A labyrinth of alleyways
Though its heyday as a transatlantic passenger port is now long gone, the sizeable town of Cherbourg, at the northern tip of the Cotentin peninsula, makes an appealing point of arrival on your MSC cruise to France.
A shore excursion on your MSC Northern Europe cruise can be the opportunity to discover Cherbourg’s Old Town, immediately west of the quayside, an intriguing maze of pedestrian alleys that abounds in shops and restaurants.
The tempting array of small shops and boutiques clustered around the place Centrale includes a place to buy the city’s most famous product, the genuine Cherbourg umbrella, at 30 rue des Portes, while the excellent Thursday market is held on and off rue des Halles, near the majestic theatre with its belle époque facade. A pleasant stroll north of the commercial zone leads to the Basilique de la Trinité and the former town beach, now grassed over to form the Plage Vert.
Beyond Cherbourg, the peninsula’s major port, on the indented northern headland little ports such as Barfleur and St-Vaast presage the rocky Breton coast, while La Hague to the west offers a handsome array of heather-clad cliffs and a stone-wall-divided patchwork of fields.
The pleasant harbour village of Barfleur, 25km east of Cherbourg, was the biggest port in Normandy seven centuries ago. Its population having dwindled along with its fortunes, it’s now a surprisingly low-key place, where the sweeping crescent of the picturesque grey-granite quayside sees little tourist activity.
Pretty St-Vaast-La-Hougue, 11km south of Barfleur, is a relaxed resort that comes alive in summer. Countless tiny Channel-crossing yachts moor in the bay where Edward III landed on his way to Crécy, overlooked by a string of fortifications that date from Vauban’s time.