Don’t we always tout the fabulous Côte d’Azur as the capital of seaside glamour? Well, if we don’t, then the media, the rich and famous certainly seem to take that direction.
Just two hours north of Paris by car or train, a different type of golden destination awaits – one less “Hollywood” and more “Martha’s Vineyard” in style. The Côte Fleurie forms the eastern coast of the Calvados department and stretches in magnificent beauty along the English Channel, hugging the sea with golden beaches and craggy coastal cliffs. And the name itself – Côte Fleurie- reflects the verdant green and flowered landscape that stretches inland from the coastal hills.
Instead of Cannes and Saint-Tropez, think Cabourg, Honfleur, Deauville and Trouville – a delightful mix of golden, sandy beaches, discreet mansions, artists’ retreats, abundant seafood and even all-night casinos. The area has long been the retreat of the privileged, Parisians looking for a destination equally resplendent and convenient. Monet painted in Honfleur, and the likes of the Rothschilds and Yves Saint Laurent escaped to their holiday residences along the coast.
Marcel Proust was one of Cabourg’s regular visitors, a frequent resident of the Grand Hotel; and it is in this ville that another reflection of the South is seen – the Cabourg Film Festival, just one of many cultural events on the horizon for the area. On the glamour side of the equation, lively Casino soirées welcome an inclusive mix of residents, tourists and Parisian elite – none blocked by daunting doormen checking exclusive lists.
The artistic port is just 15 kilometres from the dazzling Deauville and Trouville resorts, but it is set in a peaceful countryside with grazing cattle and sheep and, naturally, the famous apple trees of Calvados.Honfleur was a key player in the birth of Impressionism. Galleries and museums attest to the magnetic pull of the quaint seaside port and resplendent surrounding landscape. Masters of pre-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism and all points in between have committed their visions of Honfleur to canvas – Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, Camille Corot, Édouard – the list seems like the litany of a budding art connoisseur looking to impress!
Oh, the romance of the Normandy coast plays from one canvas after another. The landscape lured Monet away from the creation of caricatures to paint the bathers along Trouville beach, wind-swept sailboats challenging Deauville harbor, cobbled street scenes and elegant ladies enjoying the beach.
I suppose we could add our own version of snobbery and reject the resort-like changes of the area –“It simply isn’t as it used to be!” But then we would miss the beauty of today blended with our imaginations of yesteryear. We are just fine with that.proposition.