Le Havre in Normandy is an ancient town with a contemporary footprint. It’s a UNESCO listed city, recognised for its extraordinary architecture.
Le Havre’s origins go back to 1517 when Francis 1 commissioned the construction of a port, it was known then as Francispolis. These days Le Havre is one of the biggest of French ports, a vast, vibrant and buzzing city.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Le Havre suffered enormous damage during World War II and afterwards needed almost complete rebuilding. The architect who oversaw the rebuild didn’t have to worry too much about preserving the past, it was nearly all gone. Belgium born Auguste Perret, teacher to another famous architect who also left his mark on France, Le Corbusier, was the man entrusted with bringing Le Havre back to life. He persuaded the town planners to let him use reinforced concrete as his main medium. In those days, it was an unusual idea. Then, and even now, it’s not a commonly seen sight, or at least not in France. Think Manhattan meets Star Wars. Incredibly modern, clean, lines, light coloured buildings with hardly a hint of medieval and you’ll get the picture.
The new Le Havre does reflect the layout of the past city and, love it or hate it, you certainly can’t ignore it.
What to see and do in Le Havre
The rebuilding of the town was an enormous project, one of the largest urban reconstructions in Europe after the war. It covers an area of 133 hectares and Perret oversaw its creation until he died in 1954. His vision created a template for modern living, wide boulevards that let in light, sensibly laid out streets and buildings with all mod cons.
Some of the finest aspects of the design include the following:
Perret’s vision was to give the people of Le Havre optimum comfort, with large bright living spaces and rooms which were furnished and equipped with modern appliances: fridges, gas stoves, pressure cookers, record players, typewriters, hoovers and washing machines. You can see just what he intended at The Perret show flat. It showcases Perret’s architectural innovation which led to the city becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. This is a must see for those who love the architecture of this city. perretshowflat
Avenue Foch, designed to be a modern Champs-Elysées, is lined with smart shops and links the centre of the city to the sea.
The huge church of St Joseph stands 110m high and is a fitting concrete landmark for Le Havre and in fact can even be seen from the sea from the boats that arrive in port.
André Malraux Modern Art Museum (MuMa) build from metal and glass with huge windows facing the sea is idea for displaying paintings in any light. It contains many treasures from the 17th to the 20th century, including the second largest collection of impressionist works in France. Dufy, Monet, Bodin, Fantin-Latour and many others are represented here.
The French painter Eugene Bodin (1824-1898) spent most his childhood in Le Havre. In 1858 he met then 15-year-old Claude Monet who wanted to become a caricaturist. It’s said through their meeting, Monet decided to become a landscape painter. Monet’s iconic painting of the sun rising through industrial chimneys is set in Le Havre. It was this painting, named Impression, Sunrise that was to give birth to the impressionist movement – you could say it was born in Le Havre.
The western end of the Bassin du Commerce is dominated by the vast edifice which is known as Le Volcan (The Volcano), Le Havre’s arts centre and theatre, designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer, and built in 1982. The architecture represents a white veil of concrete, with curves and open shapes, and the state- of-the-art library inside is well worth a visit.
Le Havre Marina and Beach
Le Havre’s marina has 1,150 berths; many famous races and international sailing events set sail from here. A 2km beach with promenade is just 500m away from the city centre and you’ll find a wide range of bars and restaurants serving tasty local cuisine right on the beach.
You can also take boat tours of the port of Le Havre and discover the daily life of the port, tickets from the kiosk at the marina. Details: lehavreboattours
Food and Markets of Le Havre
Normandy is a food lover’s paradise with an abundance of lush farmland, and home to some of France’s most famous products. Le Havre is no exception, with all the classics from Norman cheeses, fresh seafood and apple products like Calvados, Pommeau and delicious pastries. The Place des Halles Centrales hosts a daily indoor market and an outdoor market on Sundays from 9am to 1pm. Fresh fish and shellfish straight off the boats can be found at the specialist fish market on the Place Saint-François.
For a taste of home from home, there’s a famous fish and chips van on the seafront, Les Frites à Victor, enjoy battered cod or go for Victor’s speciality, sausage and chips!
If you fancy something a bit more, well fancy, it doesn’t get better than the 2 Michelin star gastronomic restaurant of Jean-Luc Tartarin. www.jeanluc-tartarin.com
For an authentic taste of Normandy try the Taverne Paillette, founded in 1596 and loved by the locals for its impressive seafood platters, Paris-style sauerkraut and home-brewed beer. www.taverne-paillette.com
La Petite Auberge serves traditional Norman cuisine with a seasonal menu inspired by the best of the market produce on the day. www.lapetiteauberge-lehavre.fr
Revel in the hustle and bustle of Le Havre’s popular bar and restaurant district and head to Le Grignot, opposite Le Volcan. It’s one of the most famous brasseries in Le Havre and the menu specialises in seafood, seasonal and traditional recipes www.legrignot.fr