After living and working for seven months in this flat part of France, I’ve picked four of my favourite places to visit in Lower Normandy. Bon voyage!
MONT SAINT MICHEL
A Basse Normandie guide would be nowhere without this gem. Situated on a rocky outcrop just off the coast of Lower Normandy (and quite awkwardly positioned right on the Brittany – Normandy border) this is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Wander up the narrow alleyways towards the abbey itself, gaze in awe at the pillars and rooftop of the cathedral, and peer across the horizon at the tides that zoom up the sand (you might even see some bay walkers below!) There is (expensive) car parking on the mainland and a shuttle bus which takes you over the causeway; alternatively park in a nearby village and get a return ticket on the local bus for just €4.60.
If you’re a history buff, Bayeux is an ideal place to get a taste of several time periods. Head to the Bayeux Tapestry and get the guided tour of the 350 kilogram treasure. Then walk around Bayeux town, stopping off at some boulangeries (of course), the majestic cathedral, before finishing at the Memorial Museum. This jam-packed building commemorates the WWII Battle of Normandy, and along with the intricate details of military manoeuvres, there’s also real tanks and armoury from specific divisions. Along the road, pay your respects to British and Commonwealth soldiers at the beautiful cemetery, or take the Bus Verts to one of the D-Day landing beaches to the north of Bayeux itself.
The last ‘big’ town before the Brittany border, Avranches is known for the WWII breakthrough led by US General Patton (there’s a memorial to him at Place Patton). This small settlement makes a nice stop-off en route to Mont St Michel, and also has some quaint streets and stunning gardens. Avranches sits on the only hill for miles (so the pathway from the train station is murderously steep) but the views towards the Mont are unrivalled. Stroll around the Jardin des Plantes, admire the seasonal blooms and take photos of the panorama across the bay towards the island abbey. When the fresh air is too much, head to centre-ville and to Mont Chocolat, a chocolate shop and café which sells superb hot drinks and cakes. Vivent les boulangeries!
One of Basse Normandie’s port towns, Granville is an eclectic mix of industry, windy lanes and fashion (it is the hometown of Christian Dior, after all!) From the station or the bus stop, head up to the hills of the Old Town where you’ll find churches, cafés and cliff faces. The coastal trail (sentier littoral) is well worth a walk, and winds round the ridges of the beach and town battlements. From this height, the îles Chausey are visible, as is Jersey on a good day! Also, keep an eye out for remainders of the WWII Atlantic Wall. After all that wandering, it’s time for tea. Follow your tastebuds to the adorable Picorette café, which specialises in teas from around the globe and serves perfect mini scones with French jams.
Curious about life in Normandy? Browse the Year Abroad Diaries here.