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Honfleur: A Charming French Seaside Town

SmarterTravel

Author: Elisa Levine
Date of Trip: March 2013

Honfleur, located in the northwest section of France, is one of the most charming destinations I’ve ever visited. During our family vacation to Paris last year, we included a weekend trip to this seaside town. Our group included me, my husband, my two daughters (6 and 8) and my mom. Since this was to be my third time to Paris, (although it was the first time for everyone else), I wanted to venture out beyond the city and add more dimension to our family’s France experience. My husband suggested Normandy as a side trip, because of its significance to WWII, which always was an important factor in his life as the son of a WWII veteran. After some research into “where to stay” in Normandy, I was captivated by the town of Honfleur, from the photos and description. It seemed like a relatively central location for visiting the Caen-Normandy War Memorial (which my husband wanted desperately to see) and the scenic harbor atmosphere would contrast the City of Lights for a weekend excursion.

Approximately, 100 miles from Paris, and roughly a 3-1/2 hour drive, Honfleur is a darling and picturesque port, characterized by a charming harbor, shops, restaurants and numerous hotels.

We rented a car from Paris, which we picked up across from the Hotel Regina, where we were staying and began our leisurely drive for our weekend stay in Honfleur, Normandy. I definitely recommend planning a three-day visit, if you have the luxury of time, since there are a number of sites to see in this region. We decided to break up our mini road trip with a stop along the way, but ever so slightly off our route, to Giverny, the home of impressionist painter, Claude Monet. This was a real treat! Seeing Monet’s house, which is colorfully decorated and painstakingly preserved, was very well received by my young daughters. The house tour is small enough to hold the attention of kids, but filled with plenty of details to make it more than interesting for adults. We walked all around the gardens, which felt a little like a garden maze and the kids loved skipping and running throughout. The only negative, if I had one, was that the beautiful gardens at Monet’s house, that were the centerpiece of the artist’s paintings, were not in bloom yet, as we visited in late March. I could only imagine what it would have been like to see the gardens full of brightly colored flowers and lush greens in their peak season. In spite of the time of year, and the weather being slightly chilly, it was a delightful visit. We also managed to make some lovely purchases at several of the shops on the premises of Giverny.

With one iconic visit behind us, we pulled into Honfleur just in time for lunch. The sun was brightly shining, and there was a strong wind blowing. From the quaint buildings to the plethora of boats that decorated the harbor, it really looked like a picture postcard, no matter which direction I looked. We stayed at the Best Western Le Cheval Blanc, which had an incredible harbor view from our hotel room window. This hotel is strategically situated so we were very close to the water and the dock area, and surrounded by an array of restaurants and little shops. The surrounding streets ascended up hills and around turns, giving a charming old world feel as we ventured out and about our first day. We chose a nearby seafood joint, and enjoyed a lovely view from the restaurant’s windows. There were a variety of restaurants with a number of food choices for the rest of our stay. We found a lovely Italian restaurant for dinner our second night, and made good on our promise to take the kids for crepes on day three before heading back to Paris.

Right across the street was the carousel, which the girls went on more than once! Two tips if you plan to visit Honfleur. The first, is that the weekends can be very crowded. When we arrived into the main harbor area, the first day, it was terribly jammed with pedestrians and cars all converging and passing through the streets at the same time, making it difficult to drive. We noticed how the crowd had dwindled come Monday, which was our last day and the least congested. Secondly, it was rather windy to say the least, and quite a chill in the air, in March. The nights were even colder. I would definitely recommend bringing a warm jacket or windbreaker or visiting when the weather is warmer, to truly enjoy being outside.

On day 2, we did take a drive to the Caen-Normandy Memorial Center for History and Peace, which was both historic and poignant. The flags from each country that fought in the Second World War was very commanding as you approach the entrance to the museum. There were different artifacts, such as vehicles and planes from this war, and then of course, the exhibit itself with detailed information, films, photographs and articles from this very dark era of the world’s history. Some of it was quite upsetting and a big overwhelming for young children. Definitely worth a visit, but limit your stay if you are traveling with kids. One to thing to realize is that Caen-Normandy Memorial Center is about an hour’s drive from the Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial, which is the huge burial ground dedicated to all those Americans whose lives were lost storming the beach that fateful day in June 1944. So, plan your trip accordingly. We didn’t and never made it to the burial ground, which was a bit disappointing.

Our last day in Honfleur was spent quite leisurely, walking around, shopping and picture taking. It is a charming seaside town not to be missed on your visit to France.

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