Coutances – A Normandy Garden

Coutances - A Normandy Garden

I made the most of the sunshine earlier in the week while I was in Coutances. I took these quick pics on my phone in the Jardin des Plantes. It’s one of Normandy’s oldest gardens and is a mix of French and English influences.

Coutances - A Normandy Garden

The team of gardeners work hard to keep it looking immaculate. I always look forward to the themed planting. There is always a focal point. In previous years I’ve seen a 2CV car, a bee, an art easel, Disney characters a three tier cake and a bicycle for the Tour de France. They certainly are creative. The photos below are from previous years.

Coutances

Currently the planting is colourful rather than themed. Beds of purples and pinks contrast with yellows and oranges.

Coutances - A Normandy Garden Coutances - A Normandy Garden Coutances - A Normandy Garden Coutances - A Normandy Garden Coutances - A Normandy Garden

The garden is spread over several levels. Children can amuse themselves in the playground area and also have fun racing up the raised maze.

The remainder of the week was changeable weather-wise. However, the sun is out again. I’ve cut the lawn and also sat outside in the sun for a while. I do hope my guests are enjoying the good weather and will get the chance to visit the gardens which is just across the square from the cathedral. This is the view from the garden entrance looking towards Coutances cathedral.

Coutances - A Normandy Garden

Top 10 Tips For Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel

Top 10 Tips Mont Saint Michel

Top 10 Tips Mont Saint Michel

Here are my top 10 tips for visiting Mont-Saint-Michel.

  1. Factor in time to get from the car park to the island. It could take half an hour depending on where you park. Try and park as near to the shuttle buses as possible. Check out the Tourist Information Centre leaflet which has a map of the car park.
  2. The shuttle buses run very frequently so although there may be a queue you shouldn’t have too long to wait. The shuttle buses are free. There are 4 drop off/pick up points – the car park, the shops, the dam and the island.
  3. Some ticket machines for the car park only take cash and others only take credit card. Take your car parking ticket with you and pay for it before you return to your vehicle. Parking ticket machines are near the Tourist Information Centre and the main walkways to the car parks.
  4. Dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle bus or in the abbey. They are permitted to go on the island and possibly in bars and restaurants depending on their policy.
  5. Check the tide times and opening times of the abbey. During the summer the abbey is open late. As Saturday is often a day when people start or end their holidays, it can be a good day to visit. The island is always open so if you arrive early before the abbey or shops open, you can still wander round enjoying the views.
  6. There are a lot of steps on the island and in the abbey. Taking a pushchair isn’t recommended due to the steps and cobbled streets.
  7. Restrooms are located near the Tourist Information Office, (inside the main entrance to the island) at the top of La Grande Rue and at the top of the first staircase in the abbey.
  8. Refreshments can be purchased before you get to the island in the shops near the car park or in the bars and restaurants on the island. Food and drink shouldn’t be consumed in the abbey.
  9. If you are going to go to the abbey, plan your route up to it. During peak season, the island is very busy. The main entrance leads to a narrow cobbled street (La Grande Rue) with bars and restaurants that leads up to the abbey. Most people take this route. There is a staircase immediately after the post office (La Poste) which is on the left near the main entrance. Although it’s a lot of steps to climb it can be preferable to the narrow main street. A better option is to avoid the main entrance completely. Instead, as you approach the island, look over to the left where there is a turreted structure and an archway. It’s not always accessible during the high tides. This is a gentler and quieter route.
  10. Take your time in the abbey as doubling back isn’t easy. Pick up a leaflet in the ticket hall that gives a map of the abbey’s layout as this will help you to get your bearings.

For more information, check out this in-depth guide with  more tips for visiting Mont Saint Michel. You’ll also be able to browse photos, videos and practical information.

Mont-Saint-Michel ramparts

Salle des Chevaliers at Mont-Saint-Michel
Salle des Chevaliers at Mont-Saint-Michel

 

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

Top 3 Omaha Beach Places To Visit

Normandy American Cemetery

If I had to choose my top 3 Omaha Beach places to visit I’d opt for La Pointe du Hoc, the Normandy American Cemetery and Les Braves. In just over 7 weeks time Normandy will be hosting events for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

I visited these 3 Omaha Beach spots in February 2018 on a chilly but sunny day. I wanted blue sky for the photos I was going to take and I wasn’t disappointed. Rather than visit a museum, I chose 2 places where there were visitor centres. This gave me a real feel for the challenges that the American troops faced at Omaha Beach.

Normandy American Cemetery

It took me around an hour to drive to Omaha Beach. I started my day at La Pointe du Hoc. It’s between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. You can read about my visit here. I genuinely felt as if history came to life as I walked around this battle site.

D-Day

 

Next on my list was Les Braves. This beautiful steel sculpture is on the beach just beyond the memorial. Again, the clock seemed to roll back as I thought about the men who lost their lives on this beach. My review is here and includes a video of the beach.

D-Day

My final stop was the Normandy American Cemetery. The visitor centre is very informative and the cemetery itself is unforgettable. It is beautifully maintained and a fitting tribute to those for whom Normandy is their final resting place. The drone footage in my review article shows the extent of the site.

Normandy American Cemetery Normandy American Cemetery

 

It is still one of the most memorable days I’ve had in Normandy. I can still recall the emotion I felt as I visited each of these 3 amazing sites. Time now stands still for these heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.

For more information about Omaha Beach visit this page.

English Canons At Mont-Saint-Michel

Canons at Mont-Saint-Michel

I saw some fabulous old photos of English canons at Mont-Saint-Michel today. They were on the Facebook page of Archives départmentales de la Manche. I hope the link below works but if not do find their post from 8th April and take a look at the additional photos.

The canons are English and were used during the Hundred Year’s War to try and take over the island of Mont-Saint-Michel. In 1434 the English troops settled on the nearby island of Tombelaine. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to break the Mont’s defences. Today it remains the only part of Normandy not to be conquered by the English soldiers. Following their failure to capture the island, these canons were abandoned. They have since been installed just inside the main entrance. They are called Les Michelettes and each one weighs 2.5 tonnes. I have to confess I’ve never seen them. Possibly because I often take a quieter route up to the abbey that doesn’t involve going through the main entrance. I must pay attention the next time I visit!

Canons at Mont-Saint-Michel

Photo credit: Jean Bazard

Alternative link to Archives departementales de la Manche

 

British Memorial On Sword Beach

British memorial on Sword Beach

There are a number of memorials on Sword Beach stretching from Ouistreham in the East to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer in the West.

British memorial on Sword Beach

This British memorial on Sword Beach is dedicated to the following commando units of the 1st Special Service Brigade:

No. 3 Commando – Lieutenant Colonel Peter Young
No. 4 Commando – Lieutenant Colonel Robert Dawson
177 French Marine Commandos from No. 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, commanded by Commandant Philippe Kieffer
No. 6 Commando – Lieutenant Colonel Derek Mills-Roberts
No. 45 (Royal Marine) Commando – Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ries

British memorial on Sword Beach

The 1st Special Service Brigade was a commando brigade of the British Army. It was formed during the Second World War and consisted of elements of the British Army (including British Commandos) and the Royal Marines. On 6 December 1944, the Brigade was redesignated 1st Commando Brigade.

British memorial on Sword Beach

The commando units landed here on D-Day, 6th June 1944. You can find the memorial at 15 Boulevard Maritime in Colleville-Montgomery. It’s at the intersection of rue Vauban and looks out onto Sword Beach.

For more information about Sword Beach visit this page.

An Historic Look at Blainville-sur-Mer

Blainville-sur-Mer

The Normandy village of Blainville-sur-Mer enjoys an enviable position on the Cotentin coast. It is fortunate to have a natural harbour giving fantastic views.

Coutances Tourist Office has produced a map of a walking circuit you can do to explore the village. You can download a copy here.

The walk is around 17km although you can reduce it as there is an alternative route. Highlights of the walk include the 15th century sailors chapel, the natural harbour, the 12th century church and some very grand dwellings.

Blainville-sur-Mer Blainville-sur-Mer

The five grand properties are dotted along Rue de Bas. It was originally called Rue des Libraries or Booksellers Street.

Blainville-sur-Mer Blainville-sur-MerSeveral local young men decided to try and make their fortune in Paris rather than work in the maritime industry locally. They became booksellers and printers and were successful. When they returned to Blainville-sur-Mer they built very grand residences and so the street was named after their former profession.

Blainville-sur-Mer Blainville-sur-Mer

 

Mont-Saint-Michel From a Drone

Mont-Saint-Michel From a Drone

Mont-Saint-Michel at high tide is an incredible sight. The island becomes cuts off from the mainland giving you plenty of time to explore while waiting for the tide to recede.

Mont Saint Michel from a drone

The video below was filmed from a drone and shows the island’s setting. It really does seem to rise majestically from the bay. It’s also very impressive when you catch your first glimpse of it in the distance. It can be seen from the D175/176 that runs from Avranches in Normandy to Dol-de-Bretagne in Brittany. There is also a good view from the Jardin des Plantes in Avranches, Pointe du Grouin du Sud (a viewing point around 5km across the bay) and from the German cemetery at Huisnes-sur-Mer.

Mont Saint Michel from a drone

For an in-depth look at Mont-Saint-Michel this guide has photos, videos, drone footage and information about the whole island.

Pegasus Bridge and Memorial

Pegasus Bridge and Memorial

The Pegasus bridge and Pegasus Memorial Museum are located in Bénouville and Ranville in the Calvados region of Normandy.

D-Day

Just after midnight on 5th June 1944, 6 aircraft from the 6th British Airborne Division carried out their mission. Part of this mission was to capture the bridges across the River Orne and the Caen Canal. This meant that the seaborne troops arriving from Sword Beach could cross them and prevent the German forces using them.

The original bridge at Bénouville is now displayed in the nearby park of the museum. Visitors can see the Pegasus bridge, a Bailey Bridge and a full size replica of a wartime Horsa glider.

In less than ten minutes both bridges had been captured intact although there were fatalities. Many of those killed in action are buried at nearby Ranville cemetery.

Pegasus Bridge

The bridge was renamed Pegasus Bridge after the liberation. On June 26th 1944, the Caen Canal bridge was baptised Pegasus Bridge as a tribute to the British troops. Pegasus was the emblem worn on the sleeves of the men of the airborne division.

Pegasus Bridge and Memorial

 

In 1961 the bridge featured in the D-Day film, produced by Darryl Zanuck, The Longest Day.

Pegasus Bridge and Memorial

The bridge was replaced in 1994 by a new bridge. You can walk or drive across the bridge. There are currently roadworks being undertaken with one way traffic from Ranville to Bénouville. This is the current situation as of the end of February 2019.

Pegasus Bridge and Memorial

As well as the bridge, there are memorials and sculptures on the Pegasus Trail where 3 of the Horsa aircraft landed. Have a look at the drone footage below of the bridge area.

Memorial Pegasus – Musée Memorial Pegasus

The museum is dedicated to the 6th British Airborne Division. Visitors will learn about the different missions undertaken including capturing Pegasus Bridge. Guided tours are available and start with a overview of the geography shown on a relief model of the area. Films, documentaries and artifacts give an in-depth insight into the mission.

Pegasus Bridge and Memorial Pegasus Bridge and Memorial

The museum is on Avenue du Major Howard, 14860 Ranville. They can be contacted by phone on +33 (0)2.31.78.19.44 or by email at info@memorial-pegasus.org.

Opening Times and Fees

The Memorial Pegasus is open everyday from 1st February to 15th December. A visit, with guide, lasts around an hour and a quarter.
1st February to 31st March from 10.00 to 17.00
1st April to 30th September from 9.30 to 18.30
1st October to 15th December from 10.00 to 17.00

Entrance Fees

Adults 8.00 €
Children (8+) and students 5.00 €

The website in English is here.

There is plenty of parking at the museum. It’s just a short walk to Pegasus bridge from here.

Have a look at the video below for an insight into the memorial museum.

 

What I Love About Normandy

What I Love About Normandy

What I love about Normandy is a rather long list! So I though I’d focus on just one of the things I love: the Normandy coastline.

Coastal towns and villages, harbours, sandy beaches, fantastic sunrises and sunsets, beach huts and seafood are just some of the highlights.

Granville

Granville is one of my favourite coastal towns. It’s set on a rocky promontory and has two distinct parts. The harbour is a wonderful spot for people watching as boats and their passengers come and go. You can catch a boat to the nearby Chaussey islands and the Channel Islands from here. Rue du Port overlooks the port and has a wide variety of seafood restaurants. Small independent shops, a market and the usual facilities and business are in the streets immediately beyond the port. The lower town contrasts with the high town. Part of the town is fortified and you can walk round the coastal path for great views up and down the coast. It’s a great spot for rock pooling. All you need is an outgoing tide, a net, bucket and some inquisitive children.

rock pooling in Granville

Sunsets and Sandy Beaches

The photos below were taken at Mont-Saint-Michel bay. It is possible to walk across the bay when the tide is out as long as you join a guided tour. There’s a danger of quicksand otherwise.

sunset Mont St Michel

Seafood

Seafood features heavily on Normandy restaurant menus. You can be guaranteed fresh produce as it will have been caught locally. There are oyster and mussel beds located from Agon-Coutainville up to Gouville. My favourite seafood dish is moules frites which is mussels and chips.


What I love about Normandy

Beach Huts

I love these beach huts at Gouville-sur-Mer nestled in the dunes. Their coloured roofs add a pop of colour to the landscape.

Gouville Normandy Beach Huts

High and Low Tides

The extreme tides are an unusual characteristic of the Normandy coast. The photo below was taken at Les Salines, near to Bricqueville sur Mer. The whole road floods during very high tides.

high tide at briqueville sur mer

The D-Day Landing Beaches

An article about the coastline wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the D-Day landing beaches. You can read more about the beaches here. The day I spent exploring the Omaha Beach area last year is one of my personal highlights. It was an incredibly emotional day as I learnt about the bravery and horror that so many soldiers experienced on 6th June.

Omaha Beach

This is Les Braves sculpture on Omaha Beach at St Laurent sur Mer. It’s hauntingly beautiful and represents the sacrifices made on this beach. My personal reflection was that it symbolised the fallen who didn’t make it but who nevertheless played a vital role.

Normandy American Cemetery

This is the American Cemetery at Colleville sur Mer. It overlooks the sea and you can hear the gentle rumble of the waves as you walk along the northern edge of the cemetery.

D-Day

And finally, Utah beach. The beach was the landing place of American troops.

There are lots more things to do and do along the Normandy coastline. I live around a 15 – 20 minute drive from the nearest beach. A trip to the beach always lifts the spirits and blows away the cobwebs. It’s good for the soul and one of the things I love about Normandy.

Normandy Beach Huts

Normandy Beach Huts

These delightful Normandy beach huts can be found in a small village called Gouville-sur-Mer. They’re so well known locally that they even appear on Google maps. They’re dotted along the coastline in a somewhat haphazard manner and stretch for around a kilometre or so. They sit high above the beach between the road and the sandy dunes.

Gouville Normandy beach huts

The brightly coloured roofs can be seen as you approach Gouville from the south. They date from the early 20th century when bathing became a popular pastime.

There are more beach huts located in Barneville-Carteret. This seaside town is very popular with families during the summer months who make the most of the clean beaches. These huts are much more regimental in style and look straight out on the beach.

Normandy beach huts