The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                            PAGE FIVE
FEATURING:  Lighthouses on the Coast of Normandy and Brittany

Normandy ~

Phare de Gatteville.  Photo  by Jerome Houyvet for postcard by www.lumiè

Phare de Gatteville, Barfleur, Normandy

September we had the pleasant experience of driving along the Channel coast in Normandy and Brittany ~ enjoying the good weather, the little seaside villages and looking for lighthouses.  During those four or five days, we came upon some interesting lighthouses in our quest to find as many as possible.

Barfleur Harbor with lighthouse.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.We spent a week on the Cotentin Peninsula of Normandy, and the first lighthouse to capture our attention was the Phare de Gatteville in Barfleur, which is also known as the Pointe de Barfleur Light.  It is northeast of the town center reached by a long spit of land, and surrounded by what are frequently rough seas.  At 75 meters in height, it is the third tallest 'traditional' lighthouse in the world.  It isn't, however, the original light at that location.

The first lighthouse on the point was known as Phare de Barfleur which opened in 1774 and was lit the following year with a coal fire located on top.  Sixteen oil lamps replaced the coal fire in 1780 and reflectors were installed.  It wasn't until an upgrade of the lens was planned in 1825 that it was realized the structure wasn't wide enough.  The newer, taller, lighthouse was built about 60 meters away from the first (which remains on the site), and in 1881 it was renamed Phare de Gatteville.  In 1883 the light itself was replaced with an electric lantern.

Phare de Gatteville was open to the public until 1996 when it was closed for renovation.  The following year it reopened as a museum.  In the photo above of Barfleur and its harbor, the lighthouse can be barely seen on the right of the photo on the land reaching into the sea.

Goury, Normandy.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.While Barfleur is at the northeastern tip of the Cotentin, Goury and the larger town of Auderville, are near the northwestern tip.  There, too, is a lighthouse, the photo of which appears on the first page of this newsletter.  The location is known as Cap de la Hague, and the lighthouse is Phare de Goury or Phare de la Hague, depending on what one wants to call it.  The 157-foot tall granite lighthouse was built between 1834 and 1837 and was fully automated in 1989.  There is no keeper and no visitors are allowed.

It is here that you will find one of the strongest tidal currents in the world ~ the Race of Alderney ~ caused by an uneven seabed and the narrow channel between Cap de la Hague and the Channel Islands. 
There were 27 shipwrecks along this stretch of coast in 1823 alone, but it wasn't until fourteen years later that the lighthouse became a reality. Surprisingly, Cap de la Hague is the second most visited place in Normandy after le Mont St-Michel according to the web site and a cross is there in memory of the 25 sailors lost in the Vendémiaire shipwreck on June 8, 1912. 
                                                                                                      Tiny village and marina of Goury on Cap de la Hague

Phare de Diélette   Copyright Cold Spring Press. All rights reserved.
one day brought us to the little seaside town of Di
élette, after passing the huge Flamanville Nuclear plant at Cap de Flamanville.  As we enjoyed lunch in a little restaurant, our view was that of the Diélette Lighthouse (Phare de Diélette) at the entrance to the Diélette Basin.

In the 1830s, lighthouse commissioners didn't see a need for a lighthouse at this spot on the coast
, but an arrangement was made in 1839 to proceed with a structure ~ strategically placed at the only port of refuge from storms between Granville and Cherbourg.  Over the years several iron towers of varying heights were installed.  On the 10th of November, 1897, the current masonry turret, 8.8 meters in height, was erected.  In 1906 it received an automatic light which operates in white, green and red every four seconds.

élette has a sheltered marina lined with fishing shops and is a point of passenger embarkation to both Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands. With an inner and outer harbor there are 420 floating moorings, 70 of which are for tourists, and it is here that the green and white lighthouse stands sentinel.

.Shoreline at Dielette  Copyright Cold Spring Pr
                                                                                                                                                     Diélette Harbor in September

Brittany ~ 

We drove from Normandy into Brittany, taking some friends to Dinan along the way, and then we continued along the D786 (not as close to the shore as we would have liked, but the best route to our destination) and then the D34 through Sables-d'Or les-Pins to the town of Plévenon and the Cap Fréhel.  It was here that we began to realize how popular lighthouses are with travelers.  The parking lots were filling up as we arrived, and people were milling around the cliffs and looking at both lighthouses with great interest.

This map at the site shows Brittany's Côtes d'Armor département ~ Cap Fréhel is at the top of the map just below the numbers 5 and 6. 

Guide to Cap Fréhel. Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.

As with several other lighthouse locations, Cap Fréhel has two standing lighthouses not very far apart from one another.  But the one in service now is actually number three.  It was in 1694 that Vauban (Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, later Marquis de Vauban and Marshal Vauban, famed military engineer of France) surveyed the northern coast of Brittany and suggested the Phare de Vauban, Cap Fréhel.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights of a tower to warn of attacks by the English fleet.  By that time, several lighthouses (Le Stiff in Ouessant, one on the Île de Ré and the Chassiron lighthouse on Île d'Oléron) had been built. The first lighthouse at Cap Fréhel was thus constructed in 1702, but it was only lit in winter months.  The French Navy requested that it be lit year 'round, and that was begun in 1717.  In 1774 a lantern with 60 spherical reflectors was installed, and it began revolving in 1821 with light that could be seen from 15 to 20 miles.  This first lighthouse was 15 meters high.

A second lighthouse was planned in 1840 by Léonce Reynaud which included a new 22 meter high octagonal tower that could  hold Fresnel optic lenses.  The light would be seen for 25 miles.  It was constructed between 1845 and 1847 and was 79 meters above sea level.   But, politics entered the matter, and electrification was abandoned by a ministerial decision made in 1886.   In World War II the German army used it as an observation post, but dynamited the building on the 11th of August 1944.  Only the old Vauban tower remained standing and was kept lit until 1950.

The third and current lighthouse at Cap Fréhel (shown in the photo below) was built between 1946 and 1950.  It was first lit on July 1, 1950, and stands 32.85 meters high and 67.7 meters above sea level.  It has its tower set on a stone masonry building, and the public can buy tickets to climb the circular metal stairs to the observation deck at the top.  There is also an elevator, but when we were there it was out of service. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Phare de Vauban, Cap Fréhel, Brittany

  Phares Vauban and Cap Fréhel.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.
Both the first (Phare de Vauban) and the third (Phare du Cap Fréhel) are shown side by side in this photo, and below is the Phare du Cap Fréhel lighthouse as well as its winding stairway to the observation deck.  The Phare du Cap Fréhel was electrified simultaneously with its construction in 1950, and its beam secures the passage of vessels from the Bay of Saint-Brieuc on the west to the Bay of Saint-Malo on the east ~ a very windswept area for ships.

Phare du Cap Fréhel was classified a Monument Historique on May 23, 2011.


Phare du Cap Fréhel.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved.Stairway inside Phare du Cap Fréhel.  Copyright Cold Spring Press.  All rights reserved. 

            Phare du Cap Fréhel                                             Winding stairs to the observation deck 
We  weren't able to visit other lighthouses this time, as our journey took us away from the coast, and there were so many more noted on our map that we would have liked to see.  Our stay in Brittany began at a hilltop B&B in Pléneuf-Val-André, and our host said that we could see several distant lighthouses lit at night from our balcony ~ most likely Rohein Light, built in 1939, located in the Baie de Saint Brieuc where it marks the rocks and shoals in the bay and stands 49 feet high; and the more distant Île Harbour Light, constructed in 1850 on an island one mile north of Saint Quay Portrieux ~ but, despite our view of the sea, the marine layer of clouds each night prevented us from viewing either.  Hopefully, ships at sea didn't not share that problem!

Perhaps you will take notice of lighthouses as you travel coastal highways.  Each has a history, not only about its time in service, but about the people who had the vision, the engineering know-how and the persistence to erect lighthouses where they were needed to save lives and guide sailors safely into port.

 [This article is a continuation of THE LIGHTHOUSE:  A fading tradition?  from our Spring newsletter. Click here to read it.]

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