When in comes to the various port-cities in northern France most people think they are just ferry ports: places where they disembark and embark. But, there is always a lot more to these ports than the ferry terminals. Karen has already written about things to do in Calais and I about Boulogne-sur-mer’s attractions. Following the theme of these other posts, here are some things to do in Le Havre should you have a few hours before your ferry sets sail.
Unlike some of France’s other ports, Le Havre – or ‘the harbour’ – is a relatively new one – replacing some other adjacent ports in the sixteenth century. And today Le Havre is the second busiest port in France, attracting ferries from the United Kingdom and Ireland, cruise liners and commercial cargo ships. The coastal location makes Le Havre great for water-sports enthusiasts. In fact, Le Havre hosted the sailing events for the Olympic Games of 1900 and 1924.
The city is now recognised World-wide for its architectural heritage. But it is not the medieval architecture that one finds in other Normandy cities like Rouen. During the Second World War Le Havre was occupied by the Germans and consequently suffered severe bombing by the allied forces. Over 5000 people were killed and some 12000 homes totally destroyed – almost all of the city. After the war the city was rebuilt from scratch in a modernist style by the architect Auguste Perret. And in 2005 the city was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, one of only a handful of contemporary World Heritage sites in Europe. The city, and its architect, was honoured for its innovative use of concrete and as an exceptional example of post war town-planning and architecture. Given that the city we see today is relatively new, there is a wonderful museum dedicated to old Le Havre.
It was, however, in pre-War Le Havre that Claude Monet grew up. And it was one of his paintings, of the harbour at sunrise that he titled ‘Impression, soleil levant’, that gave the name to the the Impressionist movement. The MusÃ©e des Beaux-Arts AndrÃ© Malraux has the biggest collection of Impressionist art in France outside of Paris – with a good collection of some of the more well-known impressionist artists, as well as a number of lesser-known Normandy based artists who influenced Monet when he was young and starting out. Le Havre today is thought of as the birthplace of Impressionism. Another interesting thing to do in Le Havre is a visit to the wonderful Natural History museum that children love.
Le Havre’s attractions make it a perfect European destination for a short break. There is a great night-life in the city, with some very good restaurants – and there is even a very trendy Latino quarter.