Normandy proved to be a treat for me; I did quite a bit of travel in the region – west to east and back again, and again.
After experiencing the confining heat of summertime in Paris, this trip allowed me to cool-off, stretch, twist and turn. The sky above was enormous and the rolling hills with cattle pastures encompassed every angle I turned.
It did not hurt to have perfect weather with cool sea breezes in Étretat, Honfleur & Deauville. These small coastal Normandy towns are in the north-eastern part if the region.
Étretat is most famous for its white chalk cliffs and rock formations which have been naturally carved by the wind and sea. The town has a modest stretch of rocky beach spanning from cliff to cliff. Several painters and writers have reflected on Étretat, most notably Claude Monet.
Moving west, Honfleur is a magical little seaport. It dates from the 11th century with slate-covered fisherman cottages. The houses lean on one and other and tilt forward or backward. The charm is undeniable.
A major attraction beyond the picturesque port is Saint Catherine’s Church. It’s a beautiful all wooden structure honoring the fishing village. The original naive was built to reflect an inverted ship’s hull. The congregation of the church (and the village of Honfleur) grew so quickly, a second naive was constructed immediately after completing the first. A quaint bell tower stands independently across from the church – also made from shingled wood. It has exterior supporting beams because it was quickly determined the wood structure was stressed holding the massive bells.
Honfleur was a trading hub for a short time with a sordid history. In the early 17th century it was one of five major French ports for slave trade. The town was destroyed in the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 19th century. It sits at the mouth of the Siene and survived intact through World War II as it was not considered a major port. It is a beautifully preserved little town and has developed a large tourist following.
Further west Deauville is considered the “Parisian Riviera”. It is the closest beach to the city of Paris, a short two hour train ride from the city. Deauville developed into an elite beach town with storied old chateaus and mansions. Prominent families summered in Deauville and it attracted (and still attracts) wealthy global travelers with it’s hippodrome, casino, beautiful (sandy) beaches and annual international film festival.