Literary trail: In the footsteps of Victor Hugo

A look at the great writer’s journey in la Manche
Photo, © Liphart, Ernst Friedrich von

Travel was a key element throughout Victor Hugo’s life. As a child, he toured the world numerous times with his father. Among the many destinations visited, he stayed in the Manche for a few weeks in 1836. From Mont Saint-Michel to Barfleur, the journey of the poet and novelist involved nine stages. Always looking for inspiration for his work, he observed, noted, drew, commented, and was awed or outraged. The literary trail “In the footsteps of Victor Hugo” follows his travels in la Manche, and is the opportunity to discover the cultural riches of the department.

The stages of Victor Hugo’s visit to La Manche

This literary trail was created in collaboration with Gérard Pouchain, a historian, author and professor at the University of Rouen. He is an expert on Victor Hugo and the biographer of Juliette Drouet, who accompanied Victor Hugo during the trip, as she did for more than 50 years of his life. The painter Célestin Nanteuil also journeyed with them for part of the trip.

As you travel along the “In the footsteps of Victor Hugo” trail, you can find out more about his journey at the Kit M information posts after installing the application on your mobile device (Android, iOS, Windows Phone).


Mont Saint-Michel

Victor Hugo arrived in la Manche in Pontorson on the evening of 23rd June 1836. The next day he crossed into Brittany, (Dol-de-Bretagne and Saint-Malo) before returning to Pontorson on 26th June. From there, he discovered Mont Saint-Michel. Fascinated by this place, he told his friend Louise Bertin all about it in one of his letters:

 I am writing to you, mademoiselle, from Mont Saint-Michel, which is truly the most beautiful spot in the world.

Mont Saint-Michel and its bay

Photo, © Captain Yvon

The cliffs in Champeaux

In Avranches, the ardent defender of heritage had eyes only for the view of Mont Saint-Michel. He remembered the road to Granville as being very pleasant.

Walk to the Cabane Vauban

Photo, © Xavier Lachenaud


After a boat trip in a “nutshell” during which, in a twist of irony, Victor Hugo almost ended up in Jersey the next morning because of the outgoing tide, the poet and his companion continued their journey inland. After his exile, Victor Hugo returned to Granville three times (in 1872, 1875 and 1878) before embarking on the boat that took him to Guernsey.


Photo, © Hello Travelers

Coutances Cathedral

In 1825, in a supplement to Notre-Dame de Paris with the unequivocal title of “War on the demolishers”, Hugo called for “a universal cry” to go up against “all manner of profanation, degradation and ruin” threatening the monuments of the Middle Ages “to which both the memory of kings and the tradition of the people are attached”. A few years later, this man of action as much as of words continued his tirade against the state of Norman heritage.
Notre-Dame Cathedral in Coutances

Photo, © David Daguier - CD50

5 - Notre-Dame Church in Saint-Lô

In Saint-Lô, Victor Hugo was as outraged about its heritage as he had been in Coutances:

 Due to a lack of maintenance, the admirable church of Saint-Lô, with two towers as beautiful as the great spire of Saint-Denis, has fallen into disrepair

A day in Saint-Lô

Photo, © Xavier Lachenaud

6 - Carentan

In Carentan, Victor Hugo visited Notre-Dame Church, which he described as “charming”.

The Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin Regional Nature Park

Photo, © Xavier Lachenaud


Before continuing to Barneville, Victor Hugo decided to stop to visit PortBail. Having no transport, the writer and his companion once again walked across country to get to Barneville-Carteret. As a reward, they were able to enjoy the spectacular sea views so characteristic of the Cotentin Peninsula.

 When I arrived in Barneville, the sun had already set, and beautiful inky trees stood out against the silver twilight sky, while at the horizon the sea mimicked the sound of carriages in Paris.


Photo, © Xavier Lachenaud


Between Barneville and Cherbourg, Victor Hugo and Juliette Drouet stopped off in Les Pieux. Today, a plaque and a small bust on the façade of the house at 41 Rue Centrale commemorates the place where they dined on 2 July before continuing to Cherbourg. After this stop in Les Pieux, the couple, who had met up with the painter Nanteuil, arrived in Cherbourg by night along the coast from Tourlaville. The three friends admired the harbour.

A weekend in Cherbourg

Photo, © David Daguier - CD50


The journey of Victor Hugo and his two companions ended in Barfleur. Wishing to spend the night at sea, they requested the services of a fisherman. When night fell, the captain returned to port arguing that the coast was too dangerous to navigate at night. A discussion followed on the port, rousing the people living nearby and the mayor at the time. Victor Hugo described his first boat trip in Barfleur to his wife as follows:

 I inform you that I have stood the test of seasickness. I have taken several trips out to sea, without incident, one of which in Barfleur in heavy seas that filled the vessel with foam. I clung to the ropes and perched on the edge of the little boat; it is one of the most charming recollections of my entire life.

Stay in Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue

Photo, © Xavier Lachenaud

Learn more about Victor Hugo’s trip thanks to the Kit M information points. The trail has nine of these points in total, one in every town he passed through.

Using the app, scan the QR code on the post to access the information. You can install the app on your mobile device now (Android, iOS, Windows Phone). It’s free of charge and proposes different services concerning the department: transport, agenda of events, themed trails, and more. Kit M is the practical guide to la Manche.

Introduction .pdf
Mont-Saint-Michel .pdf
The cliffs in Champeaux .pdf
Granville .pdf
Coutances .pdf
Saint-Lô .pdf
Carentan .pdf
Barneville-Carteret .pdf
Cherbourg .pdf
Barfleur .pdf

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