For your next travel destination, set your sights on Honfleur Harbor in France, a stunning locale that captivates all who see it. Legendary Impressionists forever immortalized the goings-on of day-to-day life here as they captured the magic of the changing light on the Seine estuary, a breathtaking sight that stays forever etched in one’s mind. By taking part in the Seine River Cruise: Paris and Highlights of Normandy, you’ll discover Honfleur’s rich history and artistic nature firsthand. Plus, you’ll travel aboard a deluxe river ship, the ms River Venture, which is one of the few such vessels rated to dock directly in the main harbor of this maritime jewel.
As you sail into this port, dozens of slate and timber houses that line the Old Dock come into view—a unique blend of colors and facades that date back to the 17th century. The two-story, sloping-roof stone buildings on St. Etienne Quay delightfully contrast with the narrow, seven-story houses protected by overlapped boarding on St. Catherine Quay.
After stepping onto land, a sense of peace will wash over you as you stand among these charming buildings while boats and yachts rhythmically bob in the harbor. Satisfy your inner history buff by imagining the scene here during some of France’s strategic military events, such as the Hundred Years’ War. This town also played a role in the settlement of Canada during the 17th century, when Samuel de Champlain sailed many times from Honfleur to Quebec.
While you explore the ins and outs of the Old Dock, don’t forget to relax: Sit, sip a coffee, and soak in the scenery from your pick of one of the many French cafes that line the peaceful harbor. Head into one of the seaside restaurants and try local specialties, including oysters (huîtres), or local cheeses such as Camembert, Livarot, and Neufchâtel. If you’re lucky enough to sit at the docks at high tide, dozens of fishing boats will return to the harbor—a perfect backdrop as you sample fine French cuisine.
Discover another side to Honfleur’s deep history and explore several of its impressive churches, which have towered over the town for centuries. Walk right into the 14th century when you enter the oldest church in town, Saint Etienne, which stands over the harbor and is situated next to the town’s oldest restaurant, Au Vieux Honfleur. The Gothic yet flamboyant entrance of the 15th-century St. Leonard’s Church is another sight to see, as it supports a magnificent octagonal bell tower steeple built in 1760.
You’ll marvel at the work of the local 15th-century carpenters who completed the looming, dark, wooden structure of Sainte-Catherine Church. Without experience, they built what came to be France’s largest wooden church, along with a separate bell tower. It was altered over the centuries as Honfleur’s congregation grew and today boasts unusual architectural features unlike what you have seen in trips past.
By the 19th century, this little French maritime town had transformed into an artistic haven, with Impressionist artists such as Monet, Courbet, Boudin, Corot, Sisley, and Jongkind beginning their movement here. You’ll detect the same magical quality of the harbor’s light and atmosphere that these artists so impressively depicted in their paintings and will relish watching modern artists set up camp near the Old Dock, looking for similar inspiration as they fill their canvases.
A tour through Honfleur’s picturesque cobblestone streets proves that the town has influence on the modern artists of today. Countless galleries and studios display and sell both classical and modernist pieces of art. Pop into famous waterside boutiques filled with precious and expensive art from all over the world, or get lost in the art studios that feature the colorful and dreamy landscapes of Honfleur Harbor.
Be sure to make the most of your time spent surrounded by Honfelur’s picture-perfect beauty, which has made it one of the most legendary places in art history. This charming French town’s quaint European maritime atmosphere and scattering of centuries-old buildings combine to create a magical ambiance and an unforgettable destination just off the banks of the Seine River.