Norman Riviera

With new flights from London to Deauville on the Normandy coast, Calvados is set to become even more popular, reports Karen Tait

There has long been a link between Normandy and England, not least because of the Norman Conquest in 1066, when William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, triumphed over Harold II, King of England, at the Battle of Hastings. The English ruling class was replaced by a French-speaking hierarchy and this period of history is often referred to as Norman England.

Over the centuries, any conflict became a distant (if not forgotten) memory and the British started invading Normandy as holidaymakers and homeowners. Their enthusiasm was no doubt encouraged by the region’s close proximity to the UK – with several convenient ferryports on the French side of the Channel, access is easy.

Now there is a new link between the two countries as from June this year Cityjet has been running summer flights between London City airport and Deauville, one of Normandy’s most prestigious seaside resorts. Having been lucky enough to experience the inaugural flight, I can confirm that the 40-minute flight was one of the easiest journeys I’ve ever made to France, made even simpler by the relatively small size of both airports (no parking miles from the airport or queuing for ages at check-in desks).

Deauville and Trouville

Until the late 19th century, Deauville didn’t even exist, apart from a small village and marshland, which might explain the slight Disney-like feel in parts of the town centre. This year, Deauville celebrates its 150th anniversary, with an event planned for every day of the year; indeed, the resort prides itself on being a year-round destination.

Deauville’s origins also reveal a link between the UK and France as it was partly inspired by the fashionable English seaside resorts of the time. The fishing village of Trouville-sur-Mer was already becoming popular, expanding out into the surrounding marshland and dunes. Then a local doctor, Olliffe, created a coastal station of his own, inviting the wealthy Duc du Morny, prominent among Parisian bankers, to enjoy the sea air. He and Oliffe engaged a Parisian architect, Desle-Francois Breney, to develop the site in a style distinct from Trouville. The resort rose from the sand within just four years, between 1860 and 1864. Morny passed the word on to his wealthy city friends and soon Deauville was on any self-respecting upperclass Parisian’s lips.

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When the railway from Paris first arrived in 1863, it truly brought the seaside within reach (six hours) of wealthy citydwellers. Before long the aristocracy, who believed the coast air was good for their health, were busy building sumptuous villas along the shoreline, competing with each other to build the grandest residences. They often moved to the coast en famille for the summer, with household servants in tow. Businessmen husbands would travel back and forth between Paris. It was also joked that these bourgeois Frenchmen kept their wives in Deauville and their mistresses in Trouville!

Facilities to match the highbrow aspirations of these tourists’ soon sprung up, including a casino, racecourse and sumptuous hotels. These have been joined by a marina and conference centre, while the American Film Festival, created in 1975, put the resort firmly on the map as France’s northern riviera.

The resort is still favoured by the rich and famous, although since the 1960s and 70s it has opened up to mass-market tourism and is now popular as a family resort too. And while parts of Deauville reveal a faded grandeur of yesteryear, the resort isn’t standing still either: in 2012, a vast urban restructuring project will begin on the Touques peninsula, promoting the maritime side of the town.

Modern high-speed trains and a good road network put Deauville only two hours from the capital nowadays, so it’s no surprise that a large proportion of the local property market is dominated by Parisians, and many of the town’s huge hotels have been converted into holiday apartments.

Deauville is proud of its architectural heritage, particularly the diversity of its seafront villas, and in 2005 it was designated a Zone for the Protection of Urban and Landscape Heritage.

Separated only by the Touques river mouth, and joined by a bridge, Trouville and Deauville almost feel like one single town, despite their separate administrations and individual characters. While Deauville has the racecourse and grand hotels, Trouville has the fishmarket and seafood restaurants, with a more down-to-earth atmosphere. Both have wide sandy beaches and boardwalks for promenading.

Coast and country

The Calvados coastline, especially along the C�te Fleurie where Deauville is situated, has more than its fair share of resorts, including Villerville, B�nerville-sur-Mer, Tourg�ville, Blonville-sur-Mer, Villers-sur-Mer, Houlgate, Dives-sur-Mer, Cabourg, La Home-Varaville, Merville-Franceville-Plage and Sallenelles. The further west you go, the less developed the coast becomes, especially the other side of the Orne river mouth, along the C�te de Nacre where the D-Day beaches are to be found – another UK/Normandy link.

The Calvados department is bordered by the Baie de la Seine to the north and the Seine river to the east, and is surrounded by the departments of Seine-Maritime, Eure, Orne and Manche. Deauville is at the heart of the Pays d’Auge. This rural location is dominated by agriculture and is known for its flavoursome butter and cheese – there are three AOC cheeses: camembert, pont l'�v�que and livarot – and, of course, apple-based products such as cider and calvados (apple brandy); pommeau, an apple juice and calvados mix, and Pays d’Auge cider also have AOC labels.

It’s also an important equestrian area, with 75 stud farms. In 2014, the World Equestrian Games will take place in Normandy and Deauville will host the Polo Cup. Another popular rural area of Calvados is Suisse Normande, surrounding the upper Orne valley and extending into the neighbouring department of Orne.

Continuing the English link, the Bayeux Tapestry, on display in the town of Bayeux, is one of Normandy’s most-visited tourist destinations, while the D-Day beaches and museums also attract their fair share of visitors. Lisieux draws pilgrims to the Carmelite convent where Saint Th�r�se de Lisieux lived.

The department’s historic capital, Caen, is much more than just a port and, although it was damaged during World War II (there is a WWII museum), many ancient buildings and medieval streets have survived. The town was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, and he and his wife were buried there.

At home in Calvados

Clearly one of Calvados’ strong points, in terms of a tourist destination and second home hotspot, is its proximity to Paris, as well as the UK, making it perfect for weekend breaks as well as longer holidays. Indeed, Deauville is often referred to as the 21st arrondissement (district) of Paris! It is also easily reached from Normandy’s main three cities, Caen, Rouen and Le Havre.

As well as the airport at Deauville, there are ferryports at Ouistreham (Caen) and Le Havre (and further Channel ports outside Normandy). Prior to the new Cityjet route into Deauville, Normandy was the only French region not to have a UK flight connection, a point Desmond O’Flynn, directeur g�n�ral of Deauville airport, was keen to put right. He had been having ongoing discussions with various airlines, but it was Cityjet that was in a position logistically to take him up on his offer.

In order to attract an airline into Deauville, O’Flynn naturally needed facts and figures to back up any anecdotal claims that Lower Normandy needed the link with the UK. He engaged the French organisation SAFER to delve deeper into some of their housing reports, which produced interesting results. “Some 18,000 British people are associated with property in Lower Normandy,” explains O’Flynn. “There are 11,000 people who live in the UK who own property here, and some 7,000 who live full-time in the region.”

Of course, these people – and visiting friends and family – need flights. And we haven’t even touched on the demand from residents of Normandy keen to visit London.

At present, Cityjet are only offering summer flights, but hopefully in the future they will extend this year-round. “The service will not only open up access to this stunning holiday region, it will also cater for the many British people who own a second home in the region,” comments Catherine Stuyck of Cityjet.

Second homes come first in this part of Normandy – there are more of them than principal residences in Deauville, which is quite extraordinary, even for a seaside resort. As you might expect, property prices in these prestigious resorts are high, making Calvados the most expensive of the Basse-Normandie d�partements (and Haute-Normandie too). Properties within Deauville’s triangle d’or, i.e. between the beach, racecourse and town centre, are the highest priced.

Although not as expensive as the C�te d’Azur, the Norman Riviera holds its own in the price stakes. How does it compare with other top resorts round the country? Apartment prices in Deauville average at €4,398/m2, compared with €4,475/m2 in Le Touquet, €4,193/m2 in Biarritz, €4,419/m2 in Collioure, and €8,028/m2 in St Tropez. Along the Calvados coast, apartment prices are €3,740/m2 in Trouville, €2,680/m2 in Honfleur, €3,245/m2 in Cabourg, €2,828/m2 in Merville, €3,018/m2 in Houlgate and €2,895/m2 in Villers-sur-Mer.

Browsing through a Logic Immo brochure which I picked up while wandering Deauville’s elegant streets reveals properties for sale in the resort ranging from a 28m2 studio 150m from the beach for €108,500 to a two-bed apartment in Deauville’s triangle d’or for €285,000; a 56m2 seafront apartment for €379,000; a four-bed centre-ville townhouse with courtyard and small garden for €424,000; and a three-room seafront apartment for €557,000.

In Trouville, I spotted a 30m2 studio for €243,000; a two-bed apartment with seaviews for €450,000; and a house with garden for €344,000, while moving along the coast, you could choose from a two-room apartment in Honfleur for €102,000; a 40m2 apartment with seaview in Cabourg for €190,000; and a six-bed thatched roof half-timbered house close to the beach at Tourgeville for €1.26m. There are cheaper options too, such as a three-bed wooden chalet on a residential park with pool in Cabourg for €141,645. Retirees might fancy a villa near Honfleur in Les Senioriales d’Equemauville, a residence for dynamic and independent senior citizens’; prices from €164,000 (www.lesseniorales.co.uk).

Average house prices within Calvados range from to €125,100 and €159,100 in the Vire and Bayeux districts to €195,200 and €195,800 in the Lisieux and Caen districts, with an average price across the department of €185,400, and across the Basse-Normandie region of €153,800.

Property becomes cheaper the further inland you go – for example, a one-bed mid-terraced house in a small town for €25,044 (JB French Houses) or a three-bed stone house on half an acre of land for €136,030 (Sextant Properties) – and you’re more likely to find a renovation project, such as a character house to renovate, with new windows already fitted, in a historic village near Vire for €45,500 (Sextant).

Character properties are typically stone-built or colombage (half-timbered), sometimes with thatched roofs. Chocolate-box-pretty country homes are available at surprisingly accessible prices, as are more imposing residences; a handsome five-bed maison de ma�tre in over 2.4 acres of grounds near Lisieux is for sale at €307,00 (Latitudes) while a nine-bed, eight-bathroom ch�teau in 32 acres of gardens and woodland in the Suisse Normande area is €630,000, with a g�te complex (four apartments) available separately for €165,000 (private seller on www.francepropertyshop.com).

Compare these with prestigious properties in Deauville – a nine-bed manor house with direct access to the beach is yours for around €6m – and you’ll begin to see that Deauville’s luxe image is still very much intact.

www.cityjet.com

www.normandy-tourism.org

www.deauville-2010.fr