In a yellow half-timbered house in Normandy, surrounded by roses and sunshine and apple groves. Overlooking the rolling hills, brown and white cows and fruit-laden branches. Where. Right there we found the real heart of Normandy. The small town of Honfleur on the coast of Normandy offered us a fabulous holiday week that should have been much longer.
Honfleur really doesn't look like any other seaside town in Normandy. At the center of Honfleur in the Vieux Bassin harbour, the narrow houses are packed tightly together like sardines. One cannot avoid drawing parallels to Amsterdam's narrow canal houses, although the houses in Honfleur are clad in blue-gray slate as opposed to Amsterdam's caramel colors. The reason for the city's unique silhouette is mainly due to its exposed location. Here at the wide outlet of the Seine, at the strong winds of the Atlantic, the houses need to be extremely weather-resistant and stand firmly.
A history of Vikings and trade
In Normandy, the Vikings are always present. The name Normandy comes from nordmännen (normanderna), who after the Viking Rollo sacked Paris too many times, were given Normandy in 911 as a gift to leave Paris in peace. The first time Honfleur is mentioned in historical books is in 1027, then as the city "Honnefleu" under the leadership of the Viking Honne.
Most of the tall buildings in the harbor date back to the 17th or 18th century, a pediod when Honfleur's shipowners made great fortunes trading with North America, the West Indies, the Azores and Africa. The trade consisted largely of cod from Newfoundland, but from here the explorer Samuel de Champlain also started his journey across the Atlantic to found Quebec in Canada.
In the early 1800s, Honfleur became a popular place for Impressionist artists. Here, among the cobblestone alleys, both Monet and Boudin enjoyed the town, after capturing the city's unique light with their brushes during the morning hours.
Today there are said to be as many as 95 galleries and art museums in Honfleur. The most famous museum is Eugene Boudin Museum, with works of art from the area by the majority of Impressionists. One thing is certain. Once you have visited Honfleur, you will see the works of the Impressionist painters with different eyes. When I visited the Musée d'Orsay a few months after my visit to Normandy, I suddenly saw Honfleur and Normandy depicted everywhere – in everything from the half-timbered houses to the cliffs of the White Coast. Honfleur grabs hold of you, settles in a dear place in your memory and grows.
Church of Saint Catherine
Another attraction in the city is France's largest wooden church, Sainte Catherine, which was built as early as 1468. When you stroll around Honfleur's old town, you will most likely pass by this special church. I can't help but think of the Vikings when I have the church in front of me. The facade looks like a well-stacked puzzle of wooden staves, a bit like a Norwegian stave church. However, it is said that the unique look comes from the fact that the carpenters who built the church usually built ships, but I still wonder if a bit of the city's Norwegian Viking heritage also came into play.
Honfleur is only two hours by car from Paris, which makes Honfleur a favorite among Parisians during the weekends. You don't go here mainly for swimming - you do that better in Deauville or Trouville - but rather for the atmosphere, the many good restaurants and the nature.
Down in the harbor, the restaurants are lined up, tightly under colorful parasols and awnings. Typical tourist restaurants with the same menus serving mussels, fish of the day and a glass of wine at an affordable price. But it's charming and folksy and really, really lovely. It's touristy - but with a lot of soul.
Mostly French is spoken at the tables around us, although during the summer months a large number of Brits turn up. We talk to a British couple at the table next to us who have been visiting Honfleur every summer for 18 years. The only years they didn't travel here were during the pandemic. Honfleur is the kind of place you want to come back to. It is pleasant, convivial and familiar.
Although the harbor's restaurants are both reasonably priced and pleasant, the small alleys behind the harbor hide a dozen Michelin-recommended restaurants and a large number of other really good neighborhood pubs. I can almost guarantee that you will eat well in Honfleur. Crêperies, fine restaurants, oyster bars or neighborhood pubs - here you will find everything in French cuisine. A holiday in Honfleur is a holiday with lots of good food, beautiful views and friendly people. Just the way I want it.
How do I get to Honfleur?
Honfleur is located in Normandy, in the Calvados region. By car, it takes 2 hours from Paris to reach the Atlantic coast and the Seine estuary.
We drove to Normandy, which took 1,5 days from Scania (with an overnight stay in Dusseldorf). We rented the house we lived in via Airbnb.
Do you want to read more about Honfleur?
Here are some tips on good websites.
Do you want to read more about other places in France? Look into my France page!