With celebrations for its 500th anniversary now underway, Abigail Healy discovers there is more to the French port than meets the eye
Discovering something unexpected when travelling is always thrilling and on a recent Celebrity Cruises mini-cruise I experienced such a revelation.
As I disembarked in Le Havre, I was expecting an industrial port, little more than an access point for exploring France’s Normandy region. I was wrong.
The city centre, damaged during the Second World War, was redesigned by Belgian architect Auguste Perret and earned Unesco recognition in 2005. The Church of St Joseph is a stellar example of Perret’s work with its octagonal tower rising to more than 100 metres.
Culture and the arts are prominent in the city with the imposing white structure of the Volcan (pictured), home to theatre, film and music performances and, for me, the jewel in the city’s crown, the Muma (Andre-Malraux Museum of Modern Art), which is home to the second-largest collection of impressionist art in France after Paris’s Musee D’Orsay. Here, visitors can view works by Monet, Boudin, Renoir, Pissaro and Degas.
This year, the city celebrates the 500th anniversary of its founding by King Francois I, and five months of festivities will mark the milestone.
Alison Weatherhead, UK & Ireland marketing manager for Le Havre, told me the anniversary is a key moment for the city, whose mayor, Edouard Philippe, has just been named the new French prime minister.
Weatherhead added that beyond the thriving arts scene there are plenty of other reasons to visit.
“You can eat and drink well – the city centre has a covered market and outdoor Sunday market. There are restaurants galore, including the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Jean-Luc Tartarin, with a good-value lunch menu in the working week. And there are pop-up restaurants along the beach in summer.”
While the city wouldn’t necessarily spring to mind for a beach break, there is in fact a nice stretch of seafront to stroll along too.
“You can walk all the way to Sainte-Adresse, a chic suburb where Monet stayed with his aunt. The in-place for a drink there is Le Bout du Monde, the bar at the end of the world,” said Weatherhead.
Shopaholics are also well catered for: “The shopping centre, Les Docks, is a stone’s throw from the cruise terminal and offers main high street names with a French twist.”
So next time you have clients keen to visit Normandy’s historic sites or who have the French port included on a cruise itinerary, recommend they venture in to see some of the highlights – and help them enjoy that thrill of discovery too.