Exploring the Cotentin
Since we have seen quite a lot already in the Normandy region we had chosen for our last day in Trouville a somewhat longer excursion. Our intention was to explore the Cotentin peninsula that protrudes into the English Channel between Isigny-sur-Mer and Gouville. Along its eastern coast lie the beaches where the Allies landed on D-Day and heralded the end of WW II. Our tour promised a mixture of culture, history and lots of unspoiled scenery. And at the end we found a big surprise which became one of our highlights of the hole trip in the end.
Drive to the Embarcation Beaches
This day we had to get up early since our schedule envisaged quite a few miles we had to drive. After breakfast we started westwards and soon we reached our first stop: Houlgate
The small town offers al lot of charme and, as in most beach towns along the coast, there are a lot of historical beach villas to be seen. The weather was once more picture perfect and so we took a short stroll along the main street. There aren’t too many people around but it is still quite early in the day. What I like most is the fact, that this town doesn’t give the impression of a tourist place but more the feel of a regular small town somewhere in France.
So I quickly take a few shots of this funny clown in front of the tourist information and on we go to our next point on todays list. We have a tight schedule today but we decide to be back one day and explore this town a bit more.
Right after Isigny-sur-Mer, known for its sea salt butter, we reach the Cotentin. The peninsula offers nice charming fishing villages but also the famous beaches where the Allies landed in 1944 and started to end WW II.
We drive to the most famous of the beaches, Utah Beach. The two sculptures above are a reminder of the events from that time. Apart from them there is a visitor center with café and the wonderful beach. When we get off the car it is quite foggy on the beach and a rather cool breeze is blowing from the sea. That’s the reason why we didn’t explore too long. But you should have seen this once. I personally think that it is very important to remember this chapter in history and not just because I am German.
Charming fishing villages along the eastern coast of Cotentin
We follow the coastal road and soon reach Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue. Here it is sunny again. The landmark of this village is the Vauban tower on the Île Tatihou. Only 500 visitors are allowed to come to the island per day. Yo can get there by boat or by foot during low tide. The bay of Saint-Vaast-la-Hogue is a paradise for bird lovers which is the reason for Tatihou being a natural reserve in large parts. In the fort that belongs to the tower you will find these days a garden that has almost 10 acres. This garden is divided in a contenporary, environmental and exotic part. Unfortunately we don’t have the time to visit the island so we just took a quick stroll along the portside. This village was voted in 2019 by the viewers of France 3 to be the most loved village of the French. Another place we will have to explore a bit closer when we come back for our next visit.
The next place we visit quickly is Barfleur. After Beuvron-en-Auge our second „plus beaux village de France“ during this trip. The village nuzzles on a semicircled bay with a harbour that is secured by a wall from the open sea. Looks pretty nice here.During the middle ages Barfleur was a quite important port with a few shipbuilders. Back in those days it had around 9000 inhabitants. Today there are just about 600 people living here.The houses are built of the local granite and so they give a coherent picture. Here we take another short troll before we continue.
The norther coast of Cotentin
Passing a green and hilly scenery we reach the largest port town on the peninsula, Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. Already the Romans had a base here and during Louis XIV. reign Vauban turmed it into a war harbour. Beginning with the late 18th century the overseas port became the gate to America. It was the last port of call on the European continent for the Titanic before crossing the Atlantic. The port is secured by the second largest roadstead worldwide. Up to 2.5 miles the barrages are lying in the sea. The complete port hs a size of 3700 acres. Today it is home to a large marine base and is the port of depart for the vessels going to Ireland.
We want to see what this town has to offer. Allthough there is dense traffic we find a parking place rather quickly. Since we have seen so many beautiful places in Normandy we are curious to see what there is to explore here. And we are pretty dissapointed. You can see that this town has been destroyed during the war and unfortunately we find an example of a town that has ben rebuilt without a plan and concept , as I mentioned in my post about Le Havre. There was nothing that could have interested us to explore. After a while we just enter a supermarket and buy some things for a picnic and drive on real soon to our next point on our bucket list.
We continue along the northern coast of the Cotentin. Soon the road leads through a green and hilly landscape again. There aren’t many villages here and its getting calmer with every mile. Only the screaching of the seagulls and a soft breeze are to be heard. Which makes this area perfect for one of the most disputed industrial sites in Europe. The Usine de Retraitement de La Hague or in English: the reprocessing plant of La Hague. This where the nuclear waste of Europe is being recycled. You won’t see much of it from the roadside but there is a weird feeling installing itself. We trust that everthing is safe here and continue to Auderville the northwestern point of the Contentin. From a small rocky island the lighthouse of La Hague reaches into the sky. In this village there is no one to be seen around. Despite it being so idyllic here.
The perfect place for our picnic. A bright blue sky, the deep blue sea and a few seagulls. A dream! Actually we should be able to see Sainte-Anne from here, one of the Channel Islands. But it is too hazy for that.
After our break we continue to the next point of interest which turns out to be one of the highlights of our trip. Just about 8 miles south of Auderville sits the Chateau Vauville.
When we approach the castle we first see this wide bay with an endless beach. And almost no people around that are swiming. Although it is so beautufil here. On the other hand it is already late in the afternoon and since there aren’t any hotels in the surrounding we guess that the beachgoers have already left. From here we should be able to see the Channel Island of Guernsey which sits just a few miles off the coast from here.
Our destination is the Jardin Botanique de Vauville. In 1947 the Pellerin family decided to convert the 10 acres of their castle park into a botanical garden where you can see over 900 different plants today. The park is open from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day, in July and August untill 7 p.m. The entrance fee is 9.5 Euro (2020) and worth every dime of it. To the park belongs a farm that can be visited. But we don’t have the time to do so today.
The park is an oasis. You will feel just like being in a jungle. Moats are pervading the ground and in between there are hidden sculptures. The first impression is that of a scruffy, wild garden but if you look closer you will see that they put a lot of effort into keeping the park excatly this way. During a tour you will discover a lot of charming details. Forget the stress and hectic of everyday live and plunge into a wold of enchantement and meditation. Absolutely fascinating! I am sure that the pictures are talking for themselves.
Several species of palm trees, exotic fern trees and eucalyptus offer shade for tons of blooming bushes and flowers. This is an enchanted place. We could get lost here. Unforunately the park closes for the night and we have a few miles to drive before coming back to our hotel in Trouville. So if you spend your vacation in the aera, go and visit this piece of paradise. You will realise that it is very hard to leave this place again. Right at the entry there is a small café and a shop where you can buy some of the plants.
With this highlight our tour of the Normandy ended and the next day we continued to the Bretagne. I will write about this in my next posts.