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Fran in France: Honfleur


Published May 28, 2009 at 9:04 a.m.

Journalist Fran Stoddard is in France this week with a group from Burlington City Arts, to celebrate the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial. She sent this report yesterday from the port of Honfleur. Click here for her earlier posts.

Wednesday, May 27

Although its history can be traced back 1000 years, Honfleur's heyday coincided with Champlain’s lifetime. It was a bustling port then and isstill today, though quite a different kind. It still looks like a 16thcentury town, but there are luxury yachts in the harbor and astreamlined suspension bridge to France’s second largest port, LeHarvre in the near distance.

At the mouth of the Seine River, Champlain could get to Honfleur easilyby boat or land. He set sail from here over 2 dozen times to venture tothe New World.

A soggy tour of the town this morning takes us to oldest wooden andstone houses, churches and buildings;  they have survived 400 years andmore. The back streets are a walk through time. Public clothes washingbasins are still in use. By design and I would think some luck,Honfleur was untouched by the destruction of World War II. Cleverly, the peopleof Honfluer allowed the Seine river to silt in the harbor, rendering itstrategically useless in the war. Unlike Brouage, Champlain’s hometownthat lost its maritime capability, Honfleur was able to dredge it’sport again and remain the viable port that it is today, as well as oneof France’s most visited preserved towns.

It now hosts nearly 3 million visitors annually, but it doesn’t have the themepark feel of some beautifully preserved towns. It is artsy and quaint,the tourists and boaters it attracts seem to blend in.  

Among other commodities, salt was traded in Honfleur and supplied tothe ships that set sail from here to preserve the catch. We visitedhuge stone storage houses with roofs that resembled the inner hulls ofships; they were capable of packing 10,000 tons of salt. One house waswrapping up an art exhibition and the other was preparing for amaritime festival this coming weekend, a huge event that includes aparade where children carry large ship models up the hillside tochapel. This year there will also be a dedication of a Samuel deChamplain memorial garden in the shape of our lake! Lt. Gov. BrianDubie and Vermont tourism head Bruce Hyde plan to be present.

They’ll have the pleasure of meeting Honfleur’s  mayor, Michael LaMarre, a busy, charming guy who threw a reception for us at the town hall.A proclamation and gifts from Mayor Bob Kiss helped open thepossibility of a sister-city relationship.  

A bonus visit to Monet’s Giverny home and garden at its peak season was a real treat. On to Paris!