A weekend in Rouen

The Notre-Dame Cathedral towers above the quaint old buildings in the centre of Rouen

The Notre-Dame Cathedral towers above the quaint old buildings in the centre of Rouen - Credit: Archant

The historic city has attracted artists for more than a century, each of them creating their own take on Rouen. FRANCE Magazine looks at the city’s star attractions Sponsored Feature

The Renaissance Gros Horloge © Fotolia

The Renaissance Gros Horloge © Fotolia - Credit: Tilio & Paolo - Fotolia

As you stand in awe at the Gothic façade of Rouen’s magnificent cathedral, it is easy to see why Claude Monet felt inspired to paint it nearly 30 times. Standing in a little room above a lingerie shop, which is now the city’s tourist office, Monet captured the cathedral in its many lights, moods and seasons to show how a solid structure can change in different light conditions.

These days, it’s the artists who change too; for in the same room as Monet himself stood, visitors to the city are invited to take part in an art lesson to create their own impression of the cathedral. For €28, a two-hour lesson with an expert art teacher will teach you the same painting techniques used by the many Impressionist painters who were attracted to Normandy in the late 19th century, when the new railway line from Paris opened up a whole new world of subjects to capture on canvas. Their work can be seen at Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts, which offers a huge collection – only second in size to that of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris – that showcases works by Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro. The paintings include one of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, Grey Weather, which is a contrast to the façade each summer evening when a light show illuminates the cathedral in glorious colours; this year’s event takes the alternating themes of ‘Vikings’ and ‘Joan of Arc’.

Inside the city's Place du Vieux Marché

Inside the city's Place du Vieux Marché - Credit: Archant

The cathedral’s spire is the tallest in France, and was the starting point for modern-day artist Yadegar Asisi, who is the brains behind the city’s new attraction Panorama XXL. After taking hundreds of thousands of photographs from the cathedral’s spire, Asisi has created a 12-storey (360-metre) panorama of Rouen using painting, drawing and digital techniques to give a ‘photorealistic’ view of the city in the Roman era of the Emperor Constantine. Visitors are surrounded by the huge circular painting and can admire it from a number of levels, starting at the top and using a lift to come down. In the autumn, the panorama changes to ‘Amazonia’, a completely different take on the technique. Next year it will celebrate the city at the time of Joan of Arc, for whom the city is famous.

It was in 1431 that the heroine of France was burned at the stake in the Place du Vieux- Marché by the English for being a heretic. The city’s other newest attraction is the €10 million Joan of Arc museum which invites visitors to step back in time to witness the famous trial. As part of the experience, visitors are led through the main exhibition space in groups and are guided by a hologram of Juvénal des Ursins, the ecclesiastic and judge who led Joan’s posthumous trial of exoneration in 1456. Just like Panorama XXL, it’s a very modern way to step into the past.

Other attractions include the Gros Horloge – a huge gilt Renaissance clock sitting on an arch over the street – and the strikingly modern Église Saint-Jeanne d’Arc, which showcases a stunning stained-glass window rescued from a medieval church. Along with the charming cobbled streets and timber-fronted buildings, they make Rouen the ideal place to step back in time.

Where to eat: Rouen offers some great restaurants, including La Couronne, which dates from 1345 and is said to be the oldest auberge in France. Also try l’Odas, which gained a Michelin star just six months after opening in 2013, and Gill, owned by chef Gilles Tournadre, which has held two Michelin stars for 25 years.

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Where to stay: The stunning five-star Spa Hotel de Bourgtheroulde offers rooms from €179 per night, while the three-star Hôtel du Vieux-Marché offers rooms from €88 per night.

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle gets you and your car across the Channel faster than anyone else. Book early and get its best fare to explore Rouen. Visit www.eurotunnel.com or call 0870 850 8133 to book your crossing.