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.
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.
3. The Petite Chapelle
Just as you head out of the town towards Barenton or St Hilaire 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.
5. Exercise in the Woods
Up by the Petite Chapelle is a wooded circuit where you can do various exercises over twenty in total. 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 and restaurants nearby.
I hope you enjoyed this little account of the town of Mortain.