Discover landscapes that are often unknown, hidden treasures, places that will not leave you indifferent, towns that will leave their mark, starting with Saint-Lô: such is the Vire valley. A real red - or blue - thread, the river gives rhythm to the discovery of these magical places. And the greenway which runs along the Vire is certainly the best way to enjoy it.
The Vire, a Norman river
It flows from its source, situated at an altitude of more than 300 metres in the hills of the south of the Manche, to the Bay of Veys, between two of the most famous beaches in the world for the landing on 6 June 1944, Utah-Beach and Omaha-Beach: the Vire marries the green lands of the department, but also of Calvados, and its route allows you to discover many wonders along its course. 128 kilometres long, its flow varies with the seasons: never dry, it oscillates between mildness and - sometimes - anger between summer and winter, allowing fishing in all seasons. In the past, the function of the river was essentially industrial and economic: mills used the force of the currents, barges transported materials and local products, mainly between Saint-Lô and the sea. Today, its function is essentially tourist and recreational, allowing a better understanding of this natural heritage, which has been little known until now. The towpath, which runs along the entire length of the Vire, is the best way of surveying it. From its mouth, it successively passes Carentan-les-Marais, sinks into the Normandy bocage like the river, flows past Saint-Lô, then Condé and Tessy, skirts the breathtaking Roches de Ham, before continuing in multiple curves towards the eponymous town, and returns to the Manche to climb to the heights
The entire towpath, in the Saint-Louis area, is proud to be a greenway, a real tourist backbone, and is taken up by a number of hiking circuits. Also known as the "D-Day landing beaches - Mont-Saint-Michel" cycle route, this route offers a journey through history from the D-Day landing beaches on the Bessin and Cotentin coasts to the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. Extending the focus even further, the towpath here is part of the "Vélomaritime", i.e. 1,500 kilometres to be cycled between the North Sea and the English Channel. With a majority of shared lanes, it is an ideal cycling route for cyclists looking to get away from it all.
Saint-Lô, famous ramparts and a horse capital
Without a doubt, Saint-Lô is the most important urban centre that you will discover on your route. From the top of its ramparts, the prefectural city, reputed to be the "capital of the horse", is home to its prestigious National Stud Farm and to farms from which world-renowned horses are bred. A strong comeback that erases the other nickname of the city, inherited from the 1944 bombings: that of "capital of ruins". And it is true that today, if Saint-Lô does not turn its back on its history, it is very difficult to imagine what it was 75 years ago, so much so that life has obviously resumed its rights. Commercial, active and dynamic, the town is much more than a simple stopover, it is a destination in its own right: markets, events for children or festivals, multiple concerts, guided tours or exhibitions, Saint-Lô - and beyond, the Saint-Lô Agglo community, with a territory of more than 800 km² and 75,000 inhabitants - offers you a thousand possibilities Here, the tourist office is more than just a place for information, it is a place where you will literally be pampered: obviously, you will be given advice and tips, but we will also take the time to look at your route and your desires with you. It must be said that the exceptional richness of Normandy's heritage stands out here: in addition to the town itself and its famous ramparts, the castle of Canisy, recognised as one of the 7 wonders of the Channel, or the abbey of Cerisy-la-Forêt, built under the will of William the Conqueror, are very close. At the office, you can also rent electric bicycles to ride along the towpath for a few kilometres, which has taken on an urban feel here, as the quays of the Vire have been completely renovated - including a superb green beach - and reconsidered as an urban promenade from which the views of the city are striking.
The Roches de Ham, another Norman Switzerland
At an altitude of 105 metres, the Roches de Ham dominate the Vire Valley and its meanders below. From the road that runs along the Vire, the view is striking: the impression of being in an (almost) mountainous landscape is breathtaking. In the opposite direction, from the heights of these rocks, the view on the river and its meanders is magnificent. This natural site, the first of the department, has richly wooded banks, wet meadows, cavities, cracks, streams that abound in an abundant and varied fauna and flora. As you can see, it is also an ideal site for hiking and horseback riding.
How did such landscapes come about? It's simple: the patient work of erosion of the waters of the Vire did not succeed in overcoming these ancient sedimentary masses, giving rise to a succession of steep cliffs that overhang the meandering river. It was only after the French Revolution that the site came out of its isolation: meadows, livestock, vast expanses of grass and, later, a railway arrived. Today, many hiking trails are offered to Sunday walkers or experienced hikers
La Chapelle-sur-Vire, religious heritage and children's kingdom
This pilgrimage site has been famous since the 12th century. Built in red stone, Notre-Dame-sur-Vire contains statues miraculously discovered in the 14th and 16th centuries, countless ex-voto items and 15th century alabasters on the high altar, which are listed as historical monuments. The permanent exhibition in the heart of the building is very interesting, with numerous quality photographs, the oldest dating from the end of the 19th century.
Here, fishing spots including pontoons for accessibility to fishermen with reduced mobility are installed upstream from the dam, towards the playground. The latter, which covers 3,000 m², is obviously the kingdom of children
The Utopik factory: contemporary art along the Vire
From the cycle path, as you pass Tessy-Bocage, an unexpected modern form emerges: the Utopik factory. It is in fact one of the five regional cultural relays: a place of creation and dissemination, it welcomes visual artists and writers in residence and presents a vast cultural programme: artists' meetings, artistic practice workshops, writing workshops, exhibitions, workshop sales on 400 m²... It is also the setting for the "Bords de Vire" festival, which takes place this year from 19 June to 25 September 2021. Along the river, in the water, on the banks or in the fields, works of art brighten up and challenge walkers. This is the time when experienced artists from France and Europe take over the territory. As you can see, there is no shortage of culture, sport and natural beauty here!
When is the best time? All seasons are ideal, but we remain in the Channel, and the climate is oceanic! Spring and summer are the best times.
How to get there. By car, about 310 kilometres between Paris and Saint-Lô. Take the A13 motorway, then at Caen, the A84. From there, follow the direction "Saint-Lô". By train, several connections are possible every day from Paris Saint-Lazare
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