Guide to Deauville and Trouville by guest writer Fiona Quinn
The twin seaside towns of Deauville-Trouville on the Normandy coast in the département of Calvados sit cheek-by-jowl. The only thing that separates them is the narrow, winding Touques river where it discharges into the English Channel. Yet, while the towns are both complementary, each has a very different vibe. Check out this guide to Deauville and Trouville.
The Chic Past of Deauville and Trouville
Back in the heyday of the Belle Epoque, everyone who was anyone in Paris headed to Trouville for a bit of “trou-la-la” on their holidays. Imagine the summer of 1870: elegant ladies in long white summer dresses holding their parasols wander along a wooden boardwalk lined with grand buildings next to a wide sandy beach.
A two-hour train trip from Paris-St-Lazare brought hordes of visitors seeking sea air, packing their bathing suits to spend time on the long stretches of sand at Deauville and Trouville before taking a bracing sea bath. Well refreshed, their evenings were spent mingling at the casino and enjoying the seafood brought in by local fishermen. This was the era when haute couture had recently been invented, Champagne production was being perfected, and the Eiffel Tower still hadn’t been built.
And What Do Today’s Visitors See?
Today, for the British the Côte Fleurie is just a quick hop on the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen. The Parisian jetset still love this beach and hang out here at weekends, enjoying their holiday homes, while stopping for lunch in the fish market at Trouville or shopping in the glamorous designer stores in Deauville.
In Deauville, a parade of colourful tied-up beach umbrellas dot the beach in front of 1920s beach cabins named after film stars, while in neighbouring Trouville, a wooden boardwalk flanks the grand seaside villas where residents can step out straight onto the beach.
First came Trouville
Trouville was the first to be discovered. French artist Charles Mozin (1806–62) specialised in marine painting and had been to Honfleur painting beaches when he was told by local fishermen that the beach at Trouville was far prettier. An early influencer, he sold his art to the Parisian elite, who came to the coast eager to see the beautiful beaches for themselves and try out the new trend of sea bathing that had come over from Regency England in the 1820s.
The town began to grow and by the 1840s, Trouville’s fishing quay was developed. The boom in tourism in the 1860s saw new villas popping up along the beach and spilling on the hill to house the weekend visitors and their households.
Then in 1867, the Planches promenade wooden boardwalk was installed. Now the stylish visitors could amble along the beach, a practice the French know as flâner, filling their lungs with invigorating sea air.
Guide to Deauville and Trouville: Start by Walking the Streets
Wander the backstreets and you discover eclectic, yet elegant architecture that was heavily influenced by travel. Individually designed villas combine traditional Norman half-timbering Colombage style with Alpine chalets, English bay windows and castle-style turrets all jostling for a view of the sea.
Villa Montebello was built in 1865 with a commanding vista above the Roches Noires hotel. Now the town’s museum it houses some of Mozin’s paintings along with vintage pieces of sea bathing history.
64 Rue Général Leclerc
Tel: +33 2 31 88 16 26
Open Jan 14-Feb 20: Sat, Sun 10am-noon & 2-5pm; Feb 26-May 31 & Oct 1-Dec 31: Wed-Fri 1-5.30pm; Weekends and holidays: 10am-noon & 2-5.30pm; Jun 1-Sep 30:Wed-Sun 10am-noon & 2-5.30pm
Admission Adult €7
During the Second Empire in the 1860s, Emperor Napoleon III’s half-brother, the Duc de Morny had the vision to establish a new town on the other side of the river and Deauville was born. The designed town was on mostly flat land. The planned streets give a neat, formal feel with the main square based on the Place de l’Etoile in Paris with eight boulevards that fan out leading to tourist attractions in each direction.
The Duc’s passion for horses also gave the refined town a different vibe from its coastal neighbour, and a thoroughbred racecourse, Deauville-La Touques, was built in 1864 just a short walk from the beach on the edge of town. This has since led to the countryside around Deauville being the main horse-breeding region in France.
The Impressionists Arrive
As both resorts developed, they attracted writers such as Gustave Flaubert and Impressionist painters Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet who spent his honeymoon in Trouville in 1870. See also Impressionism and Normandy.
Deauville Grows: Villa Strasbourg, Hotels and Casinos
In Deauville, on farmland once owned by Gustave Flaubert’s family, Baron Henri de Rothschild built an impressive Anglo-Norman villa overlooking the racecourse, where he liked to visit. The Belle Epoque holiday home was eventually bought by Ralph Strassburger before being given to the town of Deauville in lieu of taxes. Villa Strassburger is open to the public between June and September.
In 1912 three iconic buildings added to the considerable appeal of the seaside resort: the Hôtel Normandy and the Hôtel Royal strategically placed with the Casino between them. Discreet underground tunnels led to the trio of luxury buildings specifically aimed at chic Parisians and the milords of British high society.
The hotels, both part of the prestigious Barrière group, are grand in the best possible old-fashioned way. Huge entrance halls, long corridors, high ceilings and spectacular public rooms make the perfect place for a drink.
Shortly after, the First World War broke out. Eventually the Second World War left its historical mark on the region with many of the grand buildings being occupied as either hospitals or homes for German officers.
But each time the holidaymakers returned as soon as they could. Fashionistas came, including Coco Chanel in 1914 opening her first haute couture shop outside Paris and later Yves Saint Laurent. And in 1975, Deauville’s annual film festival, now held in September every year, put the resort firmly on the celebrity map.
Guide to Deauville and Trouville Today
At weekends and in season, the tiny local population is mostly boosted by Parisians, who come shopping for luxury along Deauville’s Rue Désiré Le Hoc, Rue Eugène Colas and Rue du Casino, watch a polo match or have a flutter at the races. The beaches are full of life with families.
Yet, out of season, as horse riders and harness carriages gallop along the empty shoreline, visitors can enjoy the bracing sea air and long walks without the need to jostle for space on the beach and can easily get a table in one of the numerous dining places around both towns.
Eat, Drink and Watch the World Go By
Lying next to the sea, the lure of fresh seafood is strong. Every guide to Deauville and Trouville must include sea snails and sea urchins, oysters, clams, grey shrimp, prawns, langoustines, and lobster from Brittany, the stalls at Trouville’s fish market (marché aux poissons) are filled with delicious produce. But this is not only a seafood vendor and tourist attraction. Lunch here allows you to indulge at high tables where you’re served the freshest seafood platters and champagne. Saiter, one of the ten sellers, was the first to sell food directly to visitors and takes centre stage in the market under red awnings.
In neighbouring Deauville, chic cafés spill onto the pavements at the Place Morny next to the fish market, where Fanfaron (literally meaning braggart) shows off simple cuisine with refined flavours from scallops to the most amazing crème brûlée I’ve tasted in years – a crispy top with just the right amount of crack required to break through to a dreamy vanilla creme below. You’re never far from good seafood, and both towns have plenty of places to dine out with both prix fixe and a la carte menus.
A good meal in Normandy is often broken up with a trou normand – literally, a Norman hole! It is in fact the name given to a glass of Calvados, apple brandy, drunk before the main course to aid digestion (and appreciate the next course).
Calvados – That Great Normandy Drink
For more than 200 years, Père Magloire has been producing Calvados in Normandy using local apples that thrive here. Visitors can discover more at the Père Magloire Calvados Experience, a 10-minute drive from Deauville-Trouville. Several different rooms in the former cellars show the history of Calvados, its origins, the apples and orchards that lend their flavours to this local drink, and the methods used to create this distilled apple brandy, even down to shaking the trees to make the apples fall. The fun exhibit ends with Calvados tasting in the stylish bar, all for only a few euros per person.
Don’t Miss the New Attractions
With so many elements to the region’s history, it might prove difficult to encapsulate all of it in one place, but the Franciscaines multimedia cultural centre has managed to do just that. Newly opened (May 2021) in an old convent, the centre makes local culture accessible to everyone. The modern facilities on the ground floor include an exceptional cafe, where lunch is served on one tray, and a concert and performance venue in the former chapel, while the the glass roof over the original cloister is made up of thousands of tubes that dot the sky like a cloud in an Impressionist painting as you look up.
Art and creativity is celebrated in all its forms with an extensive public library spreading around the upper floor with cosy zones to hang out, lounge around and even lie down, books on horse racing, Deauville history, music, and art, private screening rooms to watch films, and a museum dedicated to painter André Hambourg (1909-99).
145B Avenue de la République
Tel: +33 (0)2 61 52 29 20
Open Jun 16-Sep 9: Daily 10.30am-6.30pm; Sep 10-Jun 15: Tues-Sun 10.30am-6.30pm
Admission free to main building. Exhibitions from €10 for adults
A Day at the Races
Horse racing in Deauville dates back to 1863 when horses and riders pounded along the beach on a temporary track. A year later, the Deauville-La-Touques racecourse was built and opened – as the locals will proudly tell you, before the church was built.
One of the most beautiful and leading flat racecourses in France, it attracts international trainers to its summer and winter seasons. It’s not for nothing that Deauville is twinned with Lexington, Kentucky. A day at the races is remarkably cheap, just a few euros in July and August and free for the rest of the year’s racing.
The second course at Deauville-Clairefontaine is just to the east of the town with racing in June, July, Autust and October. Race meetings take themes, perhaps ecology or the local region, with plenty of related events to keep the family entertained. And it offers three different kinds of racing: flat, trotting and steeplechasing. Like Deauville-La Touques, it’s just a few euros for entry.
Fast and Furious Polo – Up Close
Deauville has the oldest polo club in France and the club where the Argentinian teams want to win of all the European venues. Polo is a great sport – expensive to play but cheap to watch.
Polo has been played in Deauville since 1892. But it wasn’t until 1950 that the Gold Cup, which concludes the world championships, was established.
It’s a great sport to watch from the small charming pavilion which is conveniently a few hundred yards from the main racecourse. So you can enjoy an afternoon’s racing, then go over to the polo ground for the 5.30pm matches. It’s free during the week, 10 euros at weekends and 20 euros for the finals.
Or go down early to the beach to watch the players having fun on the sand.
Presqu’île de la Touques
Another recent development in town is squeezed between the two resorts. The new district of Presqu’île de la Touques is bordered by the river and the harbour full of sailing boats, accessed from Deauville via a pedestrian drawbridge with two striped belvedere towers at either end. For exceptional views across both towns stretching from the beach to the golf course, you can climb or take the lift to the top of one of the towers for a couple of euros.
Pierre et Vacances Apartments
The former industrial zone was once full of warehouses, and home to the grand Custom House. Now, French apartment company Pierre & Vacances have brought the old working neighbourhood to life by building new apartment buildings in the spirit of Deauville’s old architecture, and renovating the time-worn Custom House – Le Bâtiment des Douanes – into stylish apartments for two to eight people, perfect for groups of friends and family holidays.
All come with spacious dining areas and well-equipped kitchens – even including an oyster shucker! The premium residence of provides a free-to-use heated indoor and outdoor pool, sauna and steam room, and a cardio-training area. Optional extras include massages and treatments in the Algotherm spa, underground parking and a generous breakfast buffet of fresh and organic local produce.
Double/Twin from €150 per night.
Presqu’île de la Touques – Le Bâtiment des Douanes
27 Rue Thiers
Book direct: Tel: +33 (0)1 73 01 85 66
Pierre et Vacances Tel: 0870 0267
Getting to Deauville and Trouville
Brittany Ferries sails three times a day between Portsmouth and Caen with a choice of daytime and overnight departures. Fares start from £89 each way for a car plus 2, or from £39 each way for a foot passenger. For information: Brittany Ferries (brittany-ferries.co.uk, 0330 159 7000).
More on the Region
About guest writer, Fiona Quinn
Fiona Quinn is a francophile travel writer and editor. She’s lived in France on and off during the past 30 years, including as a student in Paris, ski saisonnaire in Savoie and Haute Savoie, and a home-owner in sunflower-filled Charente.
Check out her website.