking across the quicksand.
The Abbey consists of several stunning clerical buildings including a church, cloisters, refectory, monks’ ambulatory and the gardens of what is known as the Merveille (marvel). It’s a steep walk to the top but worth it for the amazing views and buildings. Lower down is a charming helter skelter of wiggly winding streets lined with cafés, restaurants and shops. The great French writer said of it “Mont-Saint-Michel is to France what the Great Pyramid is to Egypt”, he wasn’t wrong … Read more about Mont-Saint-Michel
Located on the east coast of the Cotentin peninsula, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a land of sailors. You’ll find traditional boats in the harbour and parked on the pretty barrow streets in the town. At low tide, the oyster beds provide a link between the French mainland and the exquisite island of Tatihou which you can visit by boat. Explore Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue’s charms from the lighthouse to the marine chapel. Taste the famous oysters, wander the streets to see the charming little houses and watch the to-ing and froing at the picturesque port. Voted favourite village of the French in 2019, it’s now one of the top things to see in Manche.
Jardin des plantes de Coutances
The Jardin des plantes de Coutances is the oldest public plant garden in Normandy a legacy of its early botanical traditions. Cherbourg has a famously mild climate and plants thrive here making it a great park for relaxing.
The Airborne Museum is based in the square of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. American paratrooper John Steele was famously caught on the pinnacle of the town’s church on D-Day, June 6, 1944. A dummy hangs their today in homage to the young soldier who hung for hours, pretending to be dead in order to survive the battle taking place above and below him. The town is an ideal starting point to discover the D-Day landing beaches. The Airborne Museum takes you through the drama of D-Day alongside American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. www.airborne-museum.org/en/
Barfleur – one of the most beautiful villages in France
Barfleur with its pretty and colourful port is officially one of the prettiest villages in France. You’ll fall in love with its authentic good looks and lovely little streets which huddle around the busy port. Taste the famous mussels “Blonde de Barfleur” and visit the lighthouse of Gatteveille. Situated two kilometres to the North of Barfleur, the 75 metres high lighthouse is the second tallest in Europe. Walk up the 365 steps and enjoy a magnificent panorama. But mostly just enjoy the chocolate box lid prettiness of this lovely town. Read more about Barfleur
Take a cruise on a passenger boat, yacht or old sailing ship. You can go island hopping to the Chausey Islands, the Channel Islands or Tatihou Island and other smaller, lesser known islands off the coast of La Manche.
Cathedrale de Coutances
The great gothic cathedral of Coutances dominates the town and can be seen from miles around. Begun in 1056, it miraculously survived the bombing of WWII. Take a guided tour to explore the upper levels and discover the Romanesque parts of the edifice – the views over the coast are truly superb.
Utah Beach stretches from Sainte-Marie-du-Mont as far as Quinéville, about 5 km. It was the first of two zones selected for the American landings. Visit the Utah Beach Museum to discover more about the history of the D-Day landings.
Close by you can visit the German battery at Azeville which marked the beginning of the presence of the Germans on this stretch of the coast.
3 towns to visit in La Manche
Cherbourg is at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula and is home to the largest man-made harbour in Europe. There’s plenty to do and see here, from museums to fabulous sea food restaurants. Don’t miss La Cité de la Mer, a scientific theme park located in the old transatlantic harbour station of Cherbourg. Here you can see the submarine “le Redoutable”, take a virtual tour to the bottom of the ocean and discover sea life in the aquarium.
Granville, known as the “Monaco of the North”, became a popular seaside resort at the end of the 19th Century. It’s an elegant city, great for a stroll around the ramparts, marvellous seafood restaurants and lovely beaches. Don’t miss the Christian Dior Museum, we think it’s one of the top things do in Manche. The couturier Christian Dior spent his childhood here and each year his former family home, now a museum, hosts an exhibition dedicated to the stylist.
Saint-Lô is home to the State Stud Farm, constructed under Napoleon. Visit to find out more about the horsey history of this area. The Musée des Beaux Arts is well worth a visit with paintings by some of the greats, including Boudin. Don’t miss the Norman Bocage Museum at a 17th century farm. It has a huge collection of traditional artefacts which depicts farm life in Normandy over the centuries.
Discover lots more to see and do in La Manche on the tourist office website: www.manche-tourism.com