Updated on 27 November 2020
Reading time: 2 minutes
In the heart of the bocage normand (Normandy’s hedgerow country) and just 10 minutes from the sea, historic Coutances is visible from far and wide across the surrounding countryside, perched as it is on a rocky outcrop.
Coutances is spread out atop a craggy flank of rocks, making it a natural place of refuge. A Gallic capital and Roman garrison town, it was able to profit from its strategic position between Rennes and Valognes. Destroyed by the Vikings in 866, it became the historic capital of the Cotentin and a flourishing bishopric and centre of trade. It benefited from the patronage of the Norman Hautevilles of Sicily and, by the Renaissance, was reputed for its books. Its status was somewhat wiped out when the préfecture (county hall) was created in Saint-Lô in 1790, and the Battle of Normandy didn’t do it much good either, when it was badly damaged.
For all that, Coutances has managed to retain its charm, most of its historic buildings, and of course its wonderful cathedral, a triumph of the gothique rayonnant style of the 13th century. The parks and gardens, the Hôtel-Dieu, the churches of Saint-Peter and Saint-Nicolas and the fine town houses known as hôtels particuliers have won the town the national status of a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (town of art and history).
- Notre-Dame Cathedral: An extraordinary mix of Normandy and Gothic architecture, this cathedral provides an insight into contrasting architecture, something which even the the Mont-Saint-Michel cannot do. If you get the opportunity, visit the upper levels of the building and enjoy stunning views from 30 metres up!
- Quesnel-Morinière Museum: Home to a number of paintings and artefacts recalling the history of old Coutances, as well as a fine collection of Norman ceramics.
- The Botanic Gardens: Listed as a historic garden by the Historic Buildings and Sites Commission in 1992, this garden has kept its original 17th-century design.
- Château Fort de Pirou: Enter the fortified doors of Pirou Castle, a medieval masterpiece built on an island in the middle of an artificial lake, and hear the legend of the geese of Pirou!
- Musée Tancrède-de-Hauteville: Discover the story of the Normans in Sicily.
- Barneville-Carteret: A charming seaside resort.
- Granville: The ‘Monaco of the north’ is a lively seaside fishing town.