The old hill town of COUTANCES, 65km south of Cherbourg, confined by its site to just one main street, has on its summit a landmark for all the surrounding countryside, the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame. Essentially Gothic, it is still very Norman in its unconventional blending of architectural traditions, and the octagonal lantern crowning the crossing in the nave is nothing short of divinely inspired. The son et lumière on Sunday evenings and throughout the summer is for once a true complement to the light stone building. Also illuminated on summer nights (and left open) are the formal fountained public gardens.
Coutances' gare SNCF, about 1.5km southeast of the town centre (at the bottom of the hill), also serves as the stop for buses heading north and south. The local tourist office is housed behind the Hôtel de Ville in place Georges-Léclerc (July & Aug MonSat 10am1pm & 1.307pm, Sun 1.307pm; SeptJune MonSat 10am12.30pm & 26pm; tel 02.33.19.08.10). The cream-coloured Hôtel de Normandie, behind and below the cathedral at 2 place de Gaulle (tel 02.33.45.01.40; €3040; closed Sun eve & Fri Sept to mid-May), has the usual assortment of rooms, and a restaurant with menus that range from the good-value €9 option (not Sun) to an excellent €15 spread. A better alternative for motorists is the Relais du Viaduc (tel 02.33.45.02.68; under €30; closed first fortnight of July & second fortnight of Dec, plus Fri evening & Sat in low season), at the junction of the D7 and D971, south of town, which serves fine food. The excellent year-round municipal campsite, Les Vignettes (tel 02.33.45.43.13), halfway up the hill west of town, stands next to a large, comfortable chain hotel, the Cositel (tel 02.33.19.15.00; €5570).