You know those faded posters that would hang in your high school classrooms of far away places that seemed to be from a different world? Distant locations like Mont St. Michel or Machu Picchu that felt as if they were in a world that you’d never actually see, but the picture just seemed… well, exotic. Or maybe just exotic in comparison to the topic you were learning about as a fourteen-year-old student who had just returned from their lunch period. I remember staring at those places every day and just noting all the tiny details of them.
Well, Honfleur is definitely one of those places that seems like it was made just for posters and impressionist paintings… but it actually is very much a real place you can visit in France. In fact, I’ll add that you really should go there. It makes for a perfect spot to see when you’re on your way to Normandy from Paris. In fact, can I just be a bit bossy and tell you exactly how I’d play out the day if I was planning a trip from Paris? Okay, then, I will... if you insist.
First, depart Paris in the morning. Give yourself enough time to get a rental car and hit the road. Drive to Giverny for an early morning visit- right when it opens, if you can time it. Then leave in time to Honfleur for a late lunch. You’ll arrive into town, park in the main lot by the famous harbour (you can easily do hourly parking there), and walk into for food. Don’t dawdle on the front side of your trip around the photographic harbour- all the restaurants stop serving lunch at 2pm, so you’ll want to be seated before then to avoid disappointment. (And by “disappointment,” I, of course, mean having to eat at some yucky spot selling stale sandwiches and fried chicken.
My recommendation for a great spot for lunch is l’Atelier. It looks pretty standard from the front, but the interiors and the terrace is the perfect spot to spend a lunch. (Or an afternoon over tea/coffee & homemade baked goods.) The menu is really short for lunch- maybe 7-8 items to choose from- so it won’t be a great spot for the pickiest of eaters. However, if you’re an easy eater and want to eat amongst actual Honfleurais, this is the spot for you. The menu, while brief, is perfect. Think daily specials like a courgette (zucchini) and goat cheese tatin, a vegetable pasta with parmesan cream sauce, or vegetable soup served with goat cheese, honey & walnut tartines alongside it. And if you can, don’t skip dessert and coffee. It’s definitely worth the extra 30 minutes.
This spot is also great for kids, as it has a big space alongside the restaurant for tired kids to wander around while the food is cooked. Plus, an adorable vintage high chair for your baby to sit in while you eat.
After you’ve finished lunch, head to the harbour for a photographic walk around the coloured buildings. If you’re with kids, take a few spins on the gorgeous Belle Epoque carousel sitting on the edge of the water. (We love to get a seat in one of the cool vintage airplanes up on the top level!)
Walk off the water into the main square in town. There you’ll see the famous Saint Catherine’s church that was built by ship-builders and has a distinct look from it. The inside of the church looks as if you’re standing underneath upside down boat as you walk inside. Admission is free and definitely worth a stop.
From there, well, the choice is yours, but I’d recommend doing a little bit of souvenir shopping in the form of salted-butter caramel hunting. (Normandy is the king of salted caramel. It’s the home of the famous salt from Isigny-sur-Mer and great cream from the cows, making it the perfect place for such a treat to be made.) There are several shops near the cathedral that sell it, but I’ll recommend the smaller the shop- the better their seemed to be. Look for shops that have homemade little wrappers and women working inside that actually made them. Those are the ones you’ll want to spend your money on and will haunt you until your next trip to the tiny town.
And at that point, well, you’ve probably seen it. It’s a beautiful town, but a small one. After you’ve done that, I’d hit the road and keep driving on deeper into Normandy. We’ve stayed in the town a couple of times and I’m not sure it’s worth the extra time there in comparison to some of the other nearby places you can get go. (Though I do dream of staying and eating at Ferme Saint Simeon someday…) If you’re staying in the famous town of Bayeaux, you’re about an hour away, or you could keep going another hour and stay at our very favourite stop, Chateau de Servigny.
Have you been to Honfleur before? What was the best part of your day there? Or, more importantly, the best thing covered in salted-caramel you ate?
*images original to Aspiring Kennedy