Mortain is a town in the Manche region of Normandy and is well worth a visit especially if you have an interest in World War II history. Although even if you aren’t an enthusiast, it is an enjoyable place to spend some time in. The very fact you are in Normandy will invariably mean you will be coming across monuments, commemorations and war graves at some point during your travels.
Even without the deep history of Mortain – in brief, the German’s held Mortain throughout the war (lost it then regained it) and was finally recaptured by the Americans – it is worth a visit in its own right.
The Americans lost a significant number of men during the war and you will find memorials to their sacrifice. If you visit during the d-day commemorations the town will no doubt have its bunting, featuring the American flag, adorning the streets.
But firstly, if you arrive in Mortain via the small town of le neufbourg you will have to pull over and park as you cannot drive by without seeing the:-
1. Grand Cascades
This is the largest cascade in the West of France it has a 25 metre drop and watching the flow of water is mesmerising. There’s nothing quite like the sound of the running water and hearing this cascading against the rocks is quite something. A simply tranquil place to be and never heaving with tourists.
You can take a slow amble besides the cascades or just watch and have a picnic. If you are feeling particularly energetic you can take a ramble all the way up to the petit chapelle (the cascade circuit). There are lots of maps and routes dotted around as you would come to expect from the French. It’s not for nothing this country is the most visited in the world. They excel at promoting and making good use of all their natural beauty and surroundings. If they can find a way to engage and interact they will. Furthermore, most things around attractions like these are free – free parking and free entrance.
2. Outdoor Swimming Pool
If you happen to be passing in the summer then be sure to take your swimming costume or trunks/speedos/lycra shorts. No, it’s not a myth men/boys aren’t allowed to wear long baggy shorts whilst swimming. There are various explanations as to why this is but I don’t think it’s because every French man wants their inner Daniel Craig to surface. I do believe it has to do with hygiene and safety i.e you can’t get sucked into the pump or what not. Decide which type of huggie shorts your prefer but nevertheless for men/boys – it is what it is. No one cares what you wear only if you’re not wearing the right thing! Here is a link to the opening hours as, if like me, you turn up with 3 children expecting a dip at lunch time aka 12-2.30 pm (and different times on a Monday and Wednesday) then you will be sorely disappointed.
At 4 euros for an adult, 3 euros for children and under 3’s free it’s a no brainer. It has a wonderful view and there is also a little play park nearby.
3. The Petite Chapelle
Just as you head out of the town towards Barenton or St Hilarie du Harcouet there is a turning on the left which will lead you up to the Petite Chapelle. Mortain is the highest point in this part of Normandy. It was a great vantage point for the Germans as you can see all the way to Mont St Michel on a clear day. The chapelle is quaint and unassuming quietly sitting there overlooking the region. To the left of the chapelle is a memorial to the Americans that lost their lives.
4. Hill 314 – The German Look Out Camp
As you come back to your car having visited the Petite Chapelle you will see an American flag flying even higher still. If you walk up a little and take the road to your left – you will discover the german hiding camp. This is private property but the owner has allowed for members of the public to walk through and has kindly put up posters depicting what was where i.e look out tower. It is actually, in my view, a more tranquil viewing point and you can really imagine Germans hiding out here – which they did for a number of years.
5. Exercise in the Woods
Up by the Petite Chapelle is a wooded circuit where you can do various exercises over twenty in total – or you can just make the kids do them whilst you take a moment for yourself. Once you’ve had enough fresh air, scenery and history you can head back down into mortain for a drink and something to eat in the various tabacs/bars or the town’s hotel which has a very reasonable set menu. There is also a lovely restaurant just outside Mortain in le neufbourg called L’abbay Hotel Bar Restaurant as are two more eateries.
So there you have it – 5 things to do in Mortain. Please feel free to add more in the comment section but in the meantime I shall leave you with a few handy website links.