Honfleur: history and charm on the Normandy coast

0

Honfleur, France provided a delightful surprise on our cruise this summer aboard Azamara Journey. We’re glad the travel wizards who create Azamara’s itinerary included this charming French port city that we knew very little about prior to our voyage.

Over 1,000 years as a port city

Memories of high school French class might lead you to think the second syllable of the town’s name refers to flowers. The name “Honfleur” actually derives from the Vikings, referring to the town’s position on the horn of the estuary. Situated on the Normandy coast at the mouth of the Seine, Honfleur served as an important trade port for centuries.

In addition to the Norman-era Vieux Bassin (old docks) one of the city’s main historical attractions is St. Catherine’s. The oldest wooden church in France was built during the 15th century, replacing a stone church destroyed in the 100 Years’ War.

St. Catherine’s Church

The bell tower of St. Catherine’s Church, the oldest wooden church in France.

We enjoyed walking the cobblestone streets of this picturesque town. The stone and half-timbered buildings contribute to a sense of time travel.

An impressionist past

During the 19th century, Honfleur’s charms attracted impressionistic painters like Monet, as well as the town’s native son Eugène Boudin. The charming city seems little changed since the early 1900’s and we half-expected to bump into Claude himself wearing a beret, carrying his palette.

Walking by the home of impressionist composer and Honfleur native Erik Satie, we could almost hear the strains of his famous Les Gymnopedie (even those who aren’t classical music fans recognize this song, used in the movie Chocolat, with Juliet Binoche and Johnny Depp). 

Shopping

Quaint shops sell paintings and reproductions in all price ranges. We also saw an abundance of shops offering antiques, jewelry or clothing. Honfleur belongs to the French department (similar to the US concept of states) of Calvados. We saw many travelers purchasing the apple brandy associated with this region. For our part we focused on the ice cream!

Coastal French Flowers

Although the downtown area teems with pedestrians, cars, and loads of tourists, walking away from the beaten path leads to quiet, calm side streets. . Meandering up the sloping cobblestone streets, we stopped often to admire the artistically crafted hanging flower baskets and take in the fragrance of the flowers which seem to grow like weeds.

Colorful anging flower baskets are everywhere and everything seems to thrive in the cool coastal climate.

Variety is one of the things we love about cruise travel. Our visit to Honfleur came the day after the emotional experience of visiting the D-Day beaches in Normandy. Honfleur’s gentle charms provided a perfect respite after the intensity of the previous day.