Le Havre is not at the top of your list of destinations to visit? it wasn’t on mine either….and yet I was quite wrong.
When you think of Le Havre, you think of a commercial port, a seaport that was destroyed during the war and in which all historical references have disappeared, a city that is a bit dull, new and soulless (yes, admit it!).
However, Le Havre has a very rich architectural heritage, a fascinating history and has many assets.
Because coming on holiday to Le Havre and living in Le Havre was not necessarily the idea of the century, the city has been forced to reinvent itself regularly. Maybe you are not aware that Le Havre has 120 café-bars, 44 brasseries, 10 tea rooms and that spending a night out in Le Havre can be very lively and enjoyable.
Everything has been done to attract families and young couples and cultural spaces have been created: shopping centres such as the Docks, the frankly breath taking skate park, the Volcan theatre or the concernt hall Le Carré des Docks, the Oscar Niemeyer library or the Docks baths.
After a visit of the historical part of the city (why not use the “Bee Le Havre”, the touristic bus of the city), you should aim to go for a walk along the beach…..because what you may not know is that Le Havre has a superb beach in the North of the city.
A beach in the city is rare…..the most famous one in France is Nice (same weather really!)
Here the promenade was laid out by the landscape designer Alexandre Chemetoff in 1994 and allows walkers, tourists, cyclists and skateboarders to enjoy themselves all together. The beach is also a place to practice sports and along the promenade you can find canoes for hire, paddles and windsurfing boards. This is also the place where you can play beach volleyball, basketball or petanque and where you can find the skate park with its 1200 square metre bowl, the largest free open-air skatepark. In short, Le Havre is also a very sporty city.
And if sport is not your thing, you can sit down on one of the terraces of the numerous restaurants, all on the seafront.
If today, the city is classified as a Unesco heritage site, it is because of its history and its reconstruction after the Second World War.
Before the break-up in 1944, the story of its creation and evolution is somewhat mundane.
It was King François the first who decided to create Le Havre as a port for trading with the New World and to create a “harbour”, a shelter for ships. The statue of the king can still be seen on the quay of the Arsenal and the city was originally called Franciscopolis or Ville Françoise. At the same time the military port (where the royal fleet was put together) and the fishing port (for whaling and cod fishing) were created. In the 16th century, it was also the point of departure for many explorers (including Giovanni da Verrazano who discovered the site of New York).
At the time, it was only a question of creating a port, but they soon realised that the port could not exist if it couldn’t accommodate the people involved in port functions and in its construction. The architect Girolamo Bellarmato was commissioned with the project. This was followed by an unprecedented boom with the enrichment of the shipowners through the coffee, cotton and chocolate trade and the triangular trade.
Then, driven by the Industrial Revolution and the traffic of raw materials, Le Havre experienced a golden age between the 18th and 19th centuries until the Second World War, a moment of rupture as mentioned before.
Le Havre suffered deeply and was one of the most damaged cities in Europe. The Allied bombings on 5 and 6 September 1944 destroyed the city centre, causing several thousand deaths and the destruction of 20,000 homes.
The architect Auguste Perret and his group of associated architects (a hundred or so)were chosen and were in charge of the city’s reconstruction project. Le Havre then became an urban laboratory, with Auguste Perret using avant-garde urban planning procedures, new prefabrication techniques and applying the principles of the School of Structural Classicism. (concrete, sustainable housing with modular spaces, open kitchens and a large entrance hall)
In addition to 10,000 homes, were built some extraordinary buildings, including St. Joseph’s Church, whose spire rises to 107 metres (listed as a historical monument in 1965). You can’t miss it…it looks like an American skyscraper.
Architecturally, the city has had to rise from the ashes, but culturally, it has also been able to show a lot of dynamism , to change and reinvent itself in order to become not only a popular tourist destination (and not to be missed) but also a great place to live.
So do not hesitate anymore and make Le Havre your favorite destination. Only 40 minutes from Belle Isle sur Risle, you will also be using the spectacular bridge of Normandy….a bonus!