Carentan in Normandy is a quaint town surrounded by vast wetlands and marshes teeming with wildlife - but it is most famous as the site of the Battle of Carentan during the Battle of Normandy in WW2.
WW2 had a huge effect on this area as it was situated between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach of the D-Day landings. Unsurprisingly, Carentan was one of the first objectives for the Allied forces and the 101st Airborne Division were assigned the task of its capture so that the US forces landing at the beaches could link up. Although American troops arrived at Carentan on the 9th June, it took several days of fierce fighting before the Germans were fully pushed out of the area on the 15th. Fought between US and German paratroopers, the Battle of Carentan and the Battle of Bloody Gulch, just outside the town, were immortalised in the TV series Band of Brothers. Carentan's proximity to both US landing beaches make it a great place to explore the US sector. As you would expect, there are several museums in the area dedicated to the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy. The Musée Airborne at Saint-Mère-Église and the Dead Man's Corner Museum at Saint-Côme-du-Mont celebrate the exploits of the 101st Airborne Division, whilst the new Normandy Tanks Museum in Catz opened in 2013.
Located amongst the marshes of the Marais de Cotentin et du Bessin, Carentan sits just upriver of the Baie des Veys. The marshlands are home to extensive meadows where livestock, especially racehorses and cattle, can be found grazing. Traditionally, livestock farming and fishing have been the livelihood of the people here. The estuary is also home to a colony of seals and the wetlands are a haven for birdlife such as waders, ducks, storks and herons. Nestled amonst this wild beauty, Carentan is a pretty town with a striking 15th century Gothic church at its heart, which spire stands proudly over the town. Heavily damaged by American bombs during Operation Overlord, the church has been reconstructed and today holds several stunning religious artworks, including paintings. You can also discover some pottery workshops in the town where the potters make traditional Norman earthenware.
Carentan has a pleasure boat marina for those who want to explore the area on their own boat, or you can take a boat trip around the marshes if you don't have your own! You can also go canoeing and fishing around Carentan but whilst sea fishing is free, you must buy a license from the Tourist Office to fish in the rivers. The estuary is amongst only a few places in the world where a unique phenomenon, the mascaret tidal wave, happens - a wave which makes it way upriver from the sea. A great place for bird watching, the marshes have some bird hides so you can watch the wildlife unobserved. If you want to get active outside there are nature trails and cycling routes around the town. Whilst there are some cycle routes in the area, Carentan is also on the Tour de Manche cycle route which travels along the Brittany and Normandy coasts as well as into Devon and Dorset. For those with a sense of adventure who don't want to ride a bike, you could follow one of the pilgrimage trails to Mont St Michel on foot.
Monday is market day and the large covered market is the place to be to sample some fantastic local produce. There are also many small shops in the town where you can pick up some local terroir products. Seafood dishes such as smoked trout or trout marinated in Calvados and basil are popular as well as dishes using locally-sourced beef. Like the rest of Normandy creamy dishes and cheeses such as Camembert, Livarot and Pont l'Evêque are always on the menu. For dessert, why not try some flan normand, a tasty apple pastry tart? Be sure to stock up on some caramels d'Isigny, delicious creamy toffees made in a nearby town with local butter and cream. There are a huge variety of flavours and they are the perfect taste of your trip to bring home and share. Don't forget to try some Norman cider, known as cidre, and a tot or two of Calvados apple brandy!
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