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Normandy

Normandy is one of the 18 regions of France and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Places steeped in legend and a quiet, vast landscape cast a spell over me. Endless, deserted beaches, a mysterious dune landscape and the sinister traces of the Second World War make you feel the spirit of adventure. Normandy enchants me on my lonely walks and then when the cool, salty air of the ocean blows through my window in the evening.

Here you will learn more about Normandy and especially the Cotentin Peninsula. Here I tell you about the dunes at Biville, about the Nez de Jobourg, about Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and its remnants, about gigantic beaches and about small, picturesque places.

Normandy location

Normandy, together with Brittany and the Pays de la Loire region, is located in northwestern France. It stretches roughly from Rouen to Mont-Saint-Michel and has just over three million inhabitants. Its largest city is Le Havre with about 170,000 inhabitants. In the north, Normandy is bordered by the English Channel, the strait between France and the United Kingdom. To the west, the Normandy coast faces the open Atlantic Ocean. Here, the Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney are also in sight.

The Seine flows into the sea at Le Havre. It is one of the largest rivers in France and also flows through Paris. Near its mouth, the Pont de Normandie, a bridge more than two kilometers and 200 meters high, spans its waters.

Five of the 101 French departments are located in Normandy:

  • Calvados
  • Eure
  • Manche
  • Orne
  • Seine-Maritime

The northwesternmost tip of Normandy is the Cotentin Peninsula. It is located in the department of Manche. Its largest city is Cherbourg. The area is known in a less beautiful way. For example, for the La Hague reprocessing plant and the Flamanville nuclear power plant. But there’s not much to be seen of them. And so I fall in love with the Cotentin Peninsula.

The Cotentin Peninsula

The western side of the Cotentin Peninsula is characterized by endless beaches and rugged cliffs. Friendly little villages lie behind the sometimes truly formidable dune landscape. The most famous of these is the Dunes de Biville.

By the way, the reason for the change between the wide bays and the steep cliffs is the change of rock types. Where the rock is harder, there are the cliffs. Where it is softer, the Atlantic Ocean managed to form sandy beaches and bays in thousands of years of work.

They say that because the Cotentin Peninsula is so remote, the original culture of Normandy has survived best there. Well, who knows. In any case, I’m always amazed at how picturesque the small coastal villages are in the evening light. How beautiful it looks when the colorful fishing boats stand on the bottom of their home harbor, which has been drained by the low tide.

By the way: The difference between low and high tide is enormous in Normandy. The sea retreats several kilometers in some places. At the places where you get wet feet at high tide, you can only guess at the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon at low tide. A paradise for seabirds, lugworms and unfortunately also for oystercatchers.

Among other things, because of these impressive beach sceneries, Normandy is excellent for hiking. But not only hiking along the beaches is great, but also hiking along the cliffs and the steep coast. Further down I give a few tips on this.

A picturesque bay in Normandy
A picturesque bay in Normandy

The Dunes de Biville

In Normandy, you can find beautiful dune landscapes in many places. The most impressive for me is, as the name suggests, near Biville. On an area with a height difference of more than 100 meters, there are countless meter-high dunes. Behind the first row of dunes is a small lagoon populated by birds.

The stiff wind drives through the dune grass, there is not much going on here. Behind the church of Biville, you reach the edge of the dune landscape, the edge of the abyss. From up there you have a wide view over the dunes of Biville and a wide view over the sea. It’s a very special place. And Vauville can also already be seen from up here.

Near Biville in Normandy
Near Biville in Normandy
The dunes of Biville
The dunes of Biville

Jardin Botanique de Vauville

The botanical garden Jardin Botanique de Vauville creates the atmosphere of the tropics here on the Normandy coast. Winding paths lead through the mysterious thicket of plants, enchanted ponds and fountains lie beneath the foliage. The Jardin Botanique de Vauville is located next to Vauville Castle, whose courtyard can also be viewed when visiting the garden. Unfortunately, the castle’s pets are confined there in a small space, which makes me sad.

More informations at www.jardin-vauville.fr

The cape Nez de Jobourg

About 15 kilometers further north than Biville is Jobourg. Here, one is then very close to the reprocessing plant, which rises ominously out of the haze. But that’s not why I’m up here, but because of the Nez de Jobourg. The Nez de Jobourg is a rocky outcrop that reaches into the surf of the wild Atlantic. Surrounded by inaccessible bays, it is an interesting natural spectacle. A great hike leads first across the fields and then along the rocky cliff. But more about hiking in Normandy below.

If you prefer not to walk, you can go straight to the “Nez de Jobourg” parking lot near the Auberge des Grottes.

Nez de Jobourg in Normandy
Nez de Jobourg in Normandy

Bunkers and the traces of the Atlantic Wall

At least since the movie Saving Private Ryan, the scenario of the Allied landing on the so-called D-Day in Normandy is very well known. The film shows the carnage on one of the landing beaches, Omaha Beach.

Hitler actually wanted to prevent the Allied landing by building the so-called Atlantic Wall. This defensive line of heavily fortified bunkers and gun batteries has left its mark on many places in Normandy and the Cotentin. On the beaches lie huge reinforced concrete blocks. Dark entrances to the twisted bunkers are hidden in the dunes. Some of the installations are accessible to visitors and have information, such as the battery at Azeville. Others are slowly decaying, sinking deeper and deeper into the sands of the Normandy beaches and dunes and the long forgotten times.

Bunker on the beach in Normandy
Bunker on the beach in Normandy
Bunker near Biville
Bunker near Biville
Military cemetery in Normandy
Military cemetery in Normandy

The beaches of Normandy

There are many beautiful beaches in Normandy. Often they are deserted and wild. I only encounter seagulls and dead shells on my long walks. I can wander for miles and hours, watching the sea, breathing the salty air. I walk, I sing, no one hears me. I let myself fall into the sand, explore the dunes on narrow paths. And I watch the Atlantic Ocean as it comes and goes. How it retreats to the horizon for hours and then comes back at breakneck speed, flooding the vast desert again. Sometimes the beach is 50 meters wide, sometimes two kilometers.

Normandy is famous for oysters grown on bars that are submerged at high tide and dry at low tide. Tractors take the oyster farmers to the rods, tractors take the fishermen’s boats to the water. Tractors – that’s the only bustle I encounter on the beaches of Normandy. No one lies around here forever in the sun. The wind is too cold for that, the sea too uncomfortable. On the horizon, the Channel Islands flicker in a haze over the water. Normandy seems deserted, rough, and endless.

It doesn't get much more beautiful than this in the world: the port of Pirou
It doesn’t get much more beautiful than this in the world: the port of Pirou
Sunset in Normandy
Sunset in Normandy

Near Coutences

Coutances has just under 9,000 inhabitants and is located not far from the west coast of Normandy. The name of the city was also the eponym for the name of the Cotentin Peninsula. Coutances is best known for its Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame de Coutances, which is nearly 80 meters high. The town has some nice cafes and a friendly old town center.

Pirou

Pirou is located about 20 kilometers north of Coutances on the coast. In addition to the atmosphere of a sleepy fishing village, you can marvel at the castle there. Dating back to the 12th century, the castle is a fascinating complex with a very special aura. If any building gets the designation of enchanted castle, it is this one. For a small entrance fee, you can enter the complex and even its roof. This is highly recommended.

Pirou Castle
Pirou Castle

Créances

In Créances-Plage, the world ends, so to speak. Because here the road goes no further. If you leave the car in the parking lot on the beach, you can wander through the dunes and the sand carrot fields. Yes, Normandy is also known for sand carrots, by the way. Not only for calvados, cider and apples. Or you can watch the sunset and then have another glass of wine at the Crêperie La Badine.

Near Pirou in Normandy

Portbail

Because Portbail is so beautifully situated between the mouth of the Olonde River and the sea, I would like to at least mention it here. The small detour there is worth it.

Normandy hiking tips

Hiking is great in Normandy, especially along the varied coastline. I find the following paths among the most beautiful:

  • From Biville through the dunes to Vauville and from there either through the nature reserve or back along the beach.
  • From the Plage d’ Ecalgrain parking lot near Jobourg, first through the countryside and then back along the coast from the Pointe du Bec de l’Âne at the Nez de Jobourg and Nez de Voidries capes.
  • From Les Falaises near Champeaux along the coast to Jullouville and back through the interior. The views of Mont-Saint-Michel and the disused railroad track are particularly interesting here.
  • From Barneville-Carteret along the coast and through the Dunes d’Hatainville to a viewpoint at Hattainville and back through the interior.

Hiking in Normandy actually always works like this: First you walk along the coast and then back through the interior. Or the other way around.