The glitterati may flock to the C�te-d’Azur these days, but in the late 19th century it was Normandy’s coast that garnered attention. Carolyn Boyd looks at the history of its most glamorous resorts
The glitterati may flock to the C�te-d’Azur these days, but in the late 19th century it was Normandy’s coast that garnered attention. Carolyn Boyd looks at the history of its most glamorous resorts It may seem a little odd to think that the town of Deauville is here today thanks to a craze which swept northern France in Victorian times. But it is undeniably the case that the town on the coast of Normandy, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, was established because of a passion for sea-bathing, an activity which became fashionable in the 1820s and has been with us ever since.Back then, things were a little different from what we’re used to now. The craze was brought to France by the Victorians who had already taken to bathing in the sea in resorts such as Brighton, Scarborough and Weymouth because they thought it would benefit their health. Modesty was crucial and a horse, carriage and long woollen bathing costume were de rigueur. Horse-drawn changing cabins – known as bathing machines – would be parked on the beaches as people changed out of their formal garb and into their woollen bathing costumes. The horse would then enter the water and the bathers would exit their cabins, slipping modestly into the water. Most people had never learned to swim, so assistants, les guides-baigneurs, would be responsible for helping their charges stay afloat. By the 1850s, the trend had really caught on among the French, who followed in the footsteps of the Duchesse de Berry – one of the first to try bathing at Dieppe. A railway line from Paris to the coast was completed in 1848 and wealthy Parisians were heading to the Normandy seaside to join in. Sea-bathing was just one of the new ways to enjoy the coast; casinos were also proving extremely popular, and along with Deauville, resorts such as Dieppe, Trouville and Cabourg became the places to see and be seen. Each resort has a tale to tell and still boasts a variety of hotels and attractions that bore witness to an era of glamour and decadence that lasted until World War I. TrouvilleWhen landscape painter Charles Mozin discovered Trouville in 1825, it was merely a small fishing village. Inspired by the light and scenery, Mozin exhibited his paintings at the Paris salons and other artists descended on Trouville, making it something of a haven for painters. By 1835, doctors were recommending a visit to the town – and a dip in the sea – as a cure for ill health, which led to Trouville’s establishment as a seaside resort. The soft sandy beach became so popular that the town council had to divide it into three parts – the men’s and women’s sections were separated by the family area to preserve modesty. Meanwhile, swimsuits were hired out, the idea being that uniform swimwear would distract less than garments that were too extravagant. Writers as well as artists were drawn to Trouville. Among them were Marcel Proust and Gustave Flaubert, who was born in nearby Rouen and who mentioned the town in his work. One of the town’s most elegant hotels – Hotel Flaubert – sits right on the beach. It was built in 1936 after the writer’s death and is typical of the town’s architecture. One of the first hotels to be built on the seafront was H�tel de la Plage in 1840. It was later renamed H�tel de Paris, but was turned into a private residence in 1949. By the 1840s, the resort had developed a strong community spirit, which was centred around the town’s casinos. Trouville’s first casino was built in 1838 and was on the site of the present-day Trouville Palace – formerly a hotel, but now apartments. The small wooden building known as the Salon des Bains offered people the chance to chat, dance and play games. The Casino Salon came later in 1845 and was on the site of the present H�tel Flaubert. The casino that remains today was built in 1912 on the site of the Casino Salon and was designed by Alphonse Durville and Gustave Eiffel. It was refurbished in 1992 and today, the hotel-casino is a huge edifice that dominates the town. The H�tel des Roches Noires was also one of Trouville’s most significant hotels. Now a private residence, it was built in 1865 and immortalised by Claude Monet in his 1870 painting of the same name. The artist visited the town on honeymoon after his marriage to Camille and also painted the beach and the boardwalk, which became the place to stroll and show off the fashions of the era. H�tel Flaubert, Rue Gustave Flaubert, 14360 Trouville-sur-Mer. Tel: (Fr) 2 31 88 37 23, www.flaubert.frCasino Barri�re, Place du Mar�chal Foch, 14360 Trouville-sur-Mer. Tel: (Fr) 2 31 87 75 00, www.lucienbarriere.comTrouville Tourist Office, 32 Quai Fernand-Moureaux, 14360 Trouville. Tel: (Fr) 2 31 14 60 70, www.trouvillesurmer.orgDieppeThe port town of Dieppe was first established by the Vikings in the tenth century, and grew in prosperity in the 17th century, thanks to its fishing industry and the local tradition of ivory carving. However it was the Duchesse de Berry, an Italian-born aristocrat who married into the French Bourbon family, who put the charming town on the tourism map in the early 19th century. She was followed here by many luminaries of the day. Among them were artists Eug�ne Delacroix, Camille Pissarro and Georges Braque, and writers Alexandre Dumas (p�re) and Oscar Wilde. Britons, including the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII), were also attracted to the resort thanks to the ferry link from Newhaven that reopened in 1825 after the Napoleonic wars. In the first season around 5,000 passengers made the journey. The transport links between the two countries were further strengthened when railway lines opened in 1848. Luxury villas were built – among them Villa Olga, the home of the British-born Duchess Caracciolo, built in 1879. Her scandalous lifestyle as an artists’ model and socialite was the talk of the town, not least because she was rumoured to be the natural daughter of her godfather – Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. By 1907, motoring had become a popular pastime and the Automobile Club de France picked Dieppe for its second Grand Prix, hoping that rich English aristocrats would support it. Band-stands were built for spectators and participants raced ten laps of the 77 kilometre-circuit. The race was a resounding success and further events were staged in 1908 and 1912. Since 1989, a group of classic car enthusiasts have celebrated the event by staging the Dieppe R�tro each September, which is attended by hundreds of classic car fans from both sides of the Channel.
Dieppe R�tro, 4-5 September 2010. Tel: (Fr) 2 35 82 49 29, www.diepperetro.orgDieppe-Maritime Tourist Office56 Quai Duquesne, 76204 DieppeTel: (Fr) 2 32 14 40 60, www.dieppetourisme.comDeauville While Trouville had become a popular seaside resort, the area on the other side of the River Touques was still just marshes, used for grazing sheep and cattle by the villagers of Dosville higher on the hill. It wasn’t long however, before the land was snapped up by the Duc de Morny (a rich financier and half-brother to Napol�on III) and his associates, who, in 1858, envisioned a glamorous sea resort. The resort became popular and once the railway reached Trouville, both resorts became a six-hour journey from Paris, making Deauville an even more desirable destination. With such a wealthy clientele visiting the resort, horse racing became a popular pastime. The Duc de Morny established the first racecourse – La Touque – at Deauville in 1862, which in turn attracted even more wealth. A second racecourse in Clairefontaine, two kilometres from Deauville, opened in 1928. The early 1900s also saw the construction of hundreds of luxury villas; among them was the Villa Strassburger. Perched on the hillside on farmland that once belonged to Gustave Flaubert, the typically Norman mansion stands testament to those attracted to the town. It was built in 1907 for Henri de Rothschild and was bought by the wealthy American businessman and horse-breeder Ralph B Strassburger in the 1920s. The huge American flag is the first clue to the eponymous owner and his passion for racing. The opulent d�cor inside, meanwhile, helps you imagine the soir�es and dinners that must have taken place there, while the framed cartoons that adorn the walls show caricatures of the people who attended. By the 1920s, Deauville was one of France’s most glamorous hang-outs and in 1923 its famous boardwalk was built along the beach. Celebrities of the time, such as Coco Chanel, Josephine Baker, Maurice Chevalier, Mistinguett and Andr� Citro�n, would promenade up and down. These days the walkway is associated with more modern stars – from Clint Eastwood to Kirk Douglas – whose names are printed on the gates outside the art deco beach chalets. Each star is a previous attendee at the Deauville American Film Festival that started here in 1975. The festival runs each September, and attracts almost as many Hollywood stars as Cannes in May. This year’s festival is the 36th anniversary and is, as ever, open to the public. Villa Strassburger, Avenue Strassburger, 14800 Deauville. To arrange a visit or to rent the property (costs from €1,500 per day), contact the Mairie de Deauville. Tel: (Fr) 2 31 14 02 08,manifestations@deauville.FrDeauville American Film Festival, 3-12 September 2010. www.festival-deauville.comDeauville Tourist Office, Place de la Mairie, 14800 Deauville. Tel: (Fr) 2 31 14 40 00, www.deauville.org or for anniversary events, www.deauville-2010.frCabourgThe pretty town of Cabourg grew from a quiet coastal settlement to welcome the new kind of visitor. The land around the village had previously been worth little to farmers, so Parisian estate agents and developers were able to acquire it cheaply to build villas for the wealthy bourgeoisie who would escape the city in favour of the sea air. Much of the development was the brainchild of Parisian businessman Henri Durand-Morimbau who, with the help of Caen architect Paul Leroux, created a town laid out like a fan, the avenues converging on a central point – the casino – with the Grand H�tel positioned to its rear and next to the sea. The foundations for the town’s first casino – built from wood – were laid in 1854, but a newer, grander casino came in 1867. The colourful Jardins du Casino are the central point of the town and are surrounded with elegant turreted, timber-framed houses. Many look out towards the Grand H�tel which stands proudly next to the beach. Its first incarnation was in 1855 and it was rebuilt in 1907 in true Belle �poque style. It still stands as testament to that indulgent era, and has recently been renovated. As you walk into the lobby, you’re presented with a huge grand piano – complete with classical pianist at weekends – sitting beneath a wonderful chandelier. The restaurant basks in the bright light shining in from the beach and it is easy to spend hours watching people promenade up and down the boardwalk just outside. Little wonder, then, that the hotel became the favourite haunt of writer Marcel Proust who came to the resort every summer between 1907 and 1914, believing that the fresh sea air would relieve his chronic asthma. It was here in 1909 that Proust started his famous tome � la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time) in which Cabourg was renamed Balbec. While Deauville may be the home of the American Film Festival, Cabourg can boast strong links to the French film industry. Its film festival takes place each June and attracts some of France’s biggest stars to its red carpet while a huge cinema screen is erected on the beach. Its beachfront has also made it to the silver screen itself. Several well-known movies have been filmed here, including Coco Before Chanel, while a film version of � la Recherche du Temps Perdu is currently being shot in the town and will be released next year. Grand H�tel Cabourg, Jardins de Casino, 14390 Cabourg. Tel: (Fr) 2 31 91 01 79 www.le-grand-hotel-cabourg.comCabourg Film Festival, www.festival-cabourg.comCabourg Tourist Office, Jardins de l’H�tel de Ville, 14390 Cabourg. Tel: (Fr) 2 31 06 20 00, www.cabourg.net