La Havre – the name itself means “harbor” or “port” and if that is any indication to to the importance of this city, you’ll understand that its a gateway to much of France including Paris. WWII aficionados will appreciate the history of this city. Although most of the town has been re-built after being completely destroyed during WWII, you can still find a couple of treasures that survived the bombings and occupation.
I decided to explore the town by foot, so as not to miss anything and to get up close and personal with this city on the Northern coast of France.
Founded by King Francis I of France in 1517, Le Havre became a major port of France due to its proximity to the coast. This location would also be important during major battles in WWII as the Germans captured it in 1940, and liberated by the allies on September 12, 1944 after being almost completely destroyed.
Walking into town from the cruise port, I cross a good sized bridge which leads to a large open square. I notice that the architecture seems a but more modern. This is due to the fact that Le Havre was rebuilt after WWII. This particular square was designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and features a large, unsightly building known as the yogurt pot, or Le Volcan, the Volcano. It serves as a theater and meeting spot for locals. This large square is nestled next to a beautiful open green space lined with flowers and flags. I discover this to be the square housing Hotel De Ville, featuring many WWII monuments.
Moving on and venturing into the town centre, French charm becomes a bit more evident as the buildings and streets meander and twist their way around until I happen upon an old church. The Church of St Vincent de Paul was built between 1849 and 1860 and for the most part survived the bombing of the war. The church is a nice contrast to the rather bleak, brick buildings of the neighborhood and I keep walking, searching for more interesting relics.
As I wander around with no particular plan, the town which has swallowed me finally spits me out at the seaside. As I make my way toward the shore, I see that it is lined with a beautiful promenade featuring walking trails and green space. As I get to the beach, I notice something very peculiar. The beach is made up of almost entirely stones and rocks!?! As far as I could see, nothing but rocks. This was very interesting, however, I didn’t stay too long on the beach because it was a rather cold and windy afternoon.
I decided to head back toward the cruise port, back through the town, along the shoreline and into the city centre until I found myself at the most magnificent site in Le Havre. The Le Havre Cathedral, which was built in the 16th century. Thankfully, this church is still standing after the WWII destruction of Le Havre. One of the very few structures to remain standing. The bell tower is dated to about 1520! You can admire this more when you know that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.