Sadly our August cycling tour had to be curtailed as I was somewhat incapacitated by a broken ankle. This was not a cycling related injury and neither was it drink-related – merely a disastrous effect of neglecting my morning stretching regime. I actually stepped down a single step and ‘rolled’ my ankle – the rest in history. However what it did give me was the opportunity to visit a number of exquisite destinations on the Normandy peninsula. Instead of whizzing past some of these beautiful places I was able to take a little more time and take it all in. For those of you who have not visited this part of France before it is truly majestic with its huge, endless sandy beaches, neat little towns and timeless, historical monuments. This time I was able to do them, well at least some of them, full justice.
A trip to Pointe d’Agon took us to a wild and rugged natural space, constantly changing with the tides and light. It is a strip of sand, south of Coutainville and is the result of a none-too-brief encounter between the river Sienne and the sea. At low-tide the boats are moored where they lie on their soft, sandy beds. A walk across the bay at low tide needs the assistance of a local guide but it will take you into Regneville which forms part of one of the most beautiful natural harbours of the region and where a fine lunch can be found if you know where to look.
If the Summer weather favours you the municipal gardens of Coutances - Jardin des plantes de Coutances - are an eye opener where even a horticultural ignoramus like myself can appreciate its organised loveliness. Every year they arrange all the plants according to a special theme – this year it was all about education. The gardeners spent a lot of time arranging all the flowers and shrubs accordingly. Inside the park you can find a little playground and a labyrinth for the children. It is absolutely exquisite and a visual and olfactural treat for the senses. After our ramble we retreated to the adjacent Quesnel-Morinière Museum where much fine art was on display.
The next day took us toward the coast where starting at the colourful fishing town of Port-en-Bessin for some exploration. This picturesque town is the Norman equivalent of some of those picture post card Cornish ports beloved by TV series and is vibrant and busy with local fishing smacks landing their catches for sale and the market.
It also hosted a German gun battery from the last war that belies its important strategic position during the last phase of tat conflict. After a decent ‘moules-frites’ and local cider we moved down the coast toward Omaha Beach. For the first time visitor the beach and the cemetery are not to be missed and will give you a scale of the operation and the dreadful sacrifice made. We then moved along the coast stopping at both St. Pierre du Mont and Grandcamp Maissey- each seaside town unique and compelling in different ways. For military historians this part of the coastline is littered with artefacts of the D Day landings and is a must for military historians.
There are plenty of places to visit and immerse yourself in history and there are quite a few off the beaten track. One such place is the Abbey Hambye.
Founded in the 12th century in the Siena Valley, the abbey was home to Benedictines until the eve of the Revolution. For more than half a century, it has been the subject of long and painstaking restoration work and is one of the most complete medieval monastic complexes in the region. Added attractions are the nearby restaurant and a choice of walks in and around the Abbey - taking walkers through some wonderful flora and fauna.
Be careful if you don’t like walking up hills as the route can be steep in places. Our site-seeing may not have had the rush of our planned cycling tour but the places we visited were truly memorable for so many different reasons and we shall return – hopefully on two wheels next time.