Traveller's Checks: Pass the port. Go straight to Honfleur
Monday 17 September 2001
Le Havre. Even the name is unimaginative. And if you're heading into town in time to catch the overnight ferry back to Portsmouth, it can seem extremely lacking in possibilities.
I like the overnight crossing. I like the neat cabins and the early start at the other end. P&O Portsmouth is beginning to seem like an old friend and so far, touch wood, I have never suffered any delay or disruption on my to-ings and fro-ings to France each year.
But I'm not so keen on Le Havre. Its business, like any big port, is moving people and things, not encouraging them to hang around. But at 9pm, when you're tired after a long journey, it's a bit depressing to sit in the ferry terminal feeling that Gallic holiday atmosphere drifting away like the cloud of smoke from a Gauloise.
Now there may be those among you who know of a brilliant little brasseriewithin hailing distance of the terminal. In which case, we would love to hear from you.
But for everyone else, can I recommend a little detour to Honfleur? If you've picked up the A13 from Paris to Le Havre, it splits into two just west of Rouen. Take the left-hand fork (for Caen) and follow the signs for Honfleur.
If you're coming up from the Atlantic coast, head for Deauville-Trouville, where you can pick up a very picturesque little road, the D513, which takes you north along the coast via Villerville.
Honfleur is everything that Le Havre is not: small, intimate and lively. There's even an old-fashioned carousel, for heaven's sake. There's a good range of restaurants as well, from the sort offering a full meal to crêperies or salons du thé.
There's culture, too, if you have time. Honfleur survived the Second World War quite unscathed, which must have come as a relief to those responsible for the upkeep of the 15th-century Sainte Catherine church, which is built mainly of wood.
The town is extremely proud of its reputation as the birthplace of Impressionism and the Eugène Boudin museum houses works by Monet, Courbet and Dufy, among others. A new Erik Satie museum has been opened in the house where the composer grew up.
Sure it's touristy, but I'd rather stare at moules-scoffing tourists during my last hours in France than atcaravans with GB stickers.
Use the car park in the town centre; parking on the streets can be tricky. It takes about 30 minutes to get from Honfleur to the Le Havre car ferry terminal (and you get to drive over the spectacular Pont de Normandie on the way).
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