With narrow cobbled streets lined by handsome half-timbered houses, Honfleur is Normandy's most picturesque port town. Little has changed here since the 17th century, with the same rickety old houses surrounding a quiet port, vestiges of earlier fortifications guarding the passage to the sea, and a host of galleries and boutiques vying for attention.
This privately guided tour gets to the history behind the charming streets, revealing much about the town's strategic importance as a port, its destruction in the Hundred Years’ War, its resurgence and quickly acquired wealth, its links to Québec and its fascination for Impressionist artists.
You meet your guide at your hotel to begin your two-hour walking tour of Honfleur. The first stop is the Quai des Passagers, the larger of the two old ports which overlooks the swaying fishing boats beyond, each one brightly painted to match the house it once belonged to.
Describing the long history of this small but important town, your guide will tell you about the strategic importance of medieval Honfleur as gateway to the English Channel, and the unwanted attention it suffered because of it.
You then walk into the ‘Enclos’, the part of the old town once enclosed by the medieval fortifications. This is the main historical part of Honfleur and is home to two 17th-century salt warehouses. These once held vast quantities of local salt before it was exported to Newfoundland to serve the cod fishermen there. At the time, the salt trade and its taxation were the principal economic stimulants to the redevelopment of the town.
From here, you walk along Rue des Boucheries (Butchers Alley) to the oldest part of Honfleur, La Rue de la Prison (Prison Alley) with its dark history and quintessentially Norman half-timbered houses that date back to the Middle Ages. As you walk, your guide will explain the conditions in the town at the time, how trades were gathered on separate streets and how domestic life would have been for the town's inhabitants.
Then your guide takes you to the waterfront past the Lieutenance, the 18th-century home of the town's governor. It sits at the mouth of the old port and is the last remaining vestige of the medieval fortifications that once guarded the inner town.
Finally, you head along the cobbled streets lined with boutiques and restaurants to Saint-Catherine’s Church and bell tower. This wooden church was constructed from the upturned hull of a ship by local shipbuilders in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. They used building techniques acquired from the Vikings for the church, whose interior has twin naves and a double-vaulted roof.
At the end of your tour you're free to wander the streets at your leisure.
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