The sleepy town of OUISTREHAM, on the coast 15km north of Caen and connected to it by a dual carriageway, gives the impression that it can barely believe its luck at having become a major ferry port. Ferry services began here in 1986, and the easternmost of the D-Day resorts has developed an array of reasonable hotels and restaurants.
If, instead of setting off for Caen, you head directly west along the coast from the ferry terminal, after a few hundred metres you come to the long straight main drag of beach – the Riva Bella. This is progressively shedding its run-down image; the large casino has been remodelled as a 1930s passenger liner, housing an expensive restaurant and cocktail bar, and even the old-fashioned bathing huts have had a fresh lick of paint.
Nearby, the Musée du Mur de l'Atlantique (daily: Oct– March 10am–6pm; April– Sept 9am–7pm; 7) is housed in a lofty bunker – hence its alternative name, the Grand Bunker. This was the headquarters of the several German batteries that defended the mouth of the River Orne; after brief resistance, it fell to Allied forces on June 9, 1944. Inside the heavily restored bunker, displays re-create living quarters and explain what happened here, with newspapers, cutlery and packets of cigarettes adding a welcome human touch to the moderately interesting explanations of the workings of the generators, gas filters and radio room.
The main concentrations of cafés and restaurants are the place Courbonne, immediately outside the gare maritime, and the Avenue de la Mer, Ouistreham's main drag. Those looking for decent food and accommodation should make for Le Normandie, close to the ferry port at 71 avenue Michel-Cabieu (Tel:02.31.97.19.57, Web: www.lenormandie.com ; Price: 66-80; closed mid-Dec to mid-Jan, plus Sun evening & Mon Nov– March), a smart Logis de France with pleasant, quiet rooms. Its restaurant features menus from 16.50 to 33.50, with plenty of meat options alongside the usual seafood choices.