Seaside panoramas and Gallo-Roman history may draw you to Villers-sur-Mer, but you will be surprised at the rich scientific discoveries in this commune just a short distance from Deauville on the coast of Normandy. Perhaps, your first hint will be the grande topiary dinosaurs facing the sea at the Office of Tourism. They even add a baby dinosaur to the lot on occasion!
Why the affection for dinosaurs? A combination of geography and history is the simple answer. The Vaches Noire cliffs begin at Villers-sur-Mer, a site rich in the discovery of fossils and a universal magnet for fossil specialists. But before we delve into the fascinating exhibitions at Paléospace l’Odyssée, let’s digress for a moment to another noteworthy site in the small ville.
Imagine – you are visiting a charming town along the sea that happens to be precisely located at the intersection of the Meridian line of Greenwich. Some 250 years ago, scientists sought a method of measuring longitude. The Greenwich Meridian was established as a universal reference point for space and time.
Stand on the prominent marker overlooking the English Channel, and you will be at longitude 0. Step across, and you cross from the east of the planet to the west. And if you are there at noon in universal time, you will see the sun at its zenith. For all of us who may run our lives with the help of digital clocks and watches, this precision is fascinating!
Enter the museum Paléospace l’Odyssée, and – sans Spielberg – you will travel back to the Jurassic age! Over 160 million years ago, Normandy lay beneath a warm sea; and with creative and interactive reconstructions, Paléospace returns you to the era of towering predators.
Many fossils were unearthed around the ‘Falaises des Vaches Noires’ (The Cliff of Black Cows): 30-feet-long pliosaurs, ichthyosaurs, salt-water crocodiles, ammonites… and the remains of dinosaurs! And, by the way, the site is particularly stimulating for children. Located by the marshes, beach and cliffs, Paléospace also sheds light on the coastal marshlands.
Now we will flip forward a few years to the 13th century, when men adapted to the coastal marsh and cultivated the land to rear cattle. That development led to the unique wetland marshes and rich ecosystem we embrace today. Again appealing to adults and children (inventive interactive games reel them in!), the sensory “Walk from the Marais” features seasonal diversities of flora, fauna, migrating birds and sweeping views of the freshwater tidal marshes and wooded hillsides.
All in all, Villers-sur-Mer offers a quietly rich smorgasbord of sites, senses and delightful holiday memories.