Take time to explore Honfleur, France, a scenic town that dates to the 14th century. Cobblestone streets fan out from the historic harbor, home to centuries-old buildings, including half-timbered Medieval-era dwellings. Boutiques, galleries and cafes line the quay, and the townâ€™s lesser-known gem, the Eugene Boudin Museum, features pre-Impressionist, Impressionist and contemporary works.
The well-preserved historical town of Honfleur has inspired many artists over the years, such as Monet and Boudin. (Photo courtesy of Candyce H. Stapen)
Even if you have not visited Honfleur, France, you have likely seen images of its harbor in paintings and posters. Part of the Normandy region, Honfleur, situated at the mouth of the Seine River, is a picturesque mix of centuries-old buildings, cafes and shops.
Unlike Le Havre across the river, Honfleur was not bombed by the Germans in WWII. Thus, most buildings date from the 14th to the 18th centuries. During its heyday in the 17th to the early 19th centuries, Honfleur served as the fifth-largest French port, home to merchant ships and explorers. Samuel Champlain sailed from Honfleur, arriving in 1607 to found Quebec.
Small cruise ships such as the Azamara Journey, which carries 650-passengers, can dock in Honfleur while the large cruise ships head to Le Havre. From either port, cruise lines offer day trips to Paris, a 2.5-hour drive away. Charming Honfleur is well-worth exploring, so continue below for some of the most popular activities.
1. Stroll Old Town. Sailboats dock up in the old harbor and cafes edge the water. Centuries-old buildings line the cobblestone streets, including half-timbered medieval structures, some of which feature restaurants on the first floor and apartments on the top levels. Enjoy a glass of wine and the people-watching.
2. See Sainte-Catherine’s Church. The church, rebuilt between 1465 to 1468, is the oldest wooden church in France. After the original stone church was destroyed during the Hundred Years War, the townspeople, in search of a quick replacement, employed shipbuilding carpenters to construct the new church. The wooden ceiling is suggestive of a boat, and the nave’s columns are tree trunks. The octagonal bell tower, which stands across from the church, dates to 1760.
3. Explore the Eugene Boudin Museum. Born in Honfleur in 1824, Boudin, considered a pre-Impressionist, influenced many artists. The museum, established in 1868, opened a new facility in 2016. The museum showcases pre-Impressionist and contemporary works by artists who lived in or painted the Normandy region. Compare depictions of Honfleur and the area by Boudin as well as Raoul Dufy, Gustav Courbet, Claude Monet, Alexander Dubourg and others.
4. Browse the galleries. Honfleur features more than 80 galleries that showcase a variety of art in various price ranges. Both the Katia Granoff Galerie and Galerie Arthur Boudin offered works by Jacques Bouyssou and Raoul Dufy during my visit.
5. Ride the carousel. Perched harbor-side, the turn-of-the-century carousel attracts local families and tourists. Go ahead and take a spin — after all, you are on vacation!
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