Manche (department number 50) is located in the region of Basse-Normandie and has an estimated population of 481,471 (approximate in 1999). The department is situated in the North West of France on the coast of the English Channel.
The capital of the department is Saint-Lô. Other major towns in the department are Avranches, Cherbourg-Octeville and Coutances.
The department is named after La Manche ('the sleeve'), which is the French name for the English Channel. The department of Manche covers the western strip of Normandy, stretching from Cherbourg in the north to Mont-St-Michel in the south.
Why you should visit Manche for your next holiday in France
Manche is a perfect destination for walking and cycling holidays or for simply sightseeing and enjoying the heritage of the area.
As with the majority of Normandy, the department is essentially flat. It is a thriving agricultural region with naturally rich pastures, hedgerows and woodland, and vast forested nature reserves.
The department boasts beaches not to be missed and famous interesting sites including Mont-St-Michel.
The area is great for tasty dishes and culinary delights. As you would expect with a coastal department, there is a huge variety of fresh fish and shellfish and market stalls groan with fruit and vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and flowers.
The climate is oceanic, with mild winters, temperatures rarely reaching below freezing, and temperate summers, around 25°C. There is often a sea breeze along the coast, which combined with tides contributes to quick temperature changes over a single day.
What to see in Manche
Saint- Lô is the capital of Manche and its name originates from Saint Laud, bishop of Coutances in the 6th century. It was almost totally destroyed during the Battle of Normandy in World War II, earning the nickname of the Capital of the Ruins by Samuel Beckett. It was debated whether or not to rebuild the city or to leave the ruins as testimony of the bombing. The decision was made to rebuild the town and it is to this day a centre of French gastronomy focusing on the production of award winning chopped liver.
On the coast the craggy wild granite coastline of the northern Cotentin gives way to the long sandy beaches and white cliffs of the south.
The northern half is called the Cotentin Peninsula, although in English it is referred to as the Cherbourg Peninsula. Further south and towards the middle of Lower Normandy you will find the Bocage area which is characterised by its tranquillity and prosperity.
Cherbourg-Octeville is situated at the north end of the Cotentin Peninsula. It was formed when the city of Cherbourg absorbed Octeville on February 28, 2000, and was officially renamed Cherbourg-Octeville. The city is the largest in the department of Manche and the second largest in Basse-Normandie after Caen.
The city has a rich maritime heritage and has the largest artificial harbour in the world.
Avranches is situated at the southern end of the Cotentin Peninsula and is situated on high ground overlooking the dunes and coastal marshes. The town is located along the bay forming the corner between the peninsulas of the Cotentin and Brittany. From Avranches, it is possible to see Mont Saint Michel. Beautiful botanical gardens can also be enjoyed in the town.
The town of Coutances is thought by some to be the prettiest in Normandy. Its main attraction is a fantastic 11th to 13th century cathedral. The town enjoys a relaxed atmosphere and boasts safe streets and well kept gardens. Coutances also houses a well-known botanical garden and an art museum. The town is also well-known for its delicious (and incredibly fattening) cheese.
Perched high on a cliff, Granville is nicknamed Northern Monaco. Architecturally beautiful with its white granite houses being encircled by ramparts and fishing and sailing port below. A lovely beach and casino also awaits you.
Mont-St-Michel is the jewel in the crown for Normandy and a magnet for visitors, being visited by no less than three million people every year. As a town it is stunning but it is most famed for its romanesque and gothic buildings, a former Benedictine Abbey, built in 966 by the Duke of Normandy.
This impressive piece of architecture dominates the view of the town. After the French revolution it was used as jail and in 1861 was classified as an historic building. Today it is recognised as a pilgrim site. The bay of Mont St Michel is known for its fast-moving tides which are the biggest in Europe (17 metres).
How to get to Manche
There are several regional airports in Normandy with links to Paris.
The ferry ports of Cherbourg, Dieppe and Le Havre are the most convenient for travel to Normandy although it is not that far from Calais where fares may be cheaper. Calais to Caen is 345 km and will take about 3 hours. Calais to Rouen is about 200km and takes about 2 hours.
Normandy is well connected by rail to Paris but is not on the TGV route.