Some cruise ports, typically those catering to smaller ships, are distinguished by the manner in which they make their guests feel welcome; others become known by the iconic destinations available through the ship’s shore excursion program. Cherbourg is a port that offers both, as we experienced on two visits, years apart.
On our first visit, we went to the Normandy Beaches, with visits to Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and the American Cemetary, and lunch at Arromanches overlooking the remnants of the artificial Mulberry Harbor used to unload soldiers, vehicles and supplies. A detour to La Pointe du Hoc almost caused us to miss our ship, were it not for the kindness of the car rental agent who remained open past closing time, and then drove us back to the ship.
Our most recent trip, on the MSC ORCHESTRA, included only an afternoon call, so we were unable to visit Mont St. Michel, another iconic destination that had eluded us over the years. Instead, we chose another of our favorite pastimes, finding little-known or out-of-the-way places to spend some of the limited time typically available in port.
The Liberation Museum, housed in La Roule, the fort atop the headland overlooking Cherbourg, met our criteria. Assistance from the Tourist Bureau, in the terminal and at the city center, confirmed the welcoming spirit that pervades this port that played such an important role following D-Day in 1944.
I can only speculate on the logistic demands on the local tourism staff when large ships arrive in port, simultaneously spewing thousands of passengers ashore. With limited information available from the ship, we welcomed the good local map at the terminal. Unfortunately, the map pinpointed our destination, but not the fact that it was atop Mount Roule, reachable only by taxi or by the incredibly fit.
That information came at the city center from a staff member who not only called a taxi, but also came outside a few minutes later to ensure that the taxi was actually on its way – a small but notable gesture.
As for the Liberation Museum, it is a small museum that will appeal to WWII history buffs, as it tells the story of the dark days after the fall of France, the propaganda faced by the French citizenry during the 1940-44 period when the fortress was occupied by the Germans, the Normandy landings and the allied capture of Cherbourg less than three weeks later, after which it became the principal port for the supply of Western Europe. It can be visited in a short time (admission €4), and the views from the fortress are spectacular.
Returning to the city center, we were able to spend our remaining time wandering around, having coffee and a tart at one of many cafes that provided a view of the Place Notre Dame and the little touristic train that passed by periodically.
Then back to the ship, finding Tourism staff still at their post to answer any final questions – another small gesture, but so different from ports where the shoreside staff disappears almost as soon as the first wave of passengers has cleared the pier.
….Maybe next time we’ll make it to Mont St. Michel.
- à 3:38 AM