Port of Honfleur
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First, this medieval town -- with its narrow half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets -- has great bones. Unlike many of its neighbors in Normandy, Honfleur was spared during the bombing of World War II. The old harbor, set in a sheltered cove off of the Seine's tidal estuary, is Honfleur's center stage, as it has been for centuries. There, you'll find fishermen, artists, tourists and locals alike soaking in much the same scenery (often from a cafe) that attracted celebrated painters like Delacroix, Sisley, Corot and Monet.
From the harbor, where Samuel de Champlain departed in 1608 to found the city of Quebec in the New World, the lushly planted village rises upward between two hills. Nestled in its tidy, picturesque streets are art galleries, artists' studios, boutiques, restaurants and fine souvenir shops. History has left its footprint, too, with the largest wooden church in France, salt warehouses that date back to the 17th century, and the Lieutenance, the last remaining part of a 16th century castle that fortified the town.
Honfleur, population 9,000, is the start or end of itineraries on river cruises between Paris and Normandy. Travelers are bussed between Paris and their riverboats, negating the need for a hotel in Honfleur. Ships tend to dock for as many as three nights because Honfleur is the departure point for ship-run shore excursions to such landmarks as the D-Day landing beaches, the American Cemetery and the museum that houses the famous Bayeux tapestry.
Three nights in Honfleur? Nothing wrong with that. While its prestigious past goes back 1,000 years, Honfleur has that special something that keeps it fresh, interesting and exciting.
Top Honfleur Itineraries
Scenic GemNormandy & Gems of the SeineParis, Rouen, Rouen, Honfleur, Honfleur, Paris, Paris, ParisNow
Scenic GemGems of the Seine & Beautiful BordeauxParis, Rouen, Rouen, Honfleur, Honfleur, Paris, Paris, Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Bordeaux, BordeauxNow
Renoirfrom Paris to the Côte FleurieParis, Paris, Honfleur, HonfleurNow
The B7 Night the Seine ExperienceParis, Rouen, Honfleur, Paris, ParisNow
Renoirfrom the Norman Coast to ParisHonfleur, Rouen, Rouen, Paris, ParisNow
Where You're Docked
River ships routinely dock at a quay that adjoins the old harbor right in the center of town. On rare occasions, due to tides and timing, ships may have to dock at a commercial pier some distance away. That pier has no facilities.
Good to Know
A few of the public toilets in town are the primitive sort: a porcelain hole in the floor with footpads. The toilets with the handicap sign offer more traditional treatment. There are also nice toilets at the tourism office. Be sure to carry local pocket change with you. Many of the public toilets cost a small fee to use.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The French use the euro. For current currency conversions and wallet-size cheat sheets, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Historically, ATM's have been the cheapest way to get local money. However, many banks are now charging fees ranging from $1 to $5 every time you use an ATM in a foreign city. As a result, you may want to limit the number of withdrawals you make.
French -- and pretty much exclusively. Little English is spoken, even in the restaurants and shops. But with gestures and a few of the French basics, it's easy enough to communicate. One important reminder: Before ordering a glass of wine or asking someone where the toilet is, say "Bonjour." It means "Good day" or "Hello." It is considered impolite to launch into a conversation without offering a greeting first. For some fun, try out "cou cou" in that high-pitched voice humans usually reserve for dogs and babies. It means hello and goodbye and is insider French. Another neat expression: "O la vache!" It translates as "oh the cow" but means "holy cow" or "oh my gosh."
The best souvenir shopping on the Seine cruise is in Honfleur. Not surprisingly -- this is France, after all -- many of the souvenirs involve food and drink. Popular local items include butterscotch made from Normandy butter, a mackerel pate that tastes great on a baguette, bagged salt and Normandy's signature beverages: cidre, a sparkling apple cider; an apple brandy called Calvados; and Pommeau, a mixture of the cider and brandy. Also ubiquitous in the souvenir shops are the blue and white striped shirts popularized by French sailors. For real quality, check out the nautically inspired clothing at the Saint James boutique at 12, rue de L'Homme de Bois or 8, rue de la Ville. If you want to splurge on anything from paintings and jewelry to kitchen knives and shoes, this is the place to indulge. Shops typically open at 10 a.m.