Shortly before Christmas Mr Ayla and I set off for a weekend of discovery in Le Havre, along with Brittany Ferries, Le Havre Tourisme and a group of other keen adventurers. Only a short ferry ride from Portsmouth (or a slightly longer ferry ride with a cosy little cabin to nap in), Le Havre was somewhere that I had admittedly never heard of. I was expecting a small French town with not a massive amount to do and, extremely unusual for me, I hadn’t done a single bit of research before we left. For once I was happy to let someone else do all the planning and Le Havre Tourisme had a fantastic weekend ahead organised for us.
Over the course of the 48 hours we spent in Le Havre, we had an itinerary packed full of sightseeing and adventures. The quiet little French town that I was expecting to visit was nowhere in sight. Instead, I was surprised to find a city rich in history, teeming with beautiful architecture, a mouth-watering cuisine and only a stone’s throw from the Normandy countryside.
The first stop on our weekend’s explorations was City Hall where we ascended to the 17th floor for some gorgeous views over the city and out to the sea. Despite the chilly December weather we stayed up here for as long as we could, wandering around every side of the high tower and oohing and aahing at the views. From one side we could see down to the square below where the Christmas markets and Ferris wheel were setting up for an evening of festivities; and on the other side the red and orange rooftops and church steeples climbed the hill, looking like an adorable little French town.
Once we’d made it back down to the safety of the considerably less windy street, we hopped on the tram to our next stop.
I’m not a religious person at all but for some reason I always seem to be drawn to big churches and imposing cathedrals, possibly because they’re so peaceful and seem to always make me feel at ease. But when we turned up at Saint Joseph Church I was slightly confused at first.
From the outside, with its large concrete pillar-like structure towering above everything else, it looked nothing like what you’d expect from a religious building and I didn’t realise this was the actual church until we stepped inside and that usual feeling of tranquillity overcame me.The stained glass windows, decorated in colourful patterns rather than the usual depictions of characters from the Bible, reflected off the room giving it a warm glow. Maybe it’s because the church was designed and built by atheist Auguste Perret that made me feel more relaxed or maybe it was knowing that the church was built as a dedication to the victims of the war; either way I felt so peaceful in here that I could have stayed for hours.
We left the church and took a drive along the coast passing beautiful big houses along the way, until we arrived at what seemed like the end of the world where the tip of the cliff dropped off into the sea. I could have easily forgotten it was winter as the sun was shining, the sky was bright blue, paragliders were whizzing past and sailing boats were bobbing along the surface of the sea in the distance.
In the afternoon we had a little break from our hectic schedule of sightseeing, and it seemed we had all decided the best thing to do was to visit Le Bains des Docks for a relaxing dip in the baths. Although the building looks like a simple warehouse from the outside, as soon as we stepped barefoot into the warm baths, it felt like we were somewhere completely different.
The room was filled with a selection of different baths from pools for swimming, hot bubbling Jacuzzis, and fountains that sprayed over you like a water massage, which Mr Ayla didn’t want to leave. There was even an exercise pool complete with bikes and other fitness contraptions but I wasn’t going anywhere near those because I was obviously here to relax not to work out!On the way back to join the rest of the group we stopped for some cakes, pastries and éclairs because we were in France and it just had to be done. Plus you have to have the willpower of a saint if this mouth-watering selection doesn’t tempt you and, quite frankly, I have absolutely no willpower at all when it comes to cake.
Before we headed off for our evening activities we got to witness this absolutely stunning sunset. I couldn’t take my eyes off it – it was as if the sky was on fire – and my fellow travellers had completely disappeared around the corner by the time I managed to tear my eyes (and camera) away!
As it was almost Christmas, we couldn’t miss out on making a stop at the Christmas markets. Although only a small market I couldn’t help but feel ridiculously festive along with the crowds of people milling about everywhere. The little wooden huts surrounding the square outside City Hall were covered in decorations, twinkly lights reflected off the bright statues ice skating across the pond, and the smell of hot mulled wine filled the air.
We all got into the spirit by drinking some mulled wine and taking a ride on the Ferris wheel.
Our last stop of the day was a group meal at Le Bouchon Normand where we were served up an array of taster plates. We were in France so of course the cuisine was French and I was a little hesitant about what we would get. I did my very best to try most of it but when portions of escargot and offal arrived in front of me, let’s just say that I preferred the sweet treats we had picked up earlier in the day! I’m told by the others that it tasted really good but I just took their word for it and stuck to drinking my French wine instead!
As our first day was so packed full of adventures and I didn’t want this post to turn into an essay, I’ll be telling you all about our second day in Le Havre next week, so keep an eye out on the blog for tonnes of cheese, sexy chef hats and even more pretty sunsets.
In the meantime, have you ever visited somewhere that was so much more than you expected it to be? Let me know in the comments below or at: