Honfleur, possibly Normandy’s prettiest harbour town and one of the most popular places to live in France, is a delightful place to visit for a long weekend or, for a longer stay, it makes an excellent base from which to explore the region.
Just two hours from Paris by car or train Parisians escape here every weekend. However long you are there, it is well worth taking your time to explore the pretty meandering cobbled streets with their quaint antique shops, art galleries, local craft shops and some superb gourmet souvenir shops as well as numerous wonderful restaurants.
A ten minute stroll from the cobbled streets of Honfleur, La Ferme Saint Simeon inn, in the 19th century, served plates of fried shrimps and jugs of cider to the painters, musicians and poets that flocked here from Paris. In front of this farmhouse, apple orchids led down to salt marshes and the sea beyond inspiring many an impressionist’s painting, as did Honfleur’s harbour itself with its picturesque fishing boats and quay lined with tall narrow houses clinging to the hillside. Boudin was born in Honfleur and introduced his young friend Monet to his home town. The scenes that they painted are much the same today and at the old port, Le Vieux Bassin, you will find painters and their easels producing works for the tourist.
Be sure to visit the Musée Eugène Boudin, on place Erik-Satie, where many original pastels and paintings by Boudin are displayed alongside works by Monet and other impressionist painters. Composer Erik Satie was also born in Honfleur. He worked with some of the greatest artists of his time including Picasso and inspired such famous composers as Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky. If you stroll down boulevard Charles V you’ll find ‘Les Maisons Satie’, a bizarre and fascinating museum dedicated to Satie.
Back in the centre of town, on one side of the port, is the unusual wooden spire of the 15th century church of Saint Etienne, the oldest church in Honfleur and home to the Musée de la Marine. On the other side of the port is the largest surviving wooden church of St Catherine. The first nave is the oldest part of the building and dates back to the 15th century. It was built using naval construction techniques, and unsurprisingly appears like an upside-down ship’s hull.
Every Saturday morning a lively market with a myriad of stalls display produce from the Norman countryside such as artisan cheeses, meats and saucisson, fresh fruits and vegetables and all things apple including cider, pommeau (made form a mixture of cider and apple brandy) and Calvados. Of course the sea also provides her bounty including the local delicacy crevettes grises (a small grey shrimp).
Dining out in Honfleur
There are numerous excellent restaurants, mainly specialising in fish dishes, both around the harbour and in the surrounding streets. One of the best is the delectable, Sa-Qua-Na, on place Hamelin. This Michelin-starred restaurant is so popular that reservations must be made well in advance. For something a little different, and a less expensive, try L’Assiette des Mondes, on Chemin De La Croix Rouge in Equemauville (just outside Honfleur) which serves excellent ‘fusion’ food. If you are looking for something more central, La Petite Boucherie on place de la Porte de Rouen offers delicious, hearty, homemade cooking.
Whether you visit for a few hours, a weekend or a month, Honfleur has been seducing visitors for hundreds of years, and is bound to leave a lasting impression of her charms.
Photography – top: Jon Banfiled for Great Escapes, middle: Honfleur tourist office and bottom: Hotel du Dauphin