The Cotentin Peninsula, also known as the Cherbourg Peninsula, is a peninsula in Normandy, forming part of the north-western coast of France. It juts out northwards into the English Channel, towards Great Britain. To its west lie the Channel Islands.
The peninsula lies wholly within the département of Manche, in the région of Basse-Normandie.
It is part of the Armorican Massif and lies between the estuary of the Vire River and Mont Saint Michel Bay. It is divided into three areas: the headland of La Hague, the Cotentin Pass, and the valley of the Saire River (Val-de-Saire).
It forms the bulk of the Manche département.
The largest town in the peninsula is Cherbourg on the north coast, a major cross-channel port.
Other towns of note: Coutances, Barfleur, Saint-Lô, Bricquebec, Granville, Barneville-Carteret, Carentan, Avranches.
The western coast of the peninsula, known as la Côte des Îles (the coast of the islands) faces the Channel Islands and ferry links serve Carteret, Granville and the islands (including Chausey).
Off the east coast of the peninsula lie the island of Tatihou and the Îles Saint-Marcouf.
The town known today as Coutances, capital of the Unelli, a Gaulish tribe, acquired the name of Constantia in 298 during the reign of Roman emperor Constantius Chlorus. The whole peninsula, called in Latin the pagus Constantinus subsequently became known as the Cotentin.
Until the construction of modern roads, the peninsula was almost inaccessible in winter due to the band of marshland cutting off the higher ground of the promontory itself. this explains occasional historical references to the Cotentin as an island.
The town of Valognes was, until the French Revolution, a provincial social resort for the aristocracy, nicknamed the Versailles of Normandy. Little remains of the grand houses and châteaux as a result of the destruction of the Battle of Normandy. The social scene was described in the novels of Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly (himself from the Cotentin).
The Battle of La Hougue took place in 1692 at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue near Barfleur.
A significant portion of World War II, through the summer of 1944, was fought in the area.
The main economical resource is agriculture. Dairy farming is an a prominent activity. Along the west coast, renown vegetables are grown (carots of Créances).
The region is also famous for its shellfish culture, like the oysters from Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue and Pirou, and the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages like cider and calvados, made from local grown apples and pears.
Tourism is also an important economic activity in this region. Many tourists visit the D-Day invasion beaches, the paratrooper linked town of Sainte-Mère-Église, the American war cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer and the German war cemetery at La Cambe.
After quitting political life, the political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville retreated to the family estate of Tocqueville where he wrote much of his work.
Due to its comparative isolation, the peninsula is one of the remaining strongholds of the Norman language, and the local dialect is known as Cotentinais. The Norman language poet Côtis-Capel described the environment of the peninsula, while French language poet Jacques Prévert made his home at Omonville-la-Petite. The painter Jean-François Millet was born in the peninsula.
The Norman language writer Alfred Rossel, native of Cherbourg, composed many songs which form part of the heritage of the region. Rossel's song Sus la mé ("on the sea") is often sung as a regional patriotic song.