Have you heard of Sylvain Tesson, the most published travel writer in France? He climbed cathedral roofs, hiked across the Mongolian steppe, lived on the shores of Lake Baikal in Russia for six months and crossed France on foot from the Italian border to the Cotentin.
This route follows a large part of the GR 223 known as the ‘Sentier des Douaniers’ or ‘Sentier du Littoral’. It traces the end of his French crossing, that he describes in his book ‘Sur les chemins noirs’, in reverse. This part of the GR223 is considered one of the most beautiful paths in France. It’s a perfect introduction to the charming Cotentin Peninsula between the towns of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Les Pieux.
Whether or not you are a fan of Sylvain Tesson, the landscape and the history are incredible. Steep paths lead along the coast between gorse bushes, creeks and cliffs with a view of the Channel Islands. You ride by defense bunkers and rusty tanks from the Second World War, in between the grassy dunes. The landscapes are diverse and immense. You feel like you’re in a different country or another time, but you’re in France. The geology is spectacular: the Cap de la Hague cliffs are the highest in Europe and hold many surprises.
This seaside hike takes you to the region of Manche for three days or more, on the Cotentin peninsula. An accessible and beautiful walk, more or less sportive according to your pace, with otherworldly landscapes.
Your adventure begins in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, a maritime city on the Channel known for Jacques Demy's umbrellas. You can easily arrive by train. I recommend spending some time walking around here – it’s a city rich in culture and history where life is good.
For almost 80 kilometres (49.7 mi), you follow paths along the seaside and pebble beaches and occasionally on the road to Les Pieux. You can reach a bigger city (such as Cherbourg-en-Cotentin or Coutances) with bus 10 that leads down the same road. The nature is magnificent and impressive, as are the villages and historic artifacts en route. There is something for everyone!
You can hike this route self-supported or stop in local lodgings and hotels. I personally chose to wild camp and tried to finish each day near a village where I could fill up on water. As the area is quite remote, make sure you reserve any hotels before you set off so you definitely have accommodation. The region is accessible all year round, but I recommend avoiding the winter season to really enjoy hiking. The weather can be changeable in any season so don’t forget to ask about the rain and wind conditions before you set off. Have a good hike!
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