I’ve come to realise that the quality of a town can be easily gauged by the quality of its Tourist Office.
In Deauville, I am brusquely dismissed within seconds with only a poor map of the town. It is not the warm welcome I was hoping for in one of the best known tourist resorts on the Cote Fleurie (Flowery Coast). Deauville has been frequented by chic Parisians since it was first developed by the Duc de Morny in 1860 and for the last 40 years it has hosted the annual American Film Festival drawing high calibre movie stars and their fans to the town. Famous film makers are honoured along the beachfront by having beach cabins named after them, though I’m not sure how much of an honour this actually is. They probably prefer the Golden Globe or an Oscar adorning their mantelpiece. Leaving the seafront, I pass the large casino and wander into the town centre, where I find myself surrounded by designer labels lodged in old timber-frame buildings. Perhaps in my muddy trainers, waterproof jacket and fingerless gloves I am perceived as a homeless tramp rather than a passing tourist. But then, I am dressing for a blustery February day.
The next morning, I pop across the Touques River to Trouville where a busy market lines the quayside, selling everything from local food and cider to lacy bras and fluorescent underpants. The fish market is served by the fishermen, still dressed in their plastic overalls and smelling rather fishy. Mussels, crabs, spiny lobsters, clams and huge scallops in their shells are set out on ice.
The Trouville Tourist Office staff are very helpful, scouring their supplies for information in English and maps for towns further along that coast that I plan to visit. There is also free access to a temporary exhibition of art by Savignac who captured Trouville in his own special way as well as putting his stamp on various advertising and film posters.
However, top marks go to the Tourist Office in Honfleur with polite and helpful staff, modern facilities with PCs and wifi available, plus free, clean toilets. The town also lives up to its reputation with the old fishing quay full of yachts and lined with busy restaurants serving moules-frites and other local fare. The side streets contain interesting shops and art galleries and in St Catherine’s Square, not only do I find the beautiful wooden church (the best example of a wooden church in France), but also an antique market.
Rather than eat at one of the expensive quayside restaurants, I opt for a simple brasserie close to, and recommended by, the Tourist Office. L’Alcyone offers a good 3 course menu with plenty of choices. I order a goat’s cheese salad to start, followed by moules-frites and finish with Normandy apple terrine with cream. It’s marvellous and an absolute bargain at only €13.90 including coffee.
After such a wonderful meal I feel that I need to balance it out with some exercise, so I decide to walk up Mount Joli to visit the small Chapel of Notre Dame de Grace and to admire the view across the estuary to Le Harve. I don’t recommend attempting this walk after a big lunch as it is a steep climb, but the chapel is delightful, with beautiful stained-glass windows and pictures of all kinds of sailing vessels hung up on its walls. Sailors still come here to pray for a successful voyage or to give thanks after returning safely.
Unfortunately, the view is disappointing as Le Harve has become a huge commercial port and natural gas plant. When I pass through it the next day, having crossed the very long, very high and very expensive Pont de Normandie toll bridge, the smell of the gas gives me quite a headache. It’s a shame that I couldn’t visit with the impressionists Monet, Boudin and Pissarro who got to see the area before industrialism and commercialism spoiled it.