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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 Delice, until recently run by a young English couple. 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. Lunch Mon- Sat, Dinner Monday – Thursday. Closed all day Sunday.
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.
The one all our guests use is in Gavray (new premises). Go North from Marche U about 200 yards and then turn left towards a shopping area. First right and the vet is straight ahead. They know exactly what to do for UK dogs.
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 a Huit in the centre of town (open every day 8 to 8), and the much larger Marche 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, Bricomarche 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, cafes 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 PRIORITE A 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 Guehebert 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. 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 park free 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 connection and is consequently extremely bound in high season. It is nevertheless a must-see place. It is about and hour and a half from La Dehayrie (mostly motorway). There are many fish restaurants that line the harbour. If you are travelling via Le Havre or channel tunnel, this is the perfect place to go to lunch on the way to the return.
From Granville, you can take a day trip to the Iles de Chausey (highly recommended) or the Channel Islands. Both trips last about an hour. For both, look at the schedule because Granville is very tidal and the exact times vary every day, but roughly – for both – you leave at about 9 a.m. and come back at 6 p.m. Keep in mind that the Channel Islands are on UK time, that is, one hour behind French time throughout the year.
More local attractions:
The gardens of Coutances are small but delightful. The Cathedral of Coutances is magnificent, and worth a guided tour. The Manoir de Saussey has three small museums and a beautiful garden. Hambye Abbey, The tchateua de Gratot, the charming City of Granville (Normandy’s seafood centre), and Villedieu-les-Poeles with its famous bell foundry are all less than half an hour away. St Lo, scene of an extraordinary battle of the Second World War, has the main horse stud in France, but well worth a visit anyway, especially the church and the surrounding area. The church is particularly emotional, as part of it is left exactly as it was after the bombings. Unfortunately, the rest of the city is hideous post-war.
Specific interests (all 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 on Ay, Agon Coutainville
Trips by air (local): Breville-sur-mer