Honfleur, the best preserved of the old Norman ports and the most easterly on the Calvados coast, is a near-perfect seaside town, but for its lack of a beach. It used to have one, but with the accumulation of silt from the Seine the sea has steadily withdrawn, leaving the eighteenth-century waterfront houses of boulevard Charles-V stranded and a little surreal. The ancient port, however, still functions – the channel to the beautiful Vieux Bassin is kept open by regular dredging – and though only pleasure craft now use the harbour moorings, fishing boats tie up alongside the pier nearby.
While picturesque enough to attract hundreds of visitors daily, Honfleur remains recognizable as the fishing village that so appealed to nineteenth-century artists. Its compact size, quaint waterside setting and abundance of restaurants make it an ideal destination for a weekend break. Visitors inevitably gravitate towards the old centre, around the Vieux Bassin, where slate-fronted houses, each one or two storeys higher than seems possible, harmonize despite their tottering and ill-matched forms. They create a splendid backdrop for the Lieutenance at the harbour entrance, the former dwelling of the King’s Lieutenant, which has been the gateway to the inner town since at least 1608, when Samuel Champlain sailed from Honfleur to found Québec.