The territory of la Manche consists of a green peninsula wedged into the English Channel surrounded on three sides by sea.
The most famous and most striking site is undoubtedly the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, but the entire Cotantin peninsula is a riot of unspoilt nature culminating in the north with the highest cliffs in continental Europe, at Nez de Jobourg.
The 320 kilometres of coastline alternate between vast, windswept white beaches and rugged, rocky outlines with beautiful paths that will allow you to take solitary, romantic walks to the area’s many lighthouses.
The hinterland, on the other hand, is a mosaic of bocage, or rows of hedges and apple orchards where cattle are bred for the area’s delicious cheeses.
In short, a land that is both harsh and gentle at the same time, and that offers wonderful views to the few visitors who choose this little-visited tourist area.
The abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel is perhaps the emblem of northern France, with its unmistakable profile silhouetted against the white expanse of sand caused by the tide.
This architectural marvel, built according to legend on the spot where the archangel Gabriel appeared to the bishop of Avranches, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and is visited by more than 3 million visitors every year.
In addition to the infinite beauty of the monastery complex and the miniature medieval town that winds around the abbey, much of the charm of this timeless place comes from its location. In fact, immersed in unspoilt nature, Mont St-Michel enjoys the powerful, spectacular charm of the tides that move according to the gravitational attraction exerted by the moon. Periodically, in fact, the waters either surround the promontory or retract up to 15 metres (during the spring and autumn equinoxes), leaving a lunar landscape of infinite charm that lights up with the colours of sunset.
Granville, a Norman town built by the English to guard Mont Saint-Michel, is divided into the vielle ville, which stands on a rocky promontory with granite houses with white shutters, and the lower town, which is said to have been built on a mountain of shells, with its maritime vocation, narrow beach and fashionable boutiques.
The upper town, accessed by the Grand Porte with a drawbridge, with its picturesque streets and museums, is well worth a visit.
To learn all about the history of this town, you can visit the Musée du Vieux Granville, which displays authentic evidence of its seafaring past as well as an interesting exhibition of the traditional costumes of its inhabitants.
Fashion lovers, on the other hand, can visit the Musée Jardin Christian Dior entirely dedicated to the life of the designer born here.
Those travelling with children and teenagers can tickle their fancy by visiting Le roc des Harmonies, a museum dedicated to everything that can be made from shells, fossils and crystals as well as an aquarium with two sea lions and a butterfly room.
For a moment, you will feel as if you have magically landed in Ireland: the wild, windswept landscape, pastures with dry stone walls, vertiginous cliffs and crystal-clear c reeks will be a real discovery for the few tourists who decide to come here.
In fact, this peninsula is completely off the tourist track, a factor that has kept this magnificent area intact and unspoilt. Here you will only find spectacular landscapes and tiny villas with their delightful gardens and an enchanting serenity.
Go as far as the Nez de Jobourg where you will find yourself observing a portentous view from a height of 128 metres, the highest cliff in Europe: all around you only a roaring sea, the sound of the wind, a clear sky, green meadows and in front of you the outline of the Channel Islands, which can be seen on a clear day.
Wandering around you will come across Auderville, a handful of houses positioned to withstand the wind, or Goury, a village perched above a natural harbour: here you leave your car and take a path through green meadows that leads to the small bay. You will feel as if you have arrived at the edge of the world and in another era: you will see a shelter for boats to rescue boats in difficulty during storms with a slipway to quickly reach the sea.
A scenic walking circuit starts from Goury and descends to the village of La Roche.
Normally, those descending along the Cotentin micro-region tend to skip the interesting medieval town of Coutances, of Celtic origin and dominated by three churches and a marvellous cathedral that glows in the sun. The Notre-Dame cathedral is in fact one of the most beautiful in France, loved and praised even by Victor Hugo: this marvel of Gothic architecture was miraculously spared from the bombings of World War II. The sense of verticality with its lantern tower and its arches and stained glass windows make it unique in the country.
For a rejuvenating stop, you can visit the Jardins des Plantes, an eccentric work that created this botanical garden by combining the symmetrical lines of the French garden with the airy terraces of the Italian style and the woods of the English style, as well as special species such as redwoods, Lebanese cedars, Himalayan pines and Canadian hazelnuts.
In May, the Jazz Sous les Pommiers festival is held here, while a few kilometres away, precisely in Lessay, the Foire de Sainte-Croix tradition is celebrated every year, an imposing medieval cattle fair with a typical rural atmosphere.
Valognes is also called the Versailles of Normandy, thanks to the many period residences, castles and sumptuous manors that aristocratic families built in its lush countryside. Wandering around the town you will come across, for example, the Hotel de Beaumont, a rich private residence with a beautiful garden around it.
Entirely built of granite in shades of beige and grey, Valognes looks bare and too homogenous on the surface, but only an attentive observer will notice the elaborate decorations that adorn the facades of the buildings.
Cider and Calvados lovers can visit the Musée Régional du Cidre that illustrates the entire production process of this typical Norman beverage or the Musée de l’Eau-de-Vie et des Vieux Métier with its barrels, stills and casks used for distillation.
Like Deauville and Trouville, there are twin seaside resorts divided only by a river: while Carteret is small and fashionable with many small seaside restaurants, Barneville has a wonderful powder-coloured beach surrounded by wild, unspoilt dunes.
Here, better than in other locations, you can witness the tidal phenomenon, which is particularly intense.
We recommend a walk on the beautiful Barneville beach, perhaps barefoot!
The small town of Villedieu-les-Poeles is called the town of pots, due to its origins in the copper industry in the Middle Ages it is a cité du caractére.
In addition to the typical village atmosphere of yesteryear, here you can visit the Atelier du Cuivre, one of the oldest workshops in the town.
A Unesco World Heritage Site, the fortified island of Ile Tatihou offers its visitors a restaurant, a maritime museum, gardens, the fort and a bird sanctuary.
Here you can go walking, birdwatching and perhaps climb above the fort for a beautiful view.
Barfleur is a relaxed town of a handful of granite cottages that always seems on the verge of being swallowed up by the waves of the sea.
There are no special places to visit other than the church of Saint-Nicholas but it is worth a short stop for its seafaring charm, its old seaport atmosphere and the role it played in the sinking of the Blanche Nef that ended the line of William the Conqueror.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article