A Stroll Through the High Town in Granville
Visitors to the town often overlook the high town in Granville who instead visit the shops, restaurants, bars, casino, market and port in the main town. However, visiting the fortified high town is like stepping back in history and is a hidden gem you shouldn’t miss.
Accessing the High Town
The high town is built on a peninsula and you can access it on foot or by car. There are two parts to the high town. To the west at the tip of the peninsula is a mainly flat area with great views across the bay and along the coast. When you arrive at the roundabout at La Place Pleville in the lower town, take the rue du Port. This road goes along the harbour and then leads up to the flat area and lighthouse.
The eastern part of the old town is fortified and you can either drive or walk up. If you’re driving, take la rue des Juifs where you see the sign for la haute ville (the high town). Alternatively, for a spot of exercise, there are two sets of steps leading to the high town. The first set of steps is next to the police station at La Place Pleville roundabout. Taking this route will bring you out on la rue des Juifs. The second set of steps is by the casino in the main town. These 180 steps were added in the 20th century and lead to Place de l’Isthme.
The Fortified High Town
English settlers arrived in 1439 and quickly started building work including the church and the ramparts to fortify the town. Many of the buildings are built of granite from the Chausey Islands. The islands lie 17 kilometres across the bay from Granville and can be seen on a clear day.
This was originally the only entrance into the old town. It’s called La Grand’Porte and is on la rue des Juifs. The drawbridge was built between 1580 – 1640. To the right of the drawbridge is the Museum of Art and History. However, the museum is currently closed due to extensive building work being undertaken. If you start your tour at the drawbridge, you can then follow the cobbled street round to Place Cambernon.
This small square is at the heart of the high town and is the crossroads between the two main streets. You’ll find three pancake houses, a bar, a newsagents and a restaurant here. La Contramarche restaurant opened in January 2020 in a building that had previously been a fish market, a public library and an exhibition space. There are also a number of artists galleries.
Rue Notre Dame and Rue Saint-Jean
These are the two main streets in the high town and run parallel to one another. Many of the buildings here date from the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s a mix of tall, narrow town houses and grand mansions. Where you see a reference to hotel, this means a mansion or grand house. The architecture is fascinating and includes small dormer windows, moldings, ornate iron railings, decorative chimney stacks, wooden shutters, decorated stone linterns, cornices and small cast iron balconies. Do look up as you walk along these streets as there’s so much detail to take in. This website in French about Granville’s high town has a comprehensive list of these historic buildings.
Buildings of note on rue Saint-Jean
- n° 3, Adam and Eve House has terracotta decorations
- n° 32, l’Hôtel Dry de la Turbotière dating from 1692
- n° 37 is one of the oldest buildings from the 16th century with substantial decorative detail
- n° 39, la Maison du Puits qui Pleure. This translate as the Weeping Well House and there are two wells in the cellar
- n° 45, l’hôtel Ganne-Destouches dates from the end of the 17th century
- n° 47 dates from the 16th century
- n° 61, l’Hôtel Picquelin de Grainville was built after 1734
Rue Notre Dame
Key buildings on rue Notre Dame include n° 43, Hotel de Luc Fr. le Boucher dating from 1635 and also n° 54 Hotel le Mengnonnet. This mansion was built in the 18th century and 1830 and was home to a privateer and shipowner captain.
Also on rue Notre Dame is the theatre that was built in 1828.
Both these streets are on a slope. They’re cobbled and although open to cars, they are one way. The majority of the buildings have stone steps up to the front door. It is thought that the more steps there were, the richer the house owner was.
Some of the small cross streets are named after professions (bakers, plasterers, leather workers). All the bakers lived in rue du Marché au Pain and if they changed profession then they had to move out. The house at number 1 has a deep window ledge made of stone. The baker would sell his wares through the front window and, as French windows open inwards, the ledge was used for display purposes.
The majority of the shops have disappeared but you can still see these window ledges throughout the high town. In 1896 there were more than 50 shops including 15 drinking places.
If you walk up one of the main streets you’ll find the Place de l’isthme at one end and the church at the opposite end.
Place de l’Isthme
The eastern part of the fortified town is home to the Richard Anacréon Museum of Modern Art. You can visit their website for opening times and details of the hosted exhibitions.
At the opposite end of the fortified town in Granville is the church called Eglise Notre Dame du Cap Lihou. Building work on the nave was started by the English in 1439. The style was Roman although subsequent work was gothic in style. It was eventually completed in 1771 and the two very distinct halves can easily be seen from the inside. The church survived the WW2 bombs although the vibrations from a large and noisy plane flying overhead caused the stained glass windows to shatter. Happily, they were replaced between 1954 and 1978.
La Maison du Guet (Lookout or Watchtower House)
Next to the church is an unusual house built into the fortified walls. It looks completely different depending on which angle you look at it from. Looking at it from the church, you can see three levels. The ground floor is stone and the two upper floors are a mix of half timbers and roof tiles. There is a tower or turret on either side of the house – a circular one and also a square one.
If you go down the steps next to the house (currently being renovated as of January 2020) then you can see there are at least another two or three levels to the house. In the 17th century a carpenter’s workshop occupied this space. The building was destroyed at the end of the 17th century following orders given by King Louis 14th. It was rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century.
The final important building within the confines of the rampart walls is the Zurich-Bazeilles barracks. The barracks were built between 1752 and 1760. You can find it on the north side of the peninsula near the church. Nowadays this rather grand building is a hostel for young workers. Occasionally art or photography exhibitions are held on the ground floor and they’re free to visit.
You can walk around the ramparts, take a stroll along a footpath on the north side and walk through a park area on the south side. There’s a small children’s play area here with views over the rooftops towards the port.
Outside the Fortified Walls
Just beyond the Zurich-Baseilles building are three more barracks. The second barracks to be built is immediately behind the first one. It was built in 1778 and has been converted in private apartments. Work on two further barracks started in 1876 and 1879.
Other buildings in the high town in Granville include the former Corn Exchange, a college, a German battery, a lighthouse, an aquarium and part of the Atlantic Wall. The lighthouse was built in 1826 at a cost of 39,000 francs. It was painted green during World War 2 to camouflage it.
The area in this part of the old town is fairly flat. During the summer of 2019, various re-enactement camps were set up to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. You can download an app for iPhone and iPad called Kit M Manche. The app is in French and has various different trails you can follow. Download the WW2 Granville visit and follow the trail in the high town in Granville. Alternatively, locate the gun casement just next to the roundabout near the lighthouse. You’ll find an information board and map here detailing all the WW2 structures.
Where Can You Park?
If you’ve parked in the main town, you can walk up to the high town in Granville in less than five minutes. Parking in the high town is available near the lighthouse. There’s a large car park opposite the aquarium on the south side of the peninsula. You may find some parking on the rue des Juifs (some of it is metered), near the Richard Anacréon museum and around the church. Additional parking is available around the barracks in la Place d’Armes.
Despite not living that far away from Granville we have only ever been once and that was before we moved over here! Our boys were 4 and 20 months so not the ideal age to go exploring old towns. We did a bit of the old town and liked it and then headed to a restaurant on the quay where they managed to squeeze us in via the back door with our 2 pushchairs. We were imagining yet another rushed meal as boys got fidgety but for this ONE time only both lads fell fast asleep and we were able to enjoy a long leisurely and exceedingly good fish lunch! I wonder if the restaurant is still there?
There’s a restaurant on the quayside that I like called Le Borsalino and a couple of others too. The road that runs along the port (the aptly named rue du port)is dotted with restaurants with seafood and fish being a speciality.
There’s such elegance in the Norman granite architecture, so very different to the south. I love that France has such varied vernacular architecture. Thanks for showing me around Granville.
My pleasure. The high town is one of my favourite places and will be top of my list to visit for a quiet stroll post-lockdown.