What to do architect auguste Perret rebuilt much of the city in the forties using a grid pattern and a contemporary take on the neoclassical style. Buildings in shades of blush pink, peach and dove grey were constructed in concrete making for a unique aesthetic. Get your bearings at the landmark town Hall, where a 70m-high ...
Clockwise: a local rides his bike; the Bassin du Commerce; Volcan theatre; St Joseph’s Church; smoked scallop; market; St Joseph’s stands out on the skyline; modernist architecture; fresh mussels; Maison de L’Armateur; bakery; a local; church tower; MuMa
le havre Why go? A port city on Normandy’s chalk-cliffed Alabastar
Coast, Le Havre – with its Unesco-listed modernist architecture – is a shining example of indomitable post-war spirit and urban innovation. Spend your day exploring its patina of history and dining at traditional restaurants, then finish with a glass of wine on the beach watching a sunset that inspired the impressionists. What to do Architect Auguste Perret rebuilt much of the city in the Forties using a grid pattern and a contemporary take on the neoclassical style. Buildings in shades of blush pink, peach and dove grey were constructed in concrete making for a unique aesthetic. Get your bearings at the landmark Town Hall, where a 70m-high tower presides over the square and fountains. Then head nearby to L’Appartement Témoin Perret, a recreated flat with period decor showing how residents who relocated from temporary shelters might have started their new lives after the war. From here, cross over the quays to the St François district on its own mini-island and home to preserved historic streets and a lively morning fish market filled with the likes of sole and scallops, itself housed in a modernist, pentagonal edifice. Just a few steps away is the Maison de L’Armateur, a shipowner’s house from the 18th century with a beautiful light well. Behind the elegant exterior is a petite museum full of curios and antiques. Notre-Dame Cathedral is a pleasing melange of styles with a baroque facade and belltower dating back to 1520. A ten-minute walk around the seafront is ‘MuMa’, the Museum of Modern Art muma-lehavre.fr an airy white box that is home to works by Claude Monet and his mentor Eugène Boudin. Le Havre was where Monet spent his formative years, and his depiction of the harbour, Impression, Sunrise, gave its name to this movement. Where to stay If you’re looking for quirkiness but also comfort, then check-in to the centrally located boutique hotel Vent d’Ouest 00 33 2 3542 5069, vendouest.fr which has rooms themed around the sea and mountains, as well as a restaurant and spa. For idiosyncratic
charm, try the great-value, friendly Oscar Hotel 00 3323 542 3977, hotel-oscar.fr with Fifties styling in keeping with the area. Rooms are a nod to Perret’s Le Havre and are decked out with a retro look. Pick a junior suite for the full effect. Early risers can peruse the art on sale along Rue de Paris and there’s lots to see and do within walking distance. Pick of the chain hotels is Mercure Bassin du Commerce 00 33 2 35 19 50 50, mercure.com overlooking a quiet quay and the volcano-esque Volcan theatre. A short distance from the railway station, its rooms are well-equipped, comfortable and suitable for couples or families. Where to eat and drink The St François district proffers a staggering concentration of creperies – thanks to the flourishing Breton community founded here in the 19th century. Grab a table at cosy Crêperie Soizic 00 33 2 3543 2788, creperie-soizic.fr and enjoy a set menu of a savoury galette, sweet crepe and bolée de cidre (a type of Breton mug traditionally used to drink the local cider from). For a long lunch, try Lauda’s 00 33 2 3521 2998 a friendly beachfront restaurant that serves moules marinière and succulent steak burgers slathered with Gruyère. Le Grignot 00 33 2 3543 6207, legrignot.fr is a stalwart of Le Havre’s dining scene. The classic brasserie interior is an ideal place to mingle with locals over traditional dishes such as whole grilled sea bass served with courgette gratin, and seafood platters. For a nightcap, or pre-theatre tipple, you could try L’étable 00 33 2 3522 9907 an unpretentious wine bar near the theatre. Time running out? Possibly the world’s coolest swimming baths, Les Bains des Docks vert-marine.com is a Jean Nouvel-designed complex near the ferry terminal. Bathed in white, it has striking cubist angles, indoor and outdoor pools, a gym and spa. Trip tip Les Jardins Suspendus 00 33 2 3519 4545 is a former military base turned garden, incorporating plants from all over the globe in various beds and greenhouses. It has an ethereal calm, and makes for the perfect unhurried afternoon.
Travel information Currency is the euro. Time is one hour ahead of GMT. Fastest journey time from London is 5.5 hours.
Resources Le Havre Tourisme is the official tourist board website packed with useful tips and advice. lehavretourisme.com
Getting there Brittany Ferries sails from Portsmouth to Le Havre daily, with
crossings taking 5.5 hours. brittany-ferries.co.uk Eurostar runs a regular service from London to Paris, where you can change for Le Havre. eurostar.co.uk
Monet or the Triumph of Impressionism by Daniel
Wildenstein (Taschen, £12) is an authoritative guide to the artist who went from simple beginnings in Le Havre to world acclaim.
Average Daily Temperatures and rainfall Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Min C 3 3 5 7 10 12 15 15 13 11 7 5 Max C 6 6 8 10 13 16 18 18 17 13 9 7 mm 2 1 1 2 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 104
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Photos by OTAH; Hilke Maner; Jean-Luc Tartarin; Jean-Yves Dubos; Hilke Maunder; François Louchet; Sarah Coghill; Carl Pendle; Mark Parren Taylor; Alison Harris
The cradle of impressionism, this seaside city has bags of art, modern architecture and Breton crepes in-store, making it a real hidden gem, says Emilee Tombs