LA MANCHE –
PART 1: BEAUTY OF THE SEA

[img_assist|nid=13738|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=305|height=200]Jutting far out into the sea-green waters of the Channel , you could say that the department of Manche is off the beaten track. It is a green and pleasant Norman province that has much in common with the mild climes of the English South-West and is well away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

As you travel the length of our peaceful country roads or walk along one our picturesque hiking trails, you will notice the startlingly varied landscape that has shaped our lives. The famous Norman bocage of deciduous woods, hedges and thickets interspersed with undulating lush green fields juxtaposes with the wide open marshes of the east and the river gorges of the south. Manche is also a maritime province (it takes its name from the French word for the English Channel) and has an extensive seaboard that covers over half its border; the Cotentin district in the north is a wild and rocky granite coast, whereas the western shore comprises the vast sandy beaches of Mont-Saint-Michel Bay.

What else can you do in such a natural and wholesome environment other than taste the richness of its centuries-old gastronomic tradition and gently absorb the quintessential art de vivre of its inhabitants? Discover our upmarket épicerie fine, bustling town markets and no-nonsense farm shops that purvey all sorts of local delicacies for you to delight in. While you are there, stock up with some of our time-honoured specialities such as creamy Camembert cheeses , bubbling ciders, heady calvados apple brandies and fine charcuterie cooked meats – they make great gifts for family and friends. For those who just want to relax, visit one of our stylish cafés, brasseries or top-quality restaurants. There you can take time out on the terrace overlooking the sea or watch the world go by in the heart of one of our charming market towns.

Breathtaking Sea and Coast

With 222 miles of beautiful coast , Manche is a peninsula, almost an island. In fact, we like to think of ourselves as islanders, quite apart from the rest. As you tour around our handsome shores bathed by the waters of the Channel, you will be amazed at the diversity this maritime landscape has to offer. You will delight in a visual feast of soft rolling dunes and vast sandy beaches, of abrupt rocky headlands interspersed with clattering shingle and unexpected creeks. Take your time to visit our harbour towns and savour their locally caught sea produce, wonder at our historic monuments or just take it easy in one of our quality seaside resorts.

Magnificent Mont-Saint-Michel

[img_assist|nid=13739|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=301|height=227]Emblem of our department and a truly exceptional monument, the distinctive form of Mont-Saint-Michel and its abbey spire rise out of the bay as a beacon for curious and discerning travellers. Dedicated to the Archangel Michael, the abbey was built in the Middle Ages by a small religious community living on the mount and has since been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. For many years, the natural beauty of the mount has been undermined by the gradual advance of the shore, caused by silt borne into the bay by the River Couesnon. To reverse this process of unintentional land reclamation, a daring feat of engineering is underway to make our “Saint Michael’s Mount” an island once more.

Mont-Saint-Michel Bay is an ever-changing complex of sandy shoals and impressive tides where the difference between high and low water can sometimes be as much as 45 feet! At low tide, the Mount loses its insularity as the sea withdraws far to the north, uncovering numerous pathways for adventurous travellers who wish to cross the vast expanse of the bay to the gates of the abbey. Whether you are crossing on foot or on horseback, make sure your traversée is a safe and enjoyable one by joining one of the many experienced and licensed Bay Guides. For those who love to travel in style, hiring a maringotte is a great option. These charming horse-drawn carriages were once the only comfortable means of transport for wealthy tourists commuting from the local train station to the foot of Mont-Saint-Michel.

The Harbour Coast

Covering miles of luxurious sandy beaches, the Côte-des-Havres stretches far along the western edge of our province. As far as the eye can see, this golden border between land and sea remains unbroken, but for the occasional river flowing into the sea. Nestled on the seaward side of the River Sienne , Agon-Coutainville is a lively seaside town that enjoys a panoramic view of the Western Ocean. Among the beach culture of sunbathing and surfing, you may even spot a trainer out trotting his horse along the foreshore. Further north, the scenic town of Port-Bail is a small tidal harbour protected from the salty sea breeze by a complicated maze of dunes topped with sand-binding marram grass. Take a tip from the locals: go fishing for cockles and shrimps among the mussel farms during the spring low tides.

Land’s End

Exposed to Atlantic winds and the ferocious tides of the Channel, the granite headland of Hague has developed a brutal, yet beautiful landscape on the western tip of Manche. Enjoy the exhilarating abruptness of the cliffs and steep-sided creeks of this “peninsula on a peninsula” that suddenly dissolves into the wide sandy beaches of Vauville and the rolling Biville Dunes. Picturesque minor roads bordered by dry stone walls, wind their way through the verdant valleys of its hinterland and through charming villages of typical West Country stone-tiled cottages. Hague has provided the inspiration for many illustrious artists, such as the surrealist poet Jacques Prévert and the allegorical painter Jean-François Millet. A region of extremes, Hague harbours the smallest port in France, Port Racine, and borders the most powerful tidal race in the English Channel.

Coast of the Rising Sun

[img_assist|nid=13740|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=308|height=205]Through delightfully untouched farming villages, sheltered by woodland rich with wildlife, the River Saire meanders agreeably towards the east coast of the Cherbourg Peninsula . To the north of the valley, the tidal port of Barfleur gains its wealth from the sea and mussel dragging, whereas to the south, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue cultivates its famous oysters reputed to have a flavour akin to hazelnut. Whatever you do, do not miss the sun rise over the Isle
of Tatihou, it is a magical place of exceptional 18th century architecture and infinite natural beauty. Steeped in history, which is amply described in local tourist centres, the east coast of Manche was the scene of events that were to change thrice the course of European history: in the times of William the Conqueror, Louis XIV and Winston Churchill.

Home from Home

Imagine that you are on one of our sandy beaches that fringe our west coast. Look out to the horizon and you will see the beautiful islands of Jersey , Guernsey , Alderney and Sark lying tantalizingly close, almost within reach. Whether you are staying in Mont-Saint-Michel Bay or on the Côte-des-Havres, treat yourself to a day out in the famous Channel Islands where France meets Britain in a melting-pot of European culture. The enchanting ports of Granville, Barneville-Carteret, Port-Bail and Diélette all offer regular, fast and efficient ferry services to make your visit to the unforgettable anglo-normandes, only a few miles off the west coast of Manche, as pleasant and as care-free as possible.

Granville Old Town

Rising high upon its headland, the fortified old town surveys the seaside destination of Granville . It was founded in the 15th century by Thomas Scales… an Englishman! Today its inhabitants are just as welcoming and you can spend a fascinating day strolling along its impressive ramparts and narrow streets, admiring the ancient architecture of the stone houses. An exceptional vantage-point, you will also enjoy an outstanding view of the fishing port and the bay. There are plenty of things to discover such as the fascinating legend of the Madonna washed ashore at the foot of Lihou Headland and visible today in the Church of Our Lady. Before you leave, visit the Granville Museum and learn about the region’s traditions and maritime past, including the compelling stories of the Grand Banks fishing expeditions and the majestic three-masted Bisquine sailing ships that dragged the seabed for oysters in the 19th century.


Christian Dior’s museum

On the cliff tops, high above the town of Granville, stands the childhood home of perhaps France’s greatest fashion designer, Christian Dior. Faithfully restored to its 1920s splendour, this glorious pink villa is now a museum dedicated to Manche’s famous son. Sheltering many exemplary pieces of his haute couture in one stunning collection, this fascinating exhibition tells the life story of a man whose enduring legacy has dazzled catwalks the world over through the work of such celebrated names as Yves Saint Laurent and John Galliano. After your visit, why not stroll among the perfumes and colours of the garden or relax in the tearoom overlooking the glorious Mont-Saint-Michel Bay.

Cherbourg Ho!

[img_assist|nid=13741|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=293|height=195]On the northernmost tip of the peninsula to which it lends its name, Cherbourg is the first port of call in Manche for many of our British friends. Let it give you a hearty welcome as only a maritime town can. The bustling centre abounds with charming cafés and stylish restaurants giving unlimited gastronomic pleasure to fans of our traditional Gallic cuisine. For the less adventurous, you will even find Fish & Chips! Shopping enthusiasts can discover stylish and fashionable French prêt-à-porter, Continental-style street markets and many original ideas for gifts and souvenirs in the quiet pedestrian area of the town. Nothing could be easier; it is well served by a spacious marina for visiting yachtsmen, an excellent cross-channel ferry service docking in the historic man-made harbour and a regional airport only a quick taxi-ride away from the town.


Submarines and Sea Creatures

Standing on one of the windswept quays of Cherbourg harbour, the Cité de la Mer interpretation centre will take you on a thrilling voyage to the very depths of the ocean. Housed in the magnificent old transatlantic terminal to which the ill-fated ocean liner Titanic made her last port of call, the Cité de la Mer’s colourful exhibitions and exciting interactive displays bring to life the astonishing history and technology of submarine exploration. Plunge to the ocean floor with the towering abyssal aquarium, the tallest in Europe, and marvel at the variety of living sea creatures on display in the centre’s impressive seawater tanks. Alongside the centre in a specially constructed dry dock, discover what life was like for the submariners of the Cherbourg-built Redoutable, the largest nuclear submarine ever to be opened to the public.

Text and photos provided by the Comite Départemental du Tourisme de la Manche