The land of Calvados, Pont l’Evêque cheese and World War II history, Normandy, France, is one of those places that manages to pack almost everything into one region. Coastline, farmland, history, culture, food – in a trip to Normandy you can get it all.
Well known for some of its larger cities and the World War II beaches like Utah and Omaha, an often forgotten gem of Normandy is Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, a small fishing village just east of Cherbourg. A tiny village in the off-season, during the warmer months it explodes with French and Brits descending upon their vacation homes. Which makes late spring or early fall the perfect time to explore: the weather is nice and the streets are quiet.The first harbor to be freed by the Allied Forces in 1944, the village is also home to the La Hougue Fort and Tatihou, part of 12 groups of fortified buildings across France that have UNESCO World Heritage classification. Built by King Louis XIV’s famed engineer Sebastian le Prestre de Vauban, the Vauban fortifications include citadels, urban bastion walls and bastion towers. In Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue you’ll find one just east of town and the other on the island of Tatihou, both built after naval Battle of La Hougue saw twelve French ships sunk in the surrounding waters. Go to La Hougue Fort early in the morning and have the place to yourself, the waves crashing on the rock wall that surrounds the fort and, if you’re up for it, an excellent promenade.
In town you’ll find the infamous Maison Gosselin, a family-owned store that’s been in operation since 1889. It’s still set up like a classic store – you take your produce to be weighed before you pay for it – and it’s complete with regional products like Sel Guerande sea salt and plenty of options for Calvados. In fact the wine cellar almost seems bigger than the store itself. Foodie heaven.
From here you are a short drive to the WWII beaches, Utah Beach and the Utah Beach Museum being the closest. Omaha Beach, which houses the Normandy American Cemetery is just a little further east.
When in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue:
Le Pub le Creperie – Owned by an ex-Parisian named Philippe, this is the place to go for good crepes. You can also get the traditional serving of moules frites (mussels and fries). Be sure to accompany with the rose. 36 rue de Verrue.
Oysters – One out of four oysters in France come from Normandy, and Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a hub of oyster production. You can visit a local oyster production complete with a tasting at Ets Lejeune.
Snag a classic striped mariniere French sailor shirt. Check out local boutique Cap Saint Vaast Marine (12 rue de Verrue) for the classic brand St. James. While you’re at it, stick to the maritime theme and pick up a few jars of flavored sea salts at Maison Gosselin.
Get up early and check out the La Hougue Fort; you’ll have it to yourself and the fortified walls are beautiful in the early morning light.
Go to Ile Tatihou. The island is limited to 500 people per day so make sure to book a time on the local ferry that shuttles visitors to the island.
Get outside. In the summer Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue is a hub of activity, from cycling to sailing.