There’s something slightly familiar about Honfleur, a small French medieval town on the coast of Normandy.
Honfleur has attracted artists with sketchbooks and easels under their arms for many centuries and has duly been immortalised on canvas.
Paintings of the town and surrounding beaches are hanging in the world’s best galleries and featured in art books.
The pretty coastal settlement that sits on the estuary to the Seine River retains much of its charm and character of yesteryear and is a great excursion from Paris by train (departs Gare St Lazare).
The changing light of the estuary has attracted artists since the 18th century.
Visitors come to see Honfleur’s tall houses with slate-covered exteriors, the beautiful St Catherine’s Quay and the Vieux Bassin - one of the most frequently painted harbours in the world. Today, yachts replace the smugglers’ boats.
Acclaimed artists Bonington, Turner, Huet, Troyon and Daubigny all spent time in Honfleur, painting and influencing ‘newcomers’ like Gustave Courbet and Eugene Boudin.
Boudin introduced Claude Monet, 16 years his junior, to early Impressionism and painting outdoors in Honfleur.
Boudin, who was born in Honfleur, has a museum there named in his honour.
His works are displayed beside paintings of other great Impressionists like Dubourg, Monet and Jongkind, who also stayed and painted at Boudin’s Saint-Simeon farmhouse on the outskirts of the city.
Many 20th-century artists – like Dufy, Friesz and Gernez - are also represented.
The museum also presents a great opportunity to admire a large collection of traditional regional headdresses, colourful costumes and furniture all providing a fascinating snapshot of life as it was here.
Honfleur is also the home of Erik Satie, an acclaimed early 20th-century composer. He worked with Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky and artists and writers like Picasso, Picabia, Braque, Cocteau and Rene Clair.
You can relive his music at the quirky Maisons Satie, a visual and musical tribute to the man. It is a vibrant experience obviously revealing much about him, the music and the era in which he lived.
Walk the cobbled streets of Honfleur and you will discover its charm, galleries, artist studios and craft shops with displays of paintings, sculpture and furniture design.
Honfleur was founded in the 11th century and during the long course of its colourful history, its rule was overthrown many times, including once to the English who occupied this important defensive port from 1418 to 1450.
The town predictably has a rich maritime history and in the 16th and 17th centuries, it played a leading role in the voyages of discovery to the New World.
The port of Honfleur offered much to shipping enterprises: a fertile hinterland that provided provisions for the fleet, shipyards for building and repairs and, above all, experienced sailors trained in the hard school of deep sea fishing and long voyages to the cod banks.
Today, the salt warehouses located in the Rue de la Ville have been classified as historic monuments.
They were built to store up to 10,000 tonnes of salt needed for cod fishing on the banks of Newfoundland and were last great salt warehouses in Normandy.
The outer harbour is a fascinating place to watch the local fishermen shore their catch of sole, dogfish, gurnard, mackerel, cod and whiting as well as Honfleur’s famous shrimps which are sold live in season.
Many quaint restaurants line the old port where fish is naturally a speciality and features on all the menus.
The city is also famous for its apple cider and apple brandy called Calvados as well as Pont l’Eveque and Livarot cheeses.
If you are there on a Saturday, visit the lively open-air market where you can pick up supplies for a picnic.
One of the most impressive attractions of Honfleur is the Church of Sainte-Catherine, which dates back to the second half of the 15th century.
Constructed by ship builders after the English exodus, it was erected with from timber from the Touques forest and built based on their shipbuilding techniques.
It is still the largest wooden church in France with a separate bell tower and looks like an upturned ship.
Located on one of the steepest hills around Honfleur is a charming little church, the Chapelle de Notre Dame de Grace, adorned with model boats of every kind.
It is a steep climb but well worth it and if you do, you’re rewarded with wonderful views of the area.
The Lieutenance – the former Governor’s residence - stands proudly at the end of the old port, which, during the Middle Ages, was one of the two entries through the town’s fortifications.
It is called the Lieutenance because from 1684 up to the French Revolution the apartments above the fortifications were used to house the King’s lieutenant.
One day in this charming town just isn’t enough.
Published under license from Well Travelled