A few miles west along the Seine from our chaumiere is Honfleur, one of Normandy’s most picturesque fishing villages. Honfleur has long been important to Normandy, as a safe harbour during the Hundred Years’ War, then as a centre of maritime trade. French explorer and diplomat Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec City, left for Canada from Honfleur in 1608.
Today Honfleur attracts many tourists in the summer months. We have visited only in spring and fall, when it buzzes gently with weekending couples, and there’s enough watery sun shining for the restauranteurs around the rectangular harbour to keep a few tables outside.
This restaurant, right on the harbour, looks perfect for colder days: they provide a blanket on each chair to pull around your shoulders. We had a wonderful meal at the tiny Bistro des Artistes, which is on an upper floor of one of those tall buildings by the harbour. The menu is short but all freshly made. You access the restaurant from the street behind, and get a table by the window for a fabulous and unobstructed view out over the harbour.
Honfleur is a lovely place to wander through. In the spring and summer there is an old-fashioned carousel by the harbour. (We are becoming aficionados of carousels in Normandy: there is another in Le Touquet which I have written about here.) There are many interesting shops to explore – gourmet food; incredible chocolate shops with elaborate seasonal creations in their windows; and a host of art galleries.
We haven’t needed to stay overnight in Honfleur, but at this B&B, the proprietors were very kind when we needed to find a toilet for a toddler, quickly. It is set off the street around a charming courtyard, filled with flowers.
There are many museums and historical sites in Honfleur. We haven’t visited most of them yet: we have been having too much fun eating and walking around. There are markers in the harbour recording the departure of Samuel de Champlain’s fleet. Quite striking and worth a look is the Eglise Sainte Catherine which, unusually for a large ecclesiastical building, is made entirely of wood. It was built by shipwrights in the 15th century, and the interior does have a nautical feel.
We were fascinated by this public lavoir or wash house, fed by natural streams, up on the hill behind the harbour. It was closed on the day we visited, but is apparently still in use for much of the year.
Update: Here is a useful guide to Honfleur from The Telegraph: Honfleur, France: a cultural guide, 15 November 2011