The ‘Capital of Ruins’
Named the ‘Capital of Ruins’ after the Battle of Normandy (photo), Saint-Lô has risen again around a handful of relics. One of the most moving is the creeper-clad portal of the old prison on Place Général de Gaulle, left as a monument to deportees and members of the Resistance, also the soldiers and unprotected prisoners who died in the battle of July 1944.
Just below place de Gaulle, the badly damaged Eglise de Notre-Dame (with a shell case still embedded in its wall) has been simply and strikingly repaired with a sheer face of sea-green slate bricks inset with modern bronze doors. Inside, a small collection of carved masonry rescued from the wreckage hangs next to photographs of the devastation; and the modern stained glass includes Max Ingrand’s St Thomas à Becket at the top of the right aisle.
On place Champ du Mars, the Musée des Beaux-Arts has more to offer than the sterile, white-tiled ensemble culturel might lead you to believe. There are some terrific 19thC paintings by the likes of Boudin, Corot and Millet, plus Léger and a Jean Lur√ç¬µcat tapestry from the 20thC.
Horsey types should get a kick out of the Haras nationaux de Saint-Lô, rue Maréchal-Juin (open April to September). This national stud farm is one of the largest breeding centres in France, home to more than 120 stallions.
Villa holidays: the area around St-Lo plus all of inland Normandy offer many holiday rental properties.