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We are blessed with a wealth of excellent restaurants none of which is expensive. The best restaurant in the area is La Baratte in the next village, St Denis le Vetu (not to be confused with St Denis le Gast). From the bottom of the lane by the church, go straight over the crossroads, and follow your nose for about 3 miles. La Baratte is opposite the church. Car park right there. Superb cooking and by no means expensive. 02-33-45-45-49. Surprisingly, it is usually possible to get a table at short notice. Closed Sunday evening, Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday.
In Gavray there is the excellent Restaurant du Délice, until recently run by a young English couple (Patrick and Nicky, 02-33-51-61-14). We haven’t visited since the new owners took over, so can’t yet comment on how good it is. Also in Gavray, for traditional French fare, is the Hotel de la Gare (02-33-61-40-55), which is also very good.
The Bar de l’Étang in Grimesnil (the nearest bar and restaurant, 02-33-61-44-29) has recently been taken over by a chef from Paris, but his family live in Grimesnil. Pretty upmarket for a local restaurant, but not expensive. Closed Wednesdays.
There are large numbers of restaurants in Coutances (15 minutes’ drive). If you like seafood, Granville is the place: it’s about half an hour away, but has several excellent restaurants facing the harbour. Granville is well worth a visit anyway, especially the Old Town up the hill from the harbour.
Hauteville (see directions for beach) has a large market on Sundays. Gavray has a market every Wednesday and Saturday. On Wednesdays the market is modest and adjacent to the cattle market; on Saturdays it is in the centre of the town. Excellent for fish, fruit and vegetables. Fish stall also on Thursdays.
Roncey (turn right at the bottom of the lane and follow your nose) has a market on Fridays; it is also the nearest place for small shops, including a bakery (open from 7am but closed Mondays),two butchers, post office, a small supermarket and pharmacy. Markets are usually open from 9.30am to noon.
Excellent traditional butchers and bakers in Roncey and Gavray (open on Sunday mornings). There are two supermarkets in Gavray: Huit à Huit in the centre of town (open every day 8 to 8), and the much larger Marché U on the road North out of town. Nearest bakery is in St Denis-le-Gast or Roncey. On Mondays, these are shut and you need to go to Gavray.
For larger shops, you need to go to Coutances. The main hypermarkets are on the road to Carentan: into Coutances and go straight on through four sets of traffic lights, then there is an odd fork left to Carentan. LeClerc, Bricomarché etc are up here about half a mile.
Shopping is worthwhile in France: almost everything is much cheaper than in England, especially wine and food (including restaurants).
All the major attractions of Lower (Western) Normandy are a very easy day’s outing. Most are under an hour’s drive. If you want the beach, the 20-mile long sandy beach 20 minutes’ drive to the West is superb, and it’s not crowded even in high summer. Hauteville is probably the best combination of sandy beach with a few bars, cafés and small shops. Left at the bottom of the lane; follow the signs to Trelly for two miles. Cross straight over the main road, through Trelly and a couple of other small towns until you reach Montmartin-sur-Mer (beware of PRIORITÉ À DROITE as you enter the centre of town). Turn left in the main square and follow the signs to Hauteville-plage. Alternatively, you can go to many parts of the very long beach by just exploring and parking (free). The further South you go, the more shingly it becomes. Regneville-sur-mer is a pretty village and its old limeworks are well worth a visit. On the way back, it’s easy to miss the turning left to Guéhébert 500 yards beyond Trelly (on a bend).
Mont-St-Michel is, of course, spectacular and it’s about an hour away. Go to Gavray and turn left when you reach the centre. Straight on for about half an hour until you reach Avranches and then follow the signs. In high season, it’s very busy, but still well worth a visit. Late afternoon is a good time to go: the crowds have thinned out and the lighting is spectacular. Also, perhaps, visit the Avranches Second World War exhibition on the way back (well signposted). Not worth a special outing. Avranches itself is a pretty town and well worth a visit.
Arromanches and the landing beaches: again, about an hour’s drive. You go through Bayeux, which is well worth a visit anyway either coming or going, and not just for the tapestry. Again, quite crowded in high season, but go anyway.
The best introduction to the D-Day story is the main Arromanches Museum bang in the middle of the small town (lunch at the big Hotel in one corner – very good and very reasonable). A paying car park is in the centre, but you can parkfree by turning left as you enter the town and using the quite big car-park there, then walk (400 yards) through the pedestrian street of tourist tat and awful food.
Do see the 360 degree film show which is at the top of the hill. In high season there is a “shuttle-train” which takes you there every half-hour. Quite fun actually at whatever age. Just to see the existing remains of the “Mulberry harbours” is moving enough.
There are various other smaller museums of the Normandy landings which you will come across (not to mention the extensive cemeteries), and they are all extremely moving. The most extensive Second World War (not just D-Day) museum is at Caen (called “Memorial”), just over an hour away; if you’re travelling from Caen, this is an ideal time to visit, but you need to leave La Dehayrie at about 9am. It’s just off the peripherique (North). The museum is about two miles North of the peripherique. Exit at Junction 7, then turn left and left again, and follow the signs. Be warned: you need to allow three to four hours but it’s well worth it. Extremely impressive and moving.
Honfleur is a stunningly beautiful fishing town, with strong artistic connections [Monet, Boudin, Corot, and the composer Erik Satie] , and is correspondingly extremely crowded in high season. It is nevertheless a must-see place. This is an hour and a half from La Dehayrie (mostly motorway). There are many fish restaurants lining the harbour. If travelling via Le Havre or the tunnel, it’s the ideal spot to go for lunch on your way home.
From Granville you can take a day-trip to the very local Iles de Chausey (highly recommended) or the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and even – sometimes – Alderney). Both trips (to Jersey – first stop) take about an hour. For both you need to consult the timetable (????? and Manche-Iles Express) because Granville is very tidal and the exact times vary each day, but roughly – for both – you leave at about 9am and return at 6pm. Bear in mind that the Channel Islands are on UK time, ie an hour behind French time throughout the year.
More local attractions
The gardens at Coutances are quite small-scale but delightful. The Cathedral at Coutances is stunning, and worth a guided tour. The Manoir de Saussey has three small museums and a pretty garden. The Jardins d’Argence are also something special, on the road to Coutances.
The Abbaye de Hambye, the Chateau de Gratot, the charming town of Granville (the seafood centre of Normandy), and Villedieu-les-Poeles with its famous bell foundry are all less than half an hour away.
The Bayeux tapestry is justly famous, hut almost unknown is a modern version based on the same look (its maker is still alive and in her nineties) at Pirou castle, just North of Coutances. Well worth a visit just to the castle itself (closed at lunchtimes).
St Lo, scene of an extraordinary battle of WWII, has the principal horse stud farm in France, but is well worth a visit anyway, especially the church and surrounding area. The church is particularly moving, since some of it has been left exactly as it was after bombing. Sadly, the rest of the town is post-war hideous.
Special interests (all fairly local):
Golf: Agon Coutainville, Bréville, Tourville-sur-Sienne or St Martin d’Aubigny.
Horse-riding: Lengronne, Les Tancrède, Hauteville la Guichard, Le Relais du Busard, St Germain sur Ay.
Gliding: Lessay, Vauville-Hague.
Sand-yachting: Bretteville sur Ay, Agon Coutainville
Parachuting/ flying: Bréville.
Walking: anywhere you feel like going. It’s all very pretty indeed.
Douglas and Heather Henderson