Honfleur: history, art and gastronomy in Normandy

By Lucy Dodsworth, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Honfleur.

Overall rating:4.0 out of 5 (based on 6 votes)
Enjoyable
4.333335
4.3
Useful
4.333335
4.3
Inspirational
4.5
4.5
Recommended for:
Cultural, Short Break, Budget, Mid-range, Expensive

The charming harbour town of Honfleur has attracted artists since the Impressionists, and is just as popular with food lovers. Join them for a short break or a stopover on a trip to southern France

What to see and do

Honfleur is a great place to amble around, with plenty of picturesque backstreets to get lost in. You feel like you're stepping back in time amongst the cobbled streets and crooked buildings. The heart of the town is the historic port, or Vieux Bassin. It's surrounded by tall seventeenth-century slate-fronted houses overlooking the harbour, and fringed by galleries and cafés in converted salt stores. The harbour is packed with sailing boats and was historically a launch point for sailors heading to the New World. It was later a fishing port and fishermen’s wives still sell the day's catch straight from the boat today – a historic law means that only they have the right to sell it.

If you want to get out onto the water yourself, then you can take one of the boat trips around the harbour and out to the nearby Pont de Normandie (details available from the tourist information centre on Quai Lepaulmier; 02 31 89 23 30). This 2km-long bridge links Honfleur with Le Havre and was the longest cable bridge in the world when it was built in 1995. It's still an impressive sight, supported by pylons which are higher than the Eiffel Tower.

One of the town's most interesting buildings is the Eglise Sainte Catherine, the largest wooden church in France. It was built after the previous church was destroyed in the Hundred Years' War, and was only supposed to be temporary, but is still standing 500 years later. The builders were local shipbuilders and they kept the maritime theme with a ceiling that looks like two upside-down ships hulls. They had to build the church's bell tower separately nearby out of stone to hold the weight of the bells.

Honfleur has inspired artists for centuries, with Impressionists such as Monet, Courbet and Jongkind forming the École de Honfleur (Honfleur school). The Musée Eugène Boudin (Place Erik Satie, 14602 Honfleur; 02 31 89 54 00) displays works by Boudin, who was born in Honfleur and is famous for his beautiful seascapes. There are also paintings by other Impressionists, as well as works by other local artists and historic artefacts from Normandy, all located in a nineteenth-century church.

There's still a big community of artists in the town today, from painters and sculptors to photographers and jewellery makers. You can visit their galleries and studios, or if you want to give it a try yourself then many offer art classes.

Another famous local resident was the composer Erik Satie, who lived and worked in Honfleur. The house he was born in is now the Musée Erik Satie (67 Boulevard Charles V; 02 31 89 11 11), which uses surreal exhibits of sound, light and images to tell the story of his life.

Where to eat and drink

On Wednesdays and Saturdays there's a colourful farmer's market in Place Sainte-Cathérine, which is a great place to stock up on picnic supplies. It also specialises in traditional Normandy produce like delicious cheeses (with Camembert and Pont L'Eveque among those produced nearby), butter and apples in various forms – from tasty tartes aux pommes to Calvados.

There are lots of restaurants in prime spots around the edge of the harbour, but they tend to be touristy and quite expensive. They’re a good spot for a drink while you watch the boats come in through.

For a gastronomic experience, Michelin-starred Sa.Qua.Na (22 Place Hamelin, Honfleur; 02 31 89 40 80; www.alexandre-bourdas.com) is presided over by chef Alexandre Bourdas, who combines his experience in working in Japan with local ingredients. It's all very modern in style, from the food to the décor. Tasting menus are €60 or €90 and include fusion dishes like sea bream in coconut and lime broth.

For more down-to-earth dining, there are some good local restaurants serving fresh produce from Normandy. The area is known for its seafood, especially mussels and scallops. La Tortue (36 Rue de l'Homme de Bois; 02 31 81 24 60; www.restaurantlatortue.fr) specialises in fish and, unusually in France, also has a good range of vegetarian options. They offer good-value menus for €17 and €36. Or try the Bistro des Artistes (14 Place Pierre Berthelot, Honfleur; 02 31 89 95 90), run by a local artist who also acts as waitress and chef! It can be a little bit chaotic at times but serves good bistro-style food with a lovely third-floor view across the harbour.

And a good place to start or end the night is Le Vintage (8 Quai des Passagers, Honfleur; 02 31 89 05 28), a great jazz club by the harbour. It's a relaxed place for an aperitif and also does tapas-style food, with music each night.

Where to stay

As a fellow Lucie (albeit with a ‘y’), I admit to having chosen this one partly for its name, but La Maison de Lucie (44 Rue des Capucins, Honfleur) turned out to be a gem. Formerly the home of writer and poet Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, you still feel like a guest in someone’s home. Set on a hill with views across Honfleur, rooms are beautifully decorated. The pretty central courtyard is a peaceful place to sit, and there’s also a small spa and jacuzzi in the cellar. Double rooms from €150 a night.

Or for a good value choice, try motel-style Hotel Monet (Rue Charrière du Puits, Honfleur), about five minutes’ walk from the centre. Its comfortable rooms each have a patio, where you can have breakfast in summer. And the owners are friendly and helpful, with lots of tips about what to see in the area. Double rooms from €62 a night.

When to go

Honfleur can get very busy during the summer when hoards of Parisian tourists descend, and is quiet during winter – and subject to some cold and damp Normandy weather! The best times to visit are when there are not so many tourists in spring and autumn, with autumn also being the season for the delicious local mussels and scallops.

How to get there

By ferry: Honfleur is only 25km from the ferry port at Le Havre, from where ferries to Portsmouth take about 3 hours (www.ldlines.co.uk). Or it’s an hour’s drive to Caen (Ouistreham), and then just under 6 hours to Portsmouth from there (www.brittany-ferries.co.uk).

By train: take the Eurostar to Paris (2 hours 15 mins, from £69 return), then cross Paris to Gare St Lazare (take the by RER train line E, or a taxi is around €8). The nearest station to Honfleur is at Deauville/Trouville, which takes 1 hour 45 mins by direct train (return tickets from £29). Then you can get a local bus (www.busverts.fr) or taxi on to Honfleur.

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More information on Honfleur: history, art and gastronomy in Normandy :

Author:
Lucy Dodsworth
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4
Average: 4 (6 votes)
Total views:
875
First uploaded:
8 June 2010
Last updated:
4 years 7 weeks 4 hours 43 min 1 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Cultural, Short Break
Budget level:
Budget, Mid-range, Expensive
Free tags / Keywords:
art, museums, sailing

Lucy recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Hotel Monet
£53
N/A
2. La Maison De Lucie
£135
N/A

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Community comments (9)

Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I've always wanted to visit Honfleur and this guide has reinforced its place on 'my to visit' list. I like the way you've managed to convey so much information in an informative and interesting manner. Your eating and where to stay recommedations are ones I hope to experience soon.

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Lucy,

I think your guide is brilliant. I have never been to Honfleur, but I am really keen to go now! I like the way you weave the snippets of history into the overall framework of good, solid travel advice. You have also given advice for people on a range of budgets, which is helpful and I think the restaurants you have suggested sound well researched. All I would ask for is a few more examples of the food you ate in them, but then I am a food lover at heart, so I am probably just being greedy :)

Vicky

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

I enjoyed reading this and Honfleur sounds like a brilliant little place to visit one of these days. The harbour looks lovely in the photos.

You have given a really good overview and managed to cram in everything that is essential for a reader to organise their own trip there.

The market sounds brilliant and those restaurants delicious!

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Rating:
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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Lucy - I thought you give a good overview of Honfleur and cover many of the things I love - good food, markets and history. Your photo series paint a further thousand words, and really added to your descriptions.

I particularly liked your tip about when to visit. I tend to go to these kinds of places a little out of season too (a benefit of not having kids!)

Paul

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0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

As a frequent visitor to Honfleur I thoroughly enjoyed your article - you really did it justice!
You have included much useful information on where to stay, where to eat and what to do, although I thought you could have included a phone number for the Tourist Office, as many people will be interested in boat rides.
A couple of nit-picks, you've mis-spelled Le Havre! Also, the good description of the Pont de Normandie needs looking at, you need a comma somewhere to avoid the impression that it actually is the Eiffel Tower that's supporting it!
I liked the fact that you mention today's painters and artists, as well, and I certainly will look up the Bistro des Artistes when I'm next there.
It's put me in the mood to go again soon.

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Hi Myra, thanks, it is a lovely place and definitely worth a few visits. I've added a contact number for the tourist office and revised the text about the Pont de Normandie as suggested. Thanks, Lucy

Rating:
3
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

More photos please, Lucy!

You mention a number of times how picturesque Honfleur is("...the cobbled streets and crooked buildings...tall seventeenth-century slate-fronted houses...galleries and cafés in converted salt stores...")and post just four shots, three of them of the harbour!

Other than that, I enjoyed reading the guide (and thanks for the warning about when best to visit), the Eurostar and ferry info being particularly useful. This is a temptingly do-able weekend without the need for airports for those of us living near the South coast of England!

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Hi Jon, I've now added a few more photos, unfortunately the weather wasn't the best while I was there but hopefully they'll give a bit more of a flavour of the place!

Great! Thanks, Lucy. 12 is a good number, and those are a nice selection. `Giving a flavour` is what this place is all about, and a few well taken photos like those give your words an extra dimention.