• Cindy Zampa

Week 44: Portals of Honfleur


We stopped briefly at the small, medieval town of Honfleur as we travelled northward along the coast of Normandy. This is a stunningly beautiful and picturesque place! Its location, on an estuary of the Seine River as it meets the English Channel, has made it an important harbour, for various reasons, over many centuries.

The first thing we did when we arrived in Honfleur was to sit down at an outdoor cafe beside the Vieux Bassin. The afternoon sun warmed us as we absorbed the sights and sounds of the area, which was bustling with pedestrians. The shifting daylight, boats, and street scenes were mirrored in the waters of the estuary in a way that seemed almost magical. It made it easy to understand why this is one of the most frequently painted harbours in the world.

Next, we meandered around town. This pretty maritime settlement has certainly retained its old-world charm and character. Some of the tightly packed buildings appear to lean against each other at precarious angles. The narrow, cobbled streets were a jumbled network with surprising twists, turns, and dead-ends, seemingly constructed by drunken sailors. I wish we'd left more time to explore here, as there's an abundance of modern boutiques, art studios, galleries, and talented artisans selling their crafts.

Considered the birthplace of the Impressionist movement, as well as 'en plein air' painting, Honfleur has attracted artists for many centuries. After all, this is the place where a young, aspiring artist named Claude Monet, and Alfred Sisley came to study the effects of light under the tutelage of Honfleur native, Eugene Boudin. Other acclaimed artists like Turner, Daubigny, Corot, Renoir, and Courbet have all spent time here translating their observations of Honfleur, in their unique artistic styles. Scenes of the tall, slender quayside houses with their slate and timber-covered exteriors, are the chosen subjects seen in many famous paintings. They are often shown with their colourful reflections in the harbour, cast by the special lighting of this area.

I could have attempted to follow in the footsteps of any one of the master artists who've travelled this way before me, but those are mighty big shoes to fill. Instead, I opted to use a photo taken of this particular scene while we strolled through the maze-like streets. So many portals! Do you see the one with the bird peeking out? It is perched in a tiny hole, slightly larger than the bird itself, in the wall at left. This best represents the surprising beauty I experienced, everywhere I looked, in Honfleur.


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