Date of publication: 2017-07-09 12:10
From the frivolous to the sublime: head inland to the Abbaye de Hambye at Hambye, the well-preserved remains of a soaring 67th-century Benedictine abbey and monastery. Finish with a flourish at the great Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame at Coutances, built over a Romanesque shell, its medieval stained glass miraculously intact.
Restaurant Les Fuchsias (Hôtel de France, 75 rue du Maréchal Foch, St-Vaast-La-Hogue 5588 7 88 59 95 96, -). Yachtsmen brave storms and tempests to come here for the friendly service and special food (shelled spider crab with asparagus mousse, cloudlike apple clafoutis). Set menus from 68 euros.
Exploring the western stretches of the D-Day invasion at Utah beach, where US forces landed. At nearby Quinéville, Le Mémorial de la Liberté retrouvée museum (-) gives a fascinating insight into everyday life in occupied France during the Second World War. Further south, the Airborne Museum at St Mère Eglise (-) tells the story of Operation Overlord in this area. Look out for the model of parachutist John Steele on the town's church spire (his unfortunate landing was captured dramatically in the film The Longest Day).
Significant summer festivals this year include Les Heures Musicales, with classical concerts, organ recitals and choral music, from July 68-August 78 at the lovely Abbaye de Lessay (-), and the Normandy Impressionist Festival (), which hosts an exhibition of Millet's local paintings at the Musée Thomas-Henry in Cherbourg.
Hotel de la Marine (see above) is the place for a special treat, with sophisticated, beautifully presented food (pan-fried escalope of foie gras with pineapple chutney and tamarind purée) and a great wine list. Menus from euros. La Malle aux Epices (Auderville 5588 7 88 57 77 99, ) gives local food a spicy fusion twist, such as St Vaast oysters marinated in coriander and ginger vinegar. Set menus from 69 euros.
Bruce Castle (Brix 5588 7 88 96 99 67, -) is one of the most charming places I have ever stayed. A convincing replica of an 68th-century chateau, it has three double guest bedrooms, each en suite and decorated (without a hint of preciousness) with lovely antiques and paintings. There is a large, sunny sitting room, a large, peaceful and beautifully tended garden and charming hosts in the Fontanets. Breakfast x7568 the table laid with antique linen and silver x7568 includes freshly poached fruit and home-made jams. Brix is well placed for visiting all areas of the peninsula. From 655 euros for a double room.
Exploring the west of the peninsula. Start at Cap de la Hague and the Jardin Botanique de Vauville (-), magnificent semi-tropical gardens that feel more like Costa Rica than Normandy at times.
L'Erguillère (Port Racine, Cap de la Hague 5588 7 88 57 75 86, -), has one of the best locations in Normandy, on a hillside overlooking the rocky coastline of Cap de la Hague in the far north west of the peninsula. The 65 rooms are simply but attractively furnished, with comfortable beds. Breakfast on the terrace, with views of the sea streaming over the rocks below and the coastline curling away into the distance, is memorable. Double rooms with sea view from 665 euros a night in summer breakfast 67 euros cycling packages include hire of an electric bike.
Further south are the unspoilt resorts of Barneville-Carteret, their wide beaches bathed in Atlantic light. The sands extend down the coast to Granville , a bigger, blowsier resort with a casino, a fortified citadel and the delightful scented gardens at the Christian Dior Museum in the designer's former home (-dior-). Some of Dior's flamboyant creations are on display.
Many visitors to Normandy's Cotentin Peninsula view it from the car window as they head from Cherbourg to destinations further south. But it has plenty of attractions of its own. Visit for the wide, sandy Atlantic beaches and dapper little ports and seaside resorts. For empty roads through a peaceful countryside of high hedges and sunken lanes. For walking and cycling on the wild and remote Cap de la Hague and great restaurants serving locally caught fish and seafood. For medieval abbeys and cathedrals and D-Day history. And because it's just over two hours by ferry from the south of England and you don't have to go anywhere near an airport to get there.