One of France’s largest ports
One of France’s largest ports, Le Havre sprawls along the right bank of the Seine estuary behind a forest of cranes and refineries. Founded by Francois l in 1517, it developed important trade links with North America during the War of Independence, and later became the major European terminal for the luxury liners of the 1920s-30s. Ferries from England and Ireland still deposit more than a million passengers a year in the port, but few consider staying longer than it takes to raid the giant hypermarkets (Auchan at the Centre Commercial Mont Gaillard, and Carrefour at Montvilliers).
The post-war city centre, designed by Auguste Perret, is a monument to the dubious charms of concrete. Two notable examples are the elongated Hôtel de Ville, juxtaposed by its 17- storey tower; and the Eglise de Saint-Joséph, labouring under an 84-m octagonal belfry. Another architectural talking point, Oscar Niemeyer’s Centre Culturel, lies anchored in a plaza by the Bassin du Commerce like a smoke stack sheered off some gargantuan liner. For a well-illustrated guide to the town’s history and urban development, head for the Musée de Hôtel Dubocage de Bléville, 1 rue Jerôme-Bellarmato, in the Saint-Francois district.
One excellent reason to delay your departure from Le Havre is the Musée des Beaux-Arts André-Malraux (www.muma-lehavre.fr), at the port entrance on place Guynemer. The metal and glass construction provides a spacious and well-lit environment for exceptional collections of 19th-20thC French paintings from local boys Eugène Boudin and Raoul Duty, Impressionists including Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley, and modern abstract artists such as Dubuffet and Lur√ç¬µcat.