Historic port on the Seine estuary
A picture-postcard Norman port in the Seine estuary, Honfleur gathers its skirts around the Vieux Bassin, the historic port where Samuel Champlain set sail to found Quebec in 1608. The entrance to the basin is still guarded by the twin-turreted remnants of La Lieutenance, the former governor’s residence, while a delightful collection of tall and pencil-thin buildings faced in brick and grey slate cast wobbly reflections over the water from quai Sainte-Catherine. Opposite, on quai Saint-Etienne, two small museums, the Musée de la Marine and Musée du Vieux Honfleur display nautical memorabilia and local history.
Edged in by narrow streets bulging with galleries, crisp linen-clad restaurants and window boxes bursting with rambling geraniums, the wooden Eglise de Sainte-Catherine was built by local shipwrights after the Hundred Years War. Supported on stone piers, the wooden building is cloaked in chestnut wood shingles with delicate carved angels decorating the porch; its twin naves are supported on wooden posts. The separate belfry sports a clock tower above its square half-timbered base.
Despite Samuel Champlain’s exploits in the New World, the town’s chief claim to fame lies in its 19thC artistic connections. It was the birthplace of Eugène Boudin, a forerunner of the Impressionist movement, who tutored the young Monet, and was visited by the likes of Renoir and Cézanne. Dufy, Corot and Courbet also spent time here, and several of their works are displayed in the excellent Musée Eugène Boudin.
In the good old days, penniless artists gathered at Mère Toutain’s Ferme Saint-Siméon, now a gorgeous luxury hotel, where you can stay in Corot’s bay-windowed studio. Transformed from cheap artists’ haunt to popular resort, Honfleur’s many restaurants offer few bargains. A pleasant alternative is to pick up picnic materials from local shops and perch on the harbour wall or take refuge from the crowds in the public gardens along from quai des Passagers.
Villa holidays: Honfleur, its surroundings and the north coast and Normandy offer many holiday rental properties.