Granville commands stunning views of the Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel from its fortified headland. Enjoy this invigorating resort’s wonderful array of ports, quarters and beaches, plus its museums, one devoted to local genius Christian Dior.
Ferries from Granville serve the magical Chausey Islands archipelago, like a mirage 15km out to sea, plus the Channel Islands.
Le Roc is the gritty name given to Granville’s dramatic headland. Walk around it not just for fantastic sea views across the Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel (although the holy mount itself remains just out of sight), but also to get an overview of this strategic port’s history. English forces built the earliest fortifications here, in the Hundred Years War. The French took the place back, Granville going on to produce many admirals and corsairs. At the headland’s western tip, hulking concrete blockhouses recall the German occupation in World War II.
East along the headland, the striking silhouettes of the Gothic church and a many-turreted house draw you inside the walled Ville Haute, packed with fine, solid stone mansions, plus boutiques, galleries, crêperies and restaurants. The Musée du Vieux Granville tells the story of port and resort via a mass of objects. At Le Roc’s eastern end, the major art museum, the Musée Anacréon, stands in a breath-taking location.
North, below Granville’s headland, spreads the beach resort. A tidal sea-water swimming pool stands out from the broad sands backed by white beach huts and some extravagant buildings. On the slope above, the pink villa where the 20th-century’s most famous fashion designer, Christian Dior, lived as a child is now a delightful museum. Dior’s love of fashion was partly inspired by the Granville Carnival, for which, as a boy, he would make lavish costumes for himself and his friends. The Granville annual extravaganza is still going strong.
South below Granville’s headland, the ports line up, with fish restaurants clustered behind them. The sailing school beside the big marina is highly regarded. Ferries connect Granville to the Channel Islands, and to Granville’s own archipelago, the Iles Chausey, a magical place to visit, ever changing with the tides.
- Musée Christian Dior: the enchanting pink Villa Les Rhumbs, on the heights just north of the centre, was the childhood home of the great French couturier Christian Dior. As well as honouring Dior, the place hosts wonderful fashion exhibitions. The garden adjoining the Dior villa is also a pleasure to discover, with its breath-taking views, as is the tearoom.
- The Haute-Ville, or Upper Town: a fascinating place to walk around, with its ramparts and grand buildings, its array of museums, shops and restaurants, and, above all, its magnificent sea views.
- Musée d'Art et d'Histoire: the collections packed into this museum cover the history and traditions of this military and fishing port which also became a thriving holiday resort from the mid-19th century.
- Musée d'art moderne Richard Anacréon: set in a gloriously located building on the eastern tip of the Upper Town, it houses a rich collection of modern art donated by a rich collector from Granville. There is also a collection of personal objects linked to the challenging woman writer Colette.
- Aquarium marin du Roc des Harmonies: with small displays in aquaria, a sea lion and a café with grand views across the Bay of the Mont Saint-Michel.
- Chausey Islands: regular ferry services head to the Iles Chausey. Just visible on the horizon from Granville, these gorgeous islands are in fact administered from the mainland town. Out at this extraordinary archipelago, which grows hugely in size at low tide, only the main island is inhabited. A quarry here provided a good deal of the stone needed to build the Mont Saint-Michel’s abbey. Now fishing is the primary activity. At low tide, vast numbers of islets are uncovered, making for magical nature discoveries. Note that most of the archipelago is a protected nature reserve.
- Centre régional de nautisme: a reputed sailing school, the Centre Régional de Nautisme has branches not just in Granville, but also on Chausey and at Jullouville south along the coast. All three offer exceptional surrounds for learning sailing and watersports.
- Granville Carnival, the biggest Carnival in Normandy (website in French): the story goes that it was sailors from Granville who began the tradition of having a wild celebration for Mardi Gras to lighten their mood before setting off on long transatlantic fishing voyages to Newfoundland. The locals love celebrating what is the biggest carnival in Normandy. It is renowned for its street parades, fancy costumes, street concerts and confetti fights.