The elegant seaside resort of Cherbourg sits by the English Channel (known as La Manche en français) on the Normandy coastline of France, a popular destination with families who visit for the miles of sandy beach as well as cross-Channel sailors who head for the marina at Port Chantereyne. The old town itself is a charming tangle of cobbled streets hiding stylish restaurants and bars as well as a smattering of museums, art galleries and smart shops.
Today Cherbourg’s ferry port connects with the English port towns of Portsmouth and Poole, but for centuries it was an important naval base, thanks to its deep natural harbour. During Napoleonic times in the early 19th century, grandiose sea walls and fortified defenses were constructed to protect the port from English attack. World War II saw most of these destroyed amid fierce fighting but after the end of the war in 1945, US troops rebuilt the harbor and it briefly became the busiest in the world. It can be explored by boat or the electric tourist train that chugs gamely around the town, and Cherbourg’s fascinating Museum of Liberation tells the story of its military history in Fort de Roule, which perches on a rocky crag high above the town. The Cité de la Mer complex is found in the former ocean-liner terminal and has exhibitions on immigration, an aquarium and a tour around a disused French nuclear submarine.
Tourist office: 14 Quai Alexandre 3. Open June 15–Sept 15 Mon–Sat 9.30am–7pm, Sun 10am–1pm, 2pm–5pm; Sept 16–June 14 Mon–Sat 10am–12.30pm, 2pm–6pm.