Attractions: Honfleur

May 15, 2023

Paul Kay

Do you want to explore attractions? Perhaps you’ve seen plenty of Paris attractions and you want to see more of France. Have you ever considered Honfleur? We knew little to nothing about Honfleur, but we are delighted that we went. Madeline and I visited Honfleur and Rouen when we visited Paris. It is a short drive from Paris, but we found a terrific tour company that suggested many places to see from our Paris anchor point. Doru and Stella are a terrific couple, very informative and just fun to be around. We would recommend taking the tour with Doru and Stella. You can find them at their Instagram page I Come and Go. Doru managed to take a selfie of the four of us. I loved how he got the reflection of the buildings in the water. This post is about Honfleur, and you can check out our Rouen post here.

Honfleur Doru Paul Stella Madeline at Old Harbor

Here is a selfie of Doru, Paul, Stella and Madeline with the harbor and reflections in the background. I wish I was that good at taking a selfie.

Honfleur is a seaport town which is mentioned in historical documents as early as the 11th century. It was one of the most important towns in the Duchy of Normandy. Because of its ideal location, it was able to develop and play an important role in the creation of the Norman State, which was named for the Vikings, also called Norsemen, who settled in Northern France. 

Rollo Statue

Doru knew all about the Viking influence in France and England. He was a real fan of the TV series. If you are a fan of the TV Series Vikings, you’ll really enjoy Honfleur. Rollo was the first ruler of the region of Normandy and I’m sure he was present in Honfleur. The Vikings ruled much of Europe until the 11th century. I must admit, Doru was right about the series. I bought the whole series on DVD and I’m loving it.

The Hundred Year's War in the 14th century brought a period of great military activity to Honfleur, during which it became a fortress. Honfleur took an active part in the voyages of discovery. Their boats traversed the Atlantic in search of cod fishing in Newfoundland. More expeditions started heading towards the St. Lawrence River, and Canada. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain organized an expedition that led to the foundation of Quebec and New France. At its peak, the French colony of New France stretched over a vast area from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Louisiana. The French were interested primarily in fishing and trapping. The British were determined to take the territory back and New France was ceded to Great Britain in 1763 and became a British colony. However, trading continued to thrive and Honfleur was a major seaport for trading with would be called Canada in 1867.

Honfleur reflection in Old Harbor

Painters began coming to Honfleur as early as the 18th century, attracted by the remarkable light of the estuary. There are many paintings that look similar to the photo Madeline took with the reflections of the buildings in the water.

Honfleur M and P in window

So many tourists come to Honfleur now for that reflection picture. They created a sculpture to allow a photo opportunity that we took.

More artists came in the 19th century. At that time painters were just beginning to paint outside in natural light. During this time, some famous painters including Turner, Corot, and Isabey were staying in Honfleur.

Honfleur Eugene Boudin Museum closeup

Later Boudin and Monet came. The Eugene Boudin Museum is in town and has an impressive collection of paintings by many of those painters.

Honfleur Erik Satie Residence

We walked up and down the cobblestone streets. We passed the Erik Satie museum. You may not recognize the name, but I heard his name and music in my house growing up. He is probably most famous for the Gymnopedies. These are 3 piano compositions he produced in 1888. He was born in 1866 in the house which is now his museum. He is a painter and writer who collaborated with some of the greatest creative minds of the century including Picasso, Debussy and Braque. His music is sometimes considered both haunting and memorable. You will find it within the soundtrack of many movies you might have already seen including: Chocolat, Hugo, Man On Wire, The Royal Tenenbaums, My Dinner With Andre, The Queen’s Gambit and many more.

Honfleur Stella passing by another Calvados shop

Honfleur is in 'lower Normandy' which is known for its cider, apple brandy known as Calvados, which can only be produced in Normandy. Most Calvados are only made from apples grown in Normandy. Producers can only use four types of apples: sweet, bittersweet, bitter and bitter sharp. The result must be aged at least two years in oak. 

Honfleur Calvados sold everywhere

The first written records of Calvados date to the 1500s, but it wasn’t until the 19th century, when phylloxera destroyed countless European vineyards and decimated France’s Cognac supply, that Calvados enjoyed much popularity beyond its birthplace. In Honfleur, you will see plenty of shops selling it.

Honfleur salt shop

Sea salt is produced here as well, and we saw quite a few shops that sold it.

Handmade soap for sale

We also saw shops that were selling handmade soap with local fragrances from local flowers.

Honfleur Saint Catherines Church dual nave

There have been many skilled boatbuilders in Honfleur. During the 15th century, they needed to rebuild the town’s main church. They used material they knew best, wood, and creating what is basically the upturned hull of a boat, supported on wooden pillars. The original church is the left-hand of the two naves. 

Honfleur Saint Catherines Church architecture

The right-hand nave dates from the 16th century. St Catherines is the largest historic wooden church in France.

Honfleur St Catherines Church interior

As a result, the interior, under the hull of the boat, is quite spacious and beautiful.

Stella and Doru choosing Lunch at Brasserie Le Marin in Honfleur

After walking all over town, we decided it was time for lunch before heading to Rouen. Doru and Stella knew just the place, Le Marin. 

Doru great photo and Stella at Brasserie Le Marin lunch in Honfleur sent to them Apr 14 2022

We really enjoyed our lunch there. As it turns out, Doru and Stella knew what time to get a seat because within 15 minutes of our arrival, they were turning away customers. They probably had seats for about 50 people, but business was brisk.

Lunch at Brasserie Le Marin

We enjoyed our visit to this beautiful seaport with so much history. Now it was time to get back into our car and drive to Rouen. You can check out our post on Rouen here. Toute a l’heure crocodile!

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