Museum exterior, Utah beach. Photo credit © Office Tourisme Baie du Cotentin

La Baie du Cotentin, at the heart of the Cotentin Marshes Regional Natural Park in La Manche, is a land brimming with abundant nature and history, and most famously it was home to the D-Day landings.

1. UTAH BEACH

On June 6, 1944, Cotentin Bay was the scene of the Utah Beach landing as part of Operation Overlord. 23,250 men, 1,700 combat vehicles and 1,695 tons of equipment landed here. Today, four museums help visitors understand the Normandy Landings: Airborne Museum, D-Day Experience, D-Day Museum and Normandy Victory Museum. And don’t miss Sainte-Mère-Église and Carentan, where about 15,000 US parachutists were dropped in to support the beach landing.

2. ESCAPE GAME: THE BLOCKHAUS

Become fully immersed in history with this fantastic escape game, designed to bring the past to life. As a team, you must solve a series of puzzles to carry out your mission on the theme of the 1944 landings. There are two rooms to choose from: a reconstructed bunker where you assume the role of Allied soldiers; or a bourgeois house as French resistance fighters. Bon courage!

3. BAIE DES VEYS

This nature reserve is a birdwatcher’s paradise, where migratory flocks gather, along with colonies of harbour seals. In winter, it is home to many thousands of birds so be sure to take your binoculars. There are two sites from which to explore: the Pointe de Brévands, where information panels tell you all you need to know, and Le Grand Vey.

Photo credit © Th. Houyel

4. MAISON DU PARC DES MARAIS

Located in Carentan-les-Marais, the house is the ideal place from which to walk, discover and understand the marshes in all seasons, as well as being the entry point for the gardens. Five ornithological observatories are accessible via a fun 1km discovery trail that explains the history and uses of marshes, their fauna and flora. It’s great for everyone, from the youngest of visitors to the oldest. To dig deeper into nature be sure to check out the 5.5km circular trail through l’Espace Naturel Sensible. Open from May to September.

5. BEAUGUILLOT ORNITHOLOGICAL RESERVE

Located in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont in the Bay of Veys, the Beauguillot reserve is home to thousands of ducks, geese, many seabird species and wading birds, as well as a colony of seals. Spread over 300 hectares of marshland, it has two observatories from which you can enjoy this unique territory.

6. DISCOVER THE MARSHES BY BOAT

Discover the Taute Valley aboard La Rosée du Soleil, a 70-seat boat, perfect for capturing those Insta-ready views. Take a trip with commentary from Saint-Hilaire-Petitville to Graignes, or enjoy a gourmet voyage, stopping over at the lock house at Les Ormes, tasting local products and enjoying a meal inspired by the local terroir on board. Or you can rent a small electric boat and be your own captain, sailing along the River Douve.

Aerial photography of the île Saint-Marcouf, Normandy. Photo credit © Frédéric Almaviva, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

7. SAIL FROM CARENTAN TO THE ÎLES SAINT-MARCOUF

Hop aboard the Belle de Carentan and enjoy a sea trip to around the Baie des Veys and its wild channel which connects Carentan to the open sea. It’s not uncommon to spot seals bobbing peacefully in the bay among migrating birds. Once out of the channel, you can head towards the Saint Marcouf Islands or towards Pointe du Hoc, the famous landing site, from where you will have a magnificent view of the entire east coast of Cotentin and the legendary Utah Beach.

8. DISCOVER CARENTAN’S HERITAGE ON FOOT

This walking circuit will lead you on a tour of the ancient city through its hidden alleyways. Admire the monuments and mansions of the 18th century, as well as Carentan’s medieval arcades, superb church, sumptuous town hall, former convent, imposing washhouse… and its unusual port, which is not by the sea!

9. HIKING AND BIKING

In Cotentin Bay, you can follow the marked hiking trails through the marshes, explore the Normandy countryside or follow the coastal paths. Choose from small loops to longer hikes depending on your ability and time constraints.

Photo credit © Office Tourisme Baie du Cotentin

10. FUN ON THE WATER

If you like messing about on boats, this is the place for you. You can have a go at sand yachting on the legendary landing beach, sail quietly along the Douve river in the heart of the marshes, or take a kayak trip from the small village of Longuérac. Carentan itself has a very well-equipped marina, with boats available for hire, whether you wish to self-drive or hire a captain and relax while soaking up the surrounding beauty.

Find out more on the Baie du Cotentin tourism website.

From France Today magazine

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