Like a beret perched askew on a Frenchman’s head, the 360-mile Normand coast curls along the north and northwest of France. After visiting Rouen, I headed for the coast to soak in the beaches and soft-green landscapes bathed in shifting light.
“I count on doing a large canvas of the cliffs of Etretat, although it is certainly bold of me to do that after Courbet who did it admirably, but I will try to do it differently …” Claude Monet, January 1883
For several years Monet visited the seaside resort of Etretat to paint the white cliffs, beach and fishing boats.
You can stand in the exact location along the beach where Monet painted the rock arch and needle sculptures jutting into the sea. He painted in all light and weather conditions.
After an exhilarating, windy walk along the green hillsides above the precipitous cliffs for views of vast sky, sea, and beach.
The port of Honfleur attracted many English, Romantic and Impressionist painters, including Turner, Boudin, Corot, Courbet, Pissaro, Braque, Seurat, and Bonnard, who were captivated by the light of the bay, the old streets, the lighthouse and Sainte-Catherine church.
Monet visited Honfleur many times and painted numerous canvasses here including the bell-tower, Le clocher Sainte Catherine. Take time to absorb the fine workmanship of the interior as well as the exterior of the half-timbered Sainte Catherine, the oldest wooden church in France.
In the center of the old town a long dock with colorful yachts punctuates the picturesque harbor built in the 17th century. Across the water half-timbered and slate-fronthomes and a parade of open-air cafes and restaurants vie for your attention.
Unlike Le Havre, which was almost entirely bombed during World War II, Honfleur escaped the destruction and the streets and locations painted by the 19th-century artists have been well preserved.
Gastronomically sophisticated travelers love Normandy for its fresh produce, seafood, butter and cream-based cuisine, cider, Camembert and Calvados – aged and elegant Apple Brandy.