French Riviera Meets Normandy Charms: 10 Reasons to Visit Deauville
Deauville holds a special place in my heart. This little seaside town on the Normandy coast gave me a renewed sense of freedom when I felt stale and constricted one summer in Paris (yes, it can happen even in the City of Lights). I was sent to Deauville for work that season, and when I realized that I was going to work in a vacation beach town, I screamed of joy inside my head (yes, that's what you do in the emotionally low-key France).
Deauville is nicknamed the 21st arrondissement of Paris for a reason: at just two hours away from Paris by train, it's the perfect beach escape for Parisians. However, that nickname has another connotation... Deauville is not your normal seaside village like the ones you'd find on the Normandy coast, it's an elegant casino beach town with as much swank and glamor as Paris.
An opulent casino, luxury hotels, Michelin-starred restaurants, racetracks, high-end boutiques... Deauville has everything it takes to entertain the international jet-set. Middle Eastern royalties are frequent guests in the summer with their entourage of body guards.
But the Deauville I like is the one right after the peak summer season. In early fall, Deauville regains its small-town vibe, and there's still enough sunshine to let you enjoy the outdoors. Every year at the beginning of September, Deauville welcomes international stars and movie fans with the Deauville American Movie Festival. Rather than Cannes' highly-saturated glitz, Deauville's festival provides a breezy and relaxed movie-going experience.
As this year's American Movie Festival kicked off this weekend, I thought I'd list some of my favorite things about this town here. Hopefully this will entice you to visit this little gem on the Normandy coast some day!
1. La Plage et les Planches (The Beach and the Planks)
Deauville's beach is famous for its technicolored parasols and the perfectly-manicured sand. Along the beach, the long flight of wooden planks and stable-like cabins form les Planches. The cabins are individually named after American film stars who attend the festival each year. This is one stylish beach with Hollywood glamour half way around the world from Los Angeles!
Put on the 1966 French movie "A Man and A Woman (Un Homme et Une Femme)", relax into the swaying beats of the theme song by Francis Lai, and you'll experience the Deauville seafront captured in film magic.
2. The Handsome Villas
Normandy is famous for her traditional half-timbered houses (maisons à colombages), and in Deauville, you'll find many fine examples of this architectural style. Since the 1860s, when the Duc de Morny (Napoleon III's half brother) developed Deauville as the horse-racing outpost from Paris, the village has been a favorite summer destination for the Parisian high society. Villa Strassburger is a well-preserved Belle Epoque example with some interesting American connections. Others worth a visit include Villa La Breloque, La Grande Villa, Villa Les Abeilles, and Villa Le Cercle. There are also Brick-Gothic and Haussmanian villas... this town is simply villa galore.
3. The Fairy-Tale Centre-Ville (Town Center)
The Deauville Mairie (City Hall) is the fairest of them all. This half-timber structure looks like it's straight out of Snow White. The Mairie is right in the town center, which is highly walkable.
Stroll around downtown, stop by the boulangerie for some fresh baguettes, head over to the charcuterie to get saucissons, pick up a bottle of red from le caviste, and don't forget to get some local Pont-l'Évêque cheese from the fromagerie, and then fill up your picnic basket with all that and head to the beach! After the meal, go to a local bar and have a glass of Normandy's famous Calvados brandy made with regional apples. And don't forget to get ice cream made with fresh Normandy dairy at Martine Lambert!
4. Pleasure at the Port de Plaisance (Marina)
Back in the late 19th century, the English upper crust sailed across the English channel to Deauville to enjoy their summer holidays. In the 1920s, the fictional Tom and Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) spent some time of their honeymoon in Deauville. There's no better way to escape from the troubles at home than to sail away from it all.
You can take sailing lessons, hire a sail boat, and at certain times during the year, watch a regatta in Deauville. The marina is called a "port de plaisance" in French, literally port of pleasure-boating. And Deauville is a great place for these nautical pleasures.
5. Les Chevaux (the Horses)
When the Duc de Morny bought the vast stretch of land in Deauville, he intended for this town to be a place for horse-racing and horse-breeding. That tradition has stayed for over a century now.
Today, Deauville has two racetracks that host equestrian races, polo tournaments, and several important thoroughbred auctions. If you fancy, you can go horseback riding on the beach (early morning), or simply go for a horse-drawn carriage ride around town any time of the day.
6. Le Casino
Even for non-gamblers like myself, going to the Casino Barrière can be a fun experience. This casino was built in 1912, it's full of Bell Epoque allure, and has butter-soft carpets and velvet curtains everywhere. You can go for a show in the theater inside the casino, dine at the gourmet restaurants, or have a drink at the O2 Sofa Bar designed by famous French interior designer Jacques Garcia (of Hotel Costes fame). On weekend evenings, it's a perfect venue to spot the Parisian who's-who.
7. Le Shopping
If you've seen the movie Coco Before Chanel with aptly-cast Audrey Tatou as Gabrielle Chanel, you know that Deauville is a critical place in the fashion designer's life. It's in Deauville that she opened her first fashion boutique (the 21 rue Cambon address in Paris was her first hat shop). It was here that she found the inspiration of the marinière striped shirt from the fisherman on the Normandy coast, and it was here that she perfected the sport-chic fashion that liberated women that were previously constrained by the Belle Epoque frou-frous and corsets.
Today you won't find that historical Chanel store, but you will find other luxury boutiques to indulge your eyes. Why not pick up local limited-edition accessories from the French brands Hermès and Longchamp, both of them have traditions deeply steeped in the equestrian world. The "One Century of Races in Deauville" Hermès scarf is a sought-after collector item.
8. Saint Therese de Lisieux
Mid-way to Deauville from Paris, the train passes through a small village, Lisieux. It happens to be the second largest site of pilgrimage in France, after Lourdes in south-western France. The Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux is an impressive structure that guards the Normandy coast from the hilltop; from an architectural point of view alone, this place is worth a detour from your trip to Deauville. Make sure you check out the mosaics.
9. Visit Deauville's Little Sister: Trouville
If Deauville is the elegant and worldly older sister with plenty of flair, then Trouville is her fun and wild little sister. You go to Deauville for the glamorous, and you go to Trouville for the down-to-earth. Just a short walk over from the dreamy Deauville, Trouville is where you get back to real world with normal prices for the moules-frites and crepes. So when you're a little numb from the pristine, picture-perfect Deauville, it's time to hop over to Trouville to freshen-up.
10. Amazing Hotels
What really makes Deauville an exceptional resort town is, well, the exceptional resorts. This town is practically owned by the hotel group Barrière with the three resorts Le Normandy, Le Royal, and l'Hotel du Golf.
Le Normandy is the Deauville hotel with the majestic Norman half-timber building, elegant restaurants and bars, and the most family-friendly feature: the Kid's Barrière little VIP club. There is on-site childcare for babies 10 weeks to 5 years old. Kids can enjoy gourmet food and mocktails in the luxury restaurants at the hotel, and they can participate in art and sports workshops with a multi-cultural approach. This is what I call a true luxury resort experience with kids.
If you're looking for a seaside escape from the Parisian region, don't hesitate, hop on a train and get yourself to Deauville in two hours. It's the perfect weekend trip from Paris.
Have you been to Deauville? What are your favorite activities? Don't hesitate to let me know by leaving a comment!