I recently spent some time with family in a small town in the north of France in Normandy.
We arrived in Cherbourg by ferry from Poole in England. The journey to France was fine, but it was very rough on the way back home. I don’t think I’m one for travel by sea. Arriving in the port of Cherbourg we saw some huge wind turbines under construction. It’s amazing how huge they look up close, taller than the ship you’re on, you never get that sense of scale when you see them off in the distance. I also found it amusing to see them being loaded onto a ship on stilts.
The coast of this part of France – Manche (50) has some very pretty beaches. When the tide is low, it gets very far out, compared to the med which has very little tidal movement. Beaches are often busy at low tide with fishers and shell pickers, many using tractors to tow their boats out to sea. On a good day you can see very far, just making out the island of Jersey. On windy days the waves can get very high, but on calmer days it is perfect for swimming in.
Inland from the beaches there are plenty of nice nature walks to explore. There are many saltmarshes with tide water controlled through floodgates, but when I visited most were completely dry and devoid of the usual birdlife. The pine forests are very reminiscent of Scotland, with tall thin trees, heathers and mosses. I managed to spot lots of dragonfly hovering around, which was a rare sight for me. Unfortunately the woods were full of mosquitos as well.
I visited many towns – Pirou, Créances, Portbail, Lessay, Sainte-Mère-Eglise, and Surtainville. They are all really well kept, full of classic styled houses, churches, floral displays, and even the odd castle. It’s astonishing to think that in some places they were nearly completely razed to the ground by retreating Nazi forces in the latter days of World War 2. They have rebuilt well. There are loads of incredibly nice restaurants with plenty of locally caught fresh fish and seafood.
There are many war memorials. We visited some of the ones lining Utah Beach, where the forces of the liberating armies first landed. There is also a museum, which is well worth a visit, and tells of a lot of the history of the landings and the planning leading up to it.
If I might be permitted one complaint with this part of France, it is I like a good hill walk, and where we stayed was incredibly flat. Not a peak in sight! Coming from Scotland, and when I usually spend holidays in the alps this feels incredibly strange.
Overall this was a really nice, and for me much needed, holiday trip. It was well timed too, catching the heat before the large heatwave that is now hitting many parts of Europe. If anyone is looking to visit France, but wants to avoid the large cities, this is a great destination.