From Paris to Deauville: the ideal daytrip
You might wonder why you would want to venture any further than Versailles, on a daytrip from Paris?
It depends, of course, when you’re over and for how long, but if you’ve got a few days ahead of you, you’d be wrong to pass up the opportunity to make a break for the Norman coastline.
Deauville is just a couple of hours by train from the French capital, with its neighbour Trouville it is often referred to as ‘the Parisian riviera’.
Before we delve into the fascinating history of the Parisians’ plage préférée, let us turn to the practicalities.
Trains depart from Gare Saint Lazare. The station is easy to reach, situated right in the centre of Paris in the 8th arrondissement. It is has direct metro connections with lines three, twelve, thirteen and fourteen.
Trains, as one might imagine, are a little more regular in high season. However even now in February, I managed to find direct trains from Paris to Deauville, and for my return journey.
The latest departure time returning on a direct train to Paris tends to be a little after 8pm. Useful and up to date information is available on the SNCF application, which is also available in English.
If you’re flexible regarding timings, trains can be as little as 18€ one-way, without a discount card.
Arriving into the station Trouville-Deauville, you’ll have a fifteen minute walk. This is less than scenic for the first part along the roadside before arriving into town.
It is a fairly well indicated route and you can ask for help at the station on arrival.
Perhaps like many French holidaymakers you feel more comfortable in your own car, or enjoy the road trip aspect of a rental?
The first time I ever visited this region it was the beaches of Honfleur and Trouville by car.
Admittedly one way the trip took the best part of three hours, but it was enjoyable all the same and I don’t remember parking being too much of an issue despite us visiting in high season.
As the Crow flies
The fastest way to reach Deauville is by helicopter, flying into Deauville airport, which welcomes private planes and helicopters.
You would fly from Issy-les-Moulineaux heliport, who can arrange bespoke transfers to Deauville.
Price on demand via Helifirst: https://www.helifirst.fr/destination-deauville/
Not for the fainthearted
It would take 11 hours and 19 minutes to cycle to Deauville, this might preclude a daytrip, and require a strict training regimen.
That said once in Normandy it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your bike and be able to enjoy the freedom and views offered by the Norman coastline.
The train staff are usually relatively relaxed about passengers boarding with bikes.
Now the time has come delve into Deauville and her glamorous past.
In 1858 it was impossible to imagine that this small Norman fishing village would transform into an internationally famous seaside resort.
Deauville was discovered when the Duc de Morny, Napoleon’s illegitimate brother, looked across the bay from Trouville at an expanse of open sands. It was then that inspiration dawned on him – he’d turn it into an exclusive enclave for the 19th century ‘it crowd’.
They built villas, a racecourse and train connections to Paris.
The mayor and the man behind the well-known restaurant Maxim’s Paris furthered their efforts, building the casino in 1920, the Normandy barrière hotel with its striking beams in 1912 and the Royal in 1913.
The roaring twenties was a magnificent episode for Deauville. Coco Chanel opened her boutique, artists and writers flocked to the town by the sea and a second racecourse was constructed in 1928
However it was only after the Second World War that Deauville made the change from being a beloved bijou for French society to a truly international treasure.
It was the burgeoning film industry that gave the town her lucky break: Claude Lelouch’s film “Un Homme et une Femme” scooped up the Palme d’Or at Cannes festival in 1966 and two Oscars.
Deauville’s history is so closely interlaced with the romantic history of the seventh Art that cinema deserves special status here.
1975 saw the first American Film Festival; Its very incarnation testifies to Deauville’s newly won place on the international stage
If you want to try coinciding your visit with the festival in early September, when Hollywood’s glitterati descend on Deauville, the 2019 edition will run from the 6th-15th September.
There is something magical about the boardwalk lit up by these international stars leaving their mark.
None are allowed their name on a cabin if they do not attend the festival to accept their accolades in person.
Incredibly Deauville isn’t the only town in this region to host a large acclaimed festival.
Just 30 minutes down the road in the heartlands of Normandy is nearby Cabourg.
The town first brush with fame was when it was immortalized in Marcel Proust’s novels, famously the series ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’.
Cabourg goes under the guise of ‘Balbec’ in his novels that chronicle life there during its Belle époque heyday.
The Proust connection has remained strong. In fact the first prize of the festival is aptly named the “Swann d’Or’, a knowing reference to Proust’s novel ‘Du Côté de chez Swann’.
The Cabourg Film Festival is a French affair. Founded by the writer and journalist Gonsague Saint Bris in 1983, the event is scheduled over five days in June. The festival focuses on films in the romantic genre. It’s a wonderful last summer fixture in the calendar before ‘le grand départ’ for extended summer holidays begins in July.
Business, Tourism and Culture
But we shouldn’t stick exclusively to Cinema. This would do an awful disservice to a town with a well-rounded offer.
As mentioned, horseracing was one of the original ‘raisons d’être’ for Deauville, and still today they are equipped with a busy season.
The resort is also well adapted to Yachting and regattas. Deauville is twinned with Cowes on the Isle of White!
Tennis, golf tournaments and vintage car rallies also take place here.
Even international politics gets a look in at this versatile and thriving resort: In May 2011 Deauville was the venue of the 37th G8 summit.
Here are the G8 leaders walking to their first working session of the Deauville summit. President Barroso from the European Commission, President Obama, President Sarkozy, Canadian Prime Minister Harper, Japanese Prime Minister Kan, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Cameron.
Whilst leaders of the richest countries in the free world debated pressing issues such as the Fukushima nuclear accident, the European sovereign debt crisis and the conflict in Libya; the mayor of Deauville proclaimed he was chiefly interested in the “economic implications” of the summit for his town.
On a smaller scale, many other business conferences, seminars and team building events are organised here.
Every time I visit, I notice the large marquee between the casino and the beachfront hosting hoards of suited-and-booted corporate types with badges. Taking a closer look at the hotel group’s website, we can gauge that these type of events make up for a good part of their profit margin.
Deauville boasts a bevy of half-timbered Norman buildings. The beams with their aged wood give the town a traditional look. Yet it is evident, in many cases, that a fresh lick of paint has been applied just a year or so back to keep them looking their best.
A prime example of the architecture is the town hall, and its impressive, manicured flower beds.
The hotel ‘Normandy de barrièrre also shares in this typical architecture, with its vaulted roofs and a bell tower.
The inside courtyard is a beautiful oasis of calm, looking out towards the beachfront, across the sandy expanses. You might choose to enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea in this little sun-trap.
The hotel staff are charming and accommodating. There are pastel coloured bikes available for guests.
Part of the foyer area and bar are decorated with black and white photographs of silver screen stars from bygone eras, whom they’ve had the pleasure to host.
The legendary villa Strassburger is an impressive historic house, which is open to the public. Guided visits are offered from June through to September.
It was Baron Henri de Rothschild who imagined it and chose its location, to be near the racecourse. The architect Georges Pichereau designed and imagined its turn-of-the-century style.
But the house was really shaped by the Strassburger family. Ralph Beaver Strassburger, an American millionaire and racehorse breeder, acquired the villa in 1924. He lived there with his family every racing season. The Strassburgers gave the house its name, and then dedicated their inheritance to the town of Deauville in 1980.
Walking around the house today, one can almost imagine that it has been frozen in time and is easily transported back to the glory days of its glamorous past. Nothing has been touched or modernised in this curated masterpiece and historic monument.
The Boardwalk and those famous parasols
The Boardwalk is iconic and unique to Deauville in a way that the ‘Promenade des Anglais’ is to Nice. It is strongly symbolic and the associations go far beyond the slates of wood that line your elevated path next to the sand.
Stretching along the length of the beach, the boardwalk becomes a sort of ‘de facto’ catwalk: Somewhere to see and be seen.
And this was in fact the original intention when it was erected in 1923, so that ladies could parade down the ‘Promenade des planches’ without kicking up sand into their skirts and spoiling their elegant attire.
In low season locals alike enjoy this unique path along the beach. Making the most of it for a sunset stroll with their spouse or dog.
Go ahead and Google Deauville. I can guarantee that one of the first photos to pop up will be those famous coloured parasols lining the beachfront.
Tied up with their neat origami folds or popped up in all their glory providing shade, they put on a great show.
As early as 1875 Deauville has planted parasols along the beachfront. Through the years the styles have changes. In the 1930’s they were stripey!
Successive criteria were added from the post war years onwards, covering specific colours and knotting styles
Since the 1960’s the family run business Dolley, based in Touques (Calvados) are the only suppliers of the famous parasols – a tradition which has been passed down from father to son.
The good news is, these iconic parasols are for hire at ‘L’etablissement des bain de mer’, situated on the beachfront, from €14 per parasol.
The level of luxury and the feeling of wealth that one experiences in Deauville is rarely seen in France; outside the most expensive Paris neighbourhoods and the rich regions in the South-East – La Côte d’Azur with its yachts and sunshine..
But here Deauville has broken all the rules, attracting the international glitterati and well-heeled Parisians out to the Norman coast.
Louis Vuitton’s boutique in Deauville is a stand-alone chocolate box of a chalet.
The experience is incredibly luxurious and compares favourably with the brand’s Parisian stores, which are typically on high streets with the usual hustle and bustle of the capital.
When I visited on a weekday with clients they asked me if I had privatized the store.
Not to play favourites, other designers resident in Deauville include: Hermès, Cartier, Sonia Rykiel and Dior.
The famous French department store Printemps also has an outpost in Deauville. This little sister store, much like their Parisian flagship, houses brands that are chic but more affordable compared to other boutiques around the Place de Casino area.
Walking down the main high street coming from the train station, you’ll see a host of shops. My recommendation is to head down directly to the boardwalk and then give yourself time to trawl treasures on your way back, arriving a little in advance for a final coffee break on a terrace near the station.
And there you have it, a day in Deauville. It really is the ideal day trip from Paris if you’re looking for sea air, glamour and History on the Norman coast!