After our enjoyable afternoon and evening in Mont St Michel, we set off for Honfleur, the easternmost town on the coast of Normandy, where we would spend the next three nights.
On the firm advice of a friend back in Melbourne, we called into Bayeux, to view the famous tapestry depicting the events that led to William, the Duke of Normandy siezing the English throne from King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The tapestry is displayed in a carefully managed environment and is in remarkable condition. It is only 50cm high but all of 70m long, comprising a chronological sequence of fifty numbered sections, divided into nine panels of varying length. The Wikipedia entry for the tapestry provides a useful account of its design and content, including the novel fact that it is NOT a tapestry but actually a work of embroidery.
We had left Mont St Michel quite early and arrived at Honfleur in time for lunch at one of the dozens of bars/restaurants located cheek-by-jowl around the town’s old harbour. We were to while away many happy hours in this precinct over the next three days.
Honfleur, on the southern side of the Seine estuary, was a significant commercial and military port for many centuries from medieval times onward, but its status eventually diminished due to silting and the development of a much larger, modern port at Le Havre. However, it is still used actively today, mainly by leisure craft, and, if you sit by the water’s edge for long enough, you will witness the raising of the hinged bridge to allow boats to enter or depart.
As was typical of a medieval coastal settlement, the narrow streets of Honfleur fan out from the three sides of the harbour and then up the slope towards the plateau which overlooks the town. On the western side, the lower parts of these streets are lined with shops and restaurants, the latter being more genteel than the harbour-side throng.
As for the shops, we have never seen such a variety of quality goods to tempt us. Many items were well outside our budget but we were happy to include some window shopping in our wanderings. Besides, there was an ample supply of attractive and affordable gifts for us to buy, mainly items destined for our six grandchildren.
One of the popular sites close to the harbour precinct is Saint Catherine’s Church, a strikingly unusual building and the largest wooden church in France. It was constructed by local shipyard workers in the 15th century and all of the timber was hewn by axe alone. It’s not the prettiest church in Christendom but it is quite remarkable nevertheless.
Our lodgings in Honfleur also contained elements of medieval construction, to which additions had been made from time to time. As its name suggests, A l’ecole buissonniere had once housed a school. It was comfortable, only a short walk from the west side of the harbour and the breakfast spread was excellent.
On one morning of our visit, we drove up to the plateau above the town, where the woods maintained a comfortable temperature under the mid-autumn sun. Here we came across the Grace Chapel, constructed 400 years ago. The chapel’s exterior is quite unpretentious but its interior is fascinating, with numerous maritime elements, such as tiles praying to or thanking God for safe journeys, and model ships suspended from the ceiling.
Just along the road from the chapel, we found the point where a walking trail descends to Honfleur. From here, we had great views of the town centre and across the Seine estuary to Le Havre.
We had chosen to stay in Honfleur after doing some online research, and we were not disappointed. When we checked into our favourite hotel in Paris a couple of weeks earlier, we told our hosts about our plans and one of them, a woman in her 30s, exclaimed that Honfleur is her favourite place in France and she goes there as often as possible!
So, when I say “happy hour 24/7”, it is not just a reference to the myriad harbour-side bars. It is also a reflection of how many opportunities we found in and around Honfleur for visitors to enjoy themselves. We were sorry to leave and would happily return.