hot spots; Deauville

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The Independent Culture
Deauville is the temptress of Normandy. In the space of a few hours you can bet on Europe's top horses at its La Touques racecourse, then take a short walk to the beach and buy a drink in Ciro's or Le Soleil, and finally spend the evening trying to outwit the croupiers in the gilded casino.

Deauville sums up the essence of chic. In the neat town centre you pass Vuitton, Saint Laurent, Cartier, Hermes. Locals are proud of the town's nickname, "the 21st arrondissement of Paris". It is only 125 miles from the capital and since the First World War many Parisians have made it their second home. Regular visitors have included Winston Churchill, the Aga Khan, Nureyev and Edouard Balladur.

The flat-racing season has just ended but without pausing for breath the town takes on a new image for the first two weeks of September when the Stars and Stripes flutter across town. This is not a belated commemoration of the Normandy landings: the flags mark the American Film Festival, now in its 21st year.

The resort is used to spoiling visitors. The wide beaches, dotted with coloured parasols, are swept immaculately clean by tractors every morning after the polo ponies and racehorses have exercised along the sands. The beach cabins, named after film stars, are covered in Art Deco mosaics.

The ground rules for enjoying the comforts of Deauville without going broke are straightforward. Book into a friendly two-star hotel such as L' Esperance (32 rue Victor Hugo; tel 00 33 31 88 26 88) or Hotel des Sports (27 rue Gambetta; tel 00 33 31 88 22 67), and then admire the four-star hotels along the seafront. The Normandy is a vast 1912 mock- Norman extravaganza with half-timbered walls, peaked dormers and chequered brickwork. Next door, the imposing Royal looks as if it's based on the Petit Trianon at Versailles.

Nearby Trouville is Deauville's less elegant neighbour. This is the place to eat, with small restaurants and brasseries offering the best-value prix fixe meals. Les Vapeurs and Le Central opposite the fish market vie for the finest moules marinieres in Normandy.

The opening of the Pont de Normandie across the Seine estuary earlier this year has made Deauville even more accessible. Linking Le Havre with Honfleur, this gigantic cat's cradle is the longest cable-stay bridge in the world. Even without a car it's now much easier to travel around: the local Bus Verts service runs through Deauville from Caen all the way to Le Havre.

Richard Gilbert