When I was teaching a course in Paris, I took my students on a day trip to Honfleur, a lovely commune in the Calvados département of France’s Normandy region. Part of my motivation for the excursion was selfish- I had never been to Honfleur and was curious to see why artists such as Gustave Courbet, Claude Monet and Eugène Boudin (early members of the Impressionist movement) had been so enthralled with its port and maritime setting.
As soon as we stepped off the tour bus, it was clear we were in a unique place. Our tour began at Sainte-Catherine church, France’s largest church made entirely of wood. The current structure replaced the former church (made of stone) that was destroyed during the 100 Years War in the second half of the 15th century. It was built by the inhabitants of Honfleur who used what natural resources they had- wood from the Touques Forest- to finish the job. The church is unique in that it has two naves. The first nave is the oldest part (from the 15th century), followed by the bell tower (that was built away from the church so that worshippers would not be harmed in case of a lightening strike and subsequent fire). The second nave was added in the 16th century.
Right outside the church there was an open-air market where Honfleurais (residents of Honfleur) and tourists alike could stock up on fresh flowers, the region’s famous Calvados (apple brandy), bread, cheeses, meats and fresh fruits and vegetables. Speaking of culinary delights, Honfleur is the perfect place to eat fresh, well-prepared seafood. We enjoyed moules (mussels), escalopes (scallops) and delicious crab remoulade at La Fleur de Sel restaurant at 17 rue Haute.
After lunch, we went to the Musée Eugène Boudin, located in Place Erik Satie. Named in honor of the famous Impressionist, the museum contains a large collection of ethnographic objects from Norman culture, 92 paintings, pastels and drawings by Boudin, as well as an array of works by his contemporaries and Norman painters from the 20th century. I highly recommend the audio guide tour, especially if you are interested in the history of the region or of the Impressionists. Prices: Admission 5.30€ adults, 3.80€ students and children 10 and over.
We finished our day by browsing in the lovely shops and galleries along Quai Ste Catherine and admiring the fishing boats around the port. The refreshing change of scenery during our day of respite left us feeling ready to head back to fast-paced Paris with a new-found peace of mind.
Getting to Honfleur from Paris:
It’s easy to drive from Paris to Honfleur. The D579 will lead you right to Honfleur’s major boulevard, rue de la République, which you can follow into the town center. Driving time from Paris is 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
There’s no direct train service to Honfleur. However, from Paris’ Gare St-Lazare you can take a train to Deauville (there are about 10 departures a day). From there, bus no. 20 will take you to Honfleur (25-minute ride).
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com