The Michelin Green Guide describes Grandcamp rather laconically as "a little fishing port and marina" with "extensive offshore rocks."
This does not sound like it is "worth a trip", but if you are driving from Omaha Beach and the Pointe du Hoc toward Utah beach, instead of continuing on the main road that skirts the village, make a small detour and turn right when you see the small green fishing boat. The road will take you past the church and down the hill. Keep on going all the way to the main intersection.
You are now in the center of town, with a grocery store, a bakery, a clothing store, two restaurants and three bars. A few of the stores have closed in the last few years, and the fishermen don't congregate at the corner anymore for a long chat, a practice which gave it its name, Le Musoir. It is lively in the summer, especially on Sundays, when everyone queues up at the bakery for croissants, brioches or pastries along with their baguettes.
Turn right into the narrow street by the bakery, and right away, you are looking straight at the sea, or the beach, depending on the tide. The waves break on the sea wall at high tide, but, on some days, at low tide, only a thin blue ribbon of water is visible below the horizon.
Turn left on the sea front, lined with summer homes that have seen better days. You will pass the Rangers Museum, dedicated to the men who climbed the cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc on D-Day, and a grand old restaurant with a second-floor dining room overlooking the beach. The sea front ends at the ship channel from the main basin, which is protected by a curving jetty.
Turn left after the last house, and you are on the harbor. Leave your car on the quays, and walk around.
There are always some boats tied up at the quays, their hulls and deck structures brightly painted, the decks a confusion of ropes, chains, nets, pulleys and machinery. The glare of the computer screen lights the darkened cabins. If you happen to be here early in the morning, the fish market will be in full swing, and you will find soles, turbot, flounder, mackerel, snapper, mussels and crabs.
Depending on the tide, boats may be going out, coming in, unloading their catch, or fishermen may be working on their nets or on their boats. At low tide, the gates are closed, and you can walk all around the port, past the marina filled with pleasure boats, fancy sailboats and simple motorboats lined up side by side.
Have a close look at the "Grandcopaise", an old wooden sailing ship, which was actually used for fishing. It was lovingly restored in the last few years, and sometimes a volunteer crew organizes short cruises in the bay. A tour boat, the "Colonel Rudder", goes out regularly for excursions to the Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach, or to Utah Beach.
Walk also to the end of the jetty. There used to be a small lighthouse here, but it has been replaced by a simple beacon a few feet further out, and only a rusting stub remains. From here, your view extends from Utah Beach on your left, along the Cotentin peninsula, to the Saint-Marcouf islands to the North. Closer, along the beach, you'll see two bunkers, remains of the Atlantic Wall built by the Germans during World War II. The larger one actually replaced an old fort from the XVIIc, part of the coastal defenses from ancient wars with England.
On your right, the village hugs the bay. An old wooden jetty, where the fishing boats used to dock before the harbor was built, stretches out from the shore. The church steeple peeks out from behind a group of trees on top of a hill. On the far end of the bay, an old mill stands on top of the cliffs, in the middle of green and yellow fields. It is not a grand spectacle, but its charm lies in the changing tides, the changing skies and the ever-changing light.
Don't leave yet, it takes time to appreciate the little things that make Grandcamp so pleasant.
So stop for refreshments, at the Café du port, if you want to mingle with the local fishermen, or on the terrace of the Bar de la Maree, with the "pleasure boaters", and watch the life of a fishing community unfold in front of you.
And, if you have time, take a stroll down the main street, where you will find the tourist office - in a small square with an old granite cider press and a profusion of flowers, the post office and all the stores. Look up: Dormer windows are often decorated with ornamental stone or woodwork; older houses still have rows of hooks under the roof line, from which fishing nets were hung to dry, and a metal rod over the dormer windows, which held the pulleys with which the fishermen hoisted their gear to and from the attic. Soon, you will be back at the town center. Turn toward the sea. On your right, the old wooden jetty still stands, where the fishing boats unloaded their catch, before the harbor was built, and the boat ramp, now used for the tiny sailboats of the sailing school. Return to the harbor along the Perré, and take in the sea, the sand and the sky.
See you there!