Medieval ports: Honfleur & Barfleur
Ports don’t come any prettier or more colourful than Honfleur on the Seine’s estuary. Glorious historic houses jostle for position on the quays, as do galleries and restaurants. Packed with cultural sights, Honfleur has a wealth of attractions to delight its many visitors. See the tightly-packed high-rise homes built by wealthy residents around the Vieux Bassin, the heart of the port, which today attracts yachts in place of commercial ships and fishing boats. The quarters on each side of the VieuxBassin each have their own distinctive character: the eastern area is packed with interesting buildings, while the western area slopes up to the splendid wooden church of Sainte-Catherine and the town’s main arts museums. Central Honfleur’s southern area is more discreet, but well worth exploring too for its architecture, including the Saint-Léonard church and the restored fountains. Along Honfleur’s stretch of estuary you can stroll through civic gardens to the beach, and from up the hillside, enjoy great views over the Seine estuary from the Notre-Dame de Grâce chapel. From Honfleur you can also take boat trips out on the estuary or embark on a walk along the phenomenal Pont de Normandie that straddles it.
Barfleur is one of France’s Plus Beaux Villages, anchored beside the Channel on the north-east corner of the Cotentin Peninsula with strong historic links to England. With its sturdy granite houses, unusual church and tempting restaurants gathered around its harbour, Barfleur now presents a glorious picture of a traditional Norman fishing port. It did also sometimes play a role in Anglo-French history, from 1066 through to colonial wars. The squat church looks a bit English, with its square tower, rather than a spire. One chapel inside boasts a surprising octagonal dome. On the quays, witness the unloading of the fishing catch and you’ll get a good feel for how closely the local community is connected to the sea. Nearby rise a shipping communications tower, or semaphore, and the imposing Gatteville lighthouse, the second-highest in France.