With slate and timber architecture and picturesque harbor reflections, Honfleur, France has always been a magnet for artists. Claude Monet, Gustav Courbet, and Eugène Boudin developed impressionism with Le Vieux Bassin (the old basin) as inspiration. A Parisian friend suggested Honfleur, France as a nice Normandy base and she was so right! This city is located across the river Seine from le Havre, and just a scenic drive away from the beaches of Normandy and the Cavaldos cider (cidre in French) region. After a few glasses of cidre we wandered around and watched the plein air painters in action.
Honfleur Exploration and Beyond from this Normandy Base
Honfleur has plenty to see, eat, drink, and enjoy. The city is home to a few small museums including Musée Eugène Boudin which features the works of impressionist artists, and Musée de la Marine telling the story of Honfleur’s maritime history. France’s largest wooden church, Saint Catherine’s, also calls Honfleur home.
Le Vieux Bassin (the old basin or harbor) is the heart of the city. Once a merchant and fishing port, the harbor is now home to yachts and sailboats. Restaurants that tempt the taste-buds line the sidewalks and show off buckets of mussels and fresh fish. Don’t arrive ravishingly hungry–you do not want to stop at the first place you pass by. The view is worth so much that not all restaurants here are up to par. That being said, the ones that certainly deserve your taste buds’ attention. We had a fantastic dish featuring skate (ray in French). I have seen Jacques Pépin prepare it on his cooking show and watched my husband toss many a skate back into the Atlantic Ocean when fishing on Long Island, NY. This fish smothered in white wine, butter, and caper sauce is nothing short of outstanding!
Honfleur is home to a host of bed and breakfasts, inns, small hotels, and guest homes. Our favorite stay is at the Chambres d’hôtes Rosebud. A short stroll from Le Vieux Bassin and the attractions of the city yet on the outskirts enough to make getting back on the road a cinch.
Just across the river by bus or taxi is France’s second busiest port, Le Havre. Musee d’art moderne Andre Malraux (MuMa) is the shining star of this city for any impressionist buff. The museum was initially built in 1845 and was utterly destroyed in the bombings of World War II. Re-built in 1951, and then restructured between 1995-1999, the museum is now a clean, contemporary building allowing the country’s most extensive impressionism collection of art to speak for itself.
The Calvados region of Normandy is home to some of the world’s best cider. The Normandy tourism board has worked with the orchids to create wonderful itineraries of visiting and tasting along this 25-mile route through Pays d’Auge. Many of the mills require appointments so stop by a tourist info building to get things off to the right start.
There are five main D-Day Landing Beaches: Sword Beach, Juno Beach, Gold Beach, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach. The beaches and towns along the coast are dotted with cemeteries, museums, and memorials. They are all moving, and it can be an emotionally draining day. If you are visiting the region to pay homage to a loved one or looking to view something specific start with the particular site you came to see so that you are not too exhausted. I also recommend hiring a tour–private or group–if you are looking to gain something specific out of your experience as it can be overwhelming. If you are visiting to pay your respects and learn more about this historical place and time you should be fine on your own. Either way, visit a tourist info point first to gain your bearings.