Normandy is usually associated with the World War II D-Day Landings, and those beaches do tell a remarkable story. The beaches at Normandy are an important part of what is a wonderfully long coastline, which starts at the Cotentin Peninsula with Cherbourg at its tip. The coast runs along to the island of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, a mysterious, fortified monastery island that is inaccessible by foot at high tide.
To get there, you can take ferries from Newhaven, England, that arrive in four hours in Dieppe, Normandy, or a six-hour ferry from Portsmouth, England, that travels to Caen or Cherbourg along the Normandy coast. If you are traveling from Paris, you can get there in two hours by train.
Granville, Cotentin Peninsula
On the southwest corner of the Cotentin Peninsula, curiously shaped like a snail's head, Granville looks out onto the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, though the holy island is too far to see. Granville has its own long beach to the north and some delightful finds to the south. St Pair-sur-Mer, Jullouville, and Carolles-Plage run down the coast on a sandy 4-mile stretch of shoreline. All the resorts are also ideal for walking and cycling, but pack for a picnic as cafes and restaurants are few and far between.
Granville is a delightful fortified coastal town with an impressive citadel. Check the great annual seafood festival, running at the end of September.
For something delightfully different, visit the villa of Christian Dior.
Barneville-Carteret, Cotentin Peninsula
Barneville-Carteret on the west side of the Cotentin Peninsula is the closest port to Jersey in the Channel Islands. About a mile outside the center of Carteret lies the fabulous, empty golden sands of the Plage de la Vieille Eglise. It is nationally protected seashore, so there’s very little but yourself and the gulls for company.
Normandy Landing Beaches
The long, sloping sandy beaches were ideal for the Normandy D-Day landings in June 1944 and Gold Beach, between Arromanches-les-Bains and Courseulles-sur-Mer, was one of the most important of them.
Today you’ll find that these famous beaches, including Omaha Beach, are extraordinarily peaceful. The sparkling sea, the surfers and the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach are a far cry from the horrors of World War II. Each year in June there are commemorations around the D-Day Landings, so you'll have to book your accommodation in advance.
If you are looking to stay nearby, there are a few good hotels and restaurants, like La Ferme de la Ranconniere, formerly a working farm about 3 miles from beaches of the Normandy landing. Nearby Avranches is another good place to stay. This town was vital for General Patton and his troops as they launched their offensive in July 1944.
Houlgate is set in the pretty, green Drochon Valley. This resort area became popular in 1851 and has never lost its appeal, though it's small compared to its bigger neighbors, Deauville and Trouville. A promenade overlooks the long sandy beach that runs east to the cliffs of the Vaches Noire.
Trouville became the fashionable seaside place during the reign of Napolean III and still retains the grace of those years in the 1850s when the Cote Fleurie (Flowery Coast) was all the rage. Trouville is delightful with a wooden boardwalk running the full length of the beach. Here the cliffs of Normandy have roads that snake down to the mouth of the River Touques and a lovely little fishing harbor. Less posh than its more famous neighbor, Deauville, it is more relaxed, and it has enough going on to make it a resort for all seasons.
"Its beach, whose beauty has been immortalized by so many painters, is the embodiment of magic," wrote famous French author Guy de Maupassant about Etretat.
Dominated at both ends by magnificent arches, Etretat inspired Impressionist artists Boudin, Manet, and Monet. The grandeur of the natural stone needles also motivated literary greats Alexandre Dumas, Andre Gide, Victor Hugo, Gustave Courbet, Jacques Offenbach, and de Maupassant among many others.
Known as the alabaster coast because of the minerals that make the rocks sparkle, it’s popular for the bathing, the scenery, and the bustling lively town of Etretat itself. Etretat is near Fecamp, which is associated with William the Conqueror and medieval Normandy.