Avranches in Normandy and Its World War II Connections

Avranches, Normandy
Getty Images/Walter Bibikow

The pretty seaside town of Avranches, one of Normandy’s oldest towns, has a lot to offer, quite apart from its proximity to the famous Mont St Michel Abbey over the bay. With a distinct lack of good accommodation on Mont St Michel, La Croix d’Or hotel in the center of town makes an attractive base. Avranches was also one of the towns that the Allies found vital in World War II.

Avranches is ideally located for sightseeing in the area.

To the north stretches the Cotentin Peninsula with its views out to sea and attractions like Granville with the Christian Dior Museum in the house of the great designer. Avranches is just a few miles from the world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mont St Michel with its glorious Abbey and monastic buildings. And a little further on, you come to the Normandy D-Day landing beaches.

Quick Facts

  • Population: 8,300
  • In the Manche department (50)
  • Tourist Office: 2 rue General-de-Gaulle
    Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 58 00 22

Getting to Avranches

  • By train: There are connections to Granville (2 daily 55 mins), Pontorson (frequent 21 mins), and St-Malo via Pontorson (2 daily; 45 mins). The train station is a long way away from the town center with a steep uphill climb.
  • By bus: Buses from Mont-St-Michel stop on the main square and also outside the SNCF station.

Attractions in Avranches

Scriptorial d’Avranches
Pl d’Estouteville
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 79 57 00

Illuminated manuscripts fascinate every generation it seems. Walk around the glorious examples in the Museum of Manuscripts and you join people of all ages poring over cases of exquisitely decorated manuscripts. But it’s not just the books and manuscripts created by monks in the dim distant past that fascinate; this is a well-laid out museum which shows you how they were produced.

The manuscripts, mainly from Mont St Michel Abbey, date from the 8th to the 15th centuries and form one of the most important collections in France. Here you can see the daily lives of our ancestors in perfect detail.

There are other artifacts: ceramics and coins, and pictures both sacred and profane. The museum also puts on good temporary exhibitions, on contemporary interests like pop-up books.

Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
Place Jean de Saint Avit
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 58 25 15

The former bishop’s palace just south of the Scriptorial houses a delightful museum that shows you the archaeology of the region, sculpture, and paintings. There are two rooms devoted to traditional arts and crafts and three rooms that cover the story of Avranches during World War II.

La Plate-forme
Walk up to the Plate-forme and the site of the old cathedral. There’s a paving stone marking the place where Henri II made public penance in 1172. But more to the point, there’s a great view of Mont St Michel from the terrace.

Jardin des Plantes
From here walk along the Boulevard Jozeau-Marigné to the Jardin des Plantes. The botanical gardens, originally part of a Capuchin monastery destroyed during the French Revolution, are delightful to stroll through.

And there’s another good view of the bay from the terrace.

Monument Patton
From Place Carnot, pass Notre-Dame des Champs and walk along Bd Marechal Foch to the Patton Monument where you are on American territory. Facing you is a large memorial commemorating General Patton and his troops in their thrust towards Brittany and the Normandy Beaches in July 1944.

St-Gervais-et-St-Protais Treasury
Pl St-Gervais
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 58 00 22

Originally built in the 17th century then massively rebuilt in the 19th, the vast basilica is most interesting for its treasures and relics, rescued after the French Revolution than for its architecture. The Treasury was further threatened when Church and State became separate in 1904. But the wily clergy created a small museum, the main attraction being a gold and silver reliquary which contains the skull of St Aubert, the 18th-century bishop who founded Mont St Michel.

Legend has it that the skull was pierced by the finger of the Archangel Michel.

Where to Stay

Hotel La Croix d’Or
83 rue de la Constitution
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 58 04 88

Just the kind of hotel you want to come across, La Croix d’Or is as perfect a Normandy inn as you could hope for. Cosy, traditional and with a flower-filled garden, the rooms are rustic in style but with all modern conveniences including free Wifi. There’s a good restaurant with stone walls and well spaced tables serving classic dishes.

La Ramade
2 rue de la Côte
Marcey-les-Grèves
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 58 27 40

Just north of Avranches, La Ramade is perfect if you want to be in the countryside. The pretty stone building has 11 good bedrooms elegantly decorated. Each room is different, named after a flower which gives the decor its theme. There’s also a suite in a separate building. It’s a little more expensive but worth the extra. There’s a glassed-in conservatory where you can have tea or wine, but no restaurant as such.

Auberge du Terroir
Le Bourg
Servon
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 60 17 92

On the road towards Mont St Michel, this charming rural inn converted from an 18th-century house has just 6 rooms, prettily decorated in fresh colors. It is very popular so you need to book in advance. There’s an excellent restaurant where the chef uses local ingredients on the menus.

Where to Eat

Le Littre
8 rue du Dr-Gilbert
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 33 58 01 66

Choose from two dining rooms with wooden parquet floors and white wood furniture giving a smart seaside resort feel to this well-established restaurant. The chef has a sure touch using local ingredients and locally caught fish. Start with artichoke stuffed with goat cheese and citrus chutney, then move on to a classic crusted rack of lamb or roast bream with vegetable couscous.

The La Croix d'Or hotel (see above) is the best place to eat in town. There are also plenty of brasseries in town, plus good cafes and bars.

What to See in the Region

The main attraction here is Mont St Michel just across the bay from Avranches. You are also just 30 kilometers from Caen with its many attractions. Bayeux is a short distance from Caen, know for its tapestry.