18th century houses line Ste. Catherine quay of the Vieux Bassin (Old Harbor)

Honfleur was a thriving port city in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. It still thrives today, but the commerce has shifted from shipping to tourism.

Honfleur is more than one thousand years old. The oldest record of its existence is in a document issued by Richard III, Duke of Normandy, in 1027. It was a defensive stronghold in the Hundred Years war between England and France. It was captured by the English in 1419, but retaken by Charles VII in 1450. It is also famous as the launching point of a number of the early expeditions to Canada in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Today, Honfleur is one of the most visited cities in Normandy. Situated across the mouth of the Seine from Le Havre, and just off the A29 motorway, it can be reached from Paris by car in just over two hours.

Honfleur is widely reputed to be one of the most picturesque cities in France. The picturesque label certainly applies to the area immediately surrounding the Vieux Bassin, or Old Harbor. There, old stone quays line three sides of the roughly rectangular port. On the west side, Ste. Catherine quay is lined by colorful buildings five, six, or seven stories high, but only twenty or so feet wide. St. Etienne quay opposite is made up of two story stone buildings. In front of the harbor, alongside the drawbridge that guards the entrance to the harbor, sits looked over by the Lieutenance, an imposing but somewhat austere 11th century stone structure that was once the governor's residence.

The Lieutenance or King's Lieutenant's Residence dates from the 11th century

Away from the harbor, for at least a few blocks, the town has retained much of its old charm. The winding cobbled streets are lined with half-timbered buildings. Perhaps the most important monument in the city is Eglise Ste. Catherine. This church dating from the late 1400's is built entirely of wood. The shipwrights and carpenters from the port built the church as thanks for the end of the Hundred Years War.

Even though it is beautiful, probably because it is beautiful, the area is also crowded with tourists. On one Sunday afternoon in March, the quays were so crowded that it was difficult to walk without bumping into people.

Plan to take your photos early in the morning when the crowds are at a minimum, then do your shopping in the plentiful shops and boutiques. Due to its location, you'll probably want to combine a trip to Honfleur with visits to other sites in the area. Honfleur can be seen in a day, or two at most. The drive along the coast from the western side of the Vieux Basin is quite scenic. Deauville and Trouville are nearby resorts with wide sand beaches (and casinos for evening entertainment).


Copyright 2002 Harry B. Rowe