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Posts tagged ‘Trouville’

No. 315-316: Cute Little French Towns and Half-Timbered Houses

France is sprinkled with cute little French towns. Well actually it is more than sprinkled, I think “slathered” might be a bit more accurate. It seems like once you leave Paris, the cuteness-factor goes up by about 100. The French do an outstanding job of flowering their hamlets, and as I have mentioned before, compete for the designation of les Villes et Villages Fleuris (Towns and Villages in Bloom) and the title of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages in France). They are also quite keen to preserve and present the history of their centres-villes anciens.

 

In 2013 the Huffington Post published their list of France’s 10 most charming towns. So far I have only visited two of their top-10, which thankfully gives me plenty of undiscovered villages to look forward to in the coming years. Les Plus Beaux Villages Association also provides their annual list, which you can find here—this year there are 157.

While I can’t say that I have been anywhere close to 150 French villages, I have been to my own fair share of small enchanting towns, and every time I turn a corner on my bike or by foot, I find myself smack dab in the middle of another one. And, it just tickles me pink.

Lately the half-timbered houses that add to the image of these fairytale towns have especially charmed my socks off. As these split-lumber dwellings seem to be everywhere I turn, I decided to do a little bit of research and find out how they are built.

It appears that French examples of these houses-of-charm dates all the way back to the twelfth century. Although the country was blessed with an abundant supply of oak, it was still an expensive building material, so most could only afford to use it for framing. According to medieval historians the term “half-timbering” refers to the fact that the logs were halved, or a least cut down to a square inner section. The fact that they used oak so long ago is an added bonus for us; its durability explains why so many medieval half-timbered houses are still standing.

While in modern framed buildings we installed the walls on the outside and inside of the frame, in the ancient half-timbered houses the walls were filled in between the structural timbers. What were they filled with? Why, wattle-and-daub, of course. In case this term is new to you, as it was to me, it was a mixture of different lengths of branches woven together and covered by muddy clay or bricks and sometimes plaster. (The best translation I could find for wattle-and-daub was clayonnage et torchis en français—ça marche? Native French speakers aidez-moi!)

 

These days most of the surviving structures are extremely narrow and surprisingly tall, and packed together like sardines. This has to do with the taxing structure of the time where buildings were taxes on the amount of street front they took up. As time went on and living conditions improved, faux half-timbers were added as decorations to improve the facades of newer houses. The wobbly and slanting timbers and windows we see nowadays on the ancient buildings are not due to shoddy workmanship of the time, but simply victims of the passage of time and the expected buckling of aged wood.

So there you have it, a brief history lesson on the half-timbering that makes these little towns so darn adorable. C’est très charmant, n’est-ce pas?

No. 293: Un Homme et une Femme

The wide golden seashore in Deauville plays a leading role in Un Homme et une Femme, the 1966 French film by Claude Lelouch that won nearly 50 international awards (including the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film). It also led to decades of romantic road trips and rendezvous to this famous seaside town. While strolling along the storied boardwalk last evening, I came across this plaque, and was reminded that I needed to rewatch this classic romance with the impossibly gorgeous and very French Anouk Aimée.

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If you haven’t seen the film, I am sure your subconscious is familiar with the ba-da-ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-ba-da-ba song by Francis Lai and Pierre Barouh which nips in and out of scenes throughout the film.

If you have seen it, as most good Francophiles have, you will remember that much of the film is told wordlessly through either very dramatic action, or through hearing the characters’ thoughts as they talk themselves through life. Watching it again this morning, it was hard not to giggle and I still haven’t shaken the da-ba-da-ba-das from my brain. If you need to swoon and grin and want a groovy soundtrack to carry your day, take a look at this celebrated beach scene from the strands of romantic Deauville. Bonne séance!

 

 

 

No. 291: Boudin and Monet in Trouville

Mentor and student and life-long friends Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet captured holidaymakers and the extreme weather on the beaches of Trouville during the late 1800s. Monet honeymooned in the town with his beloved Camille and his snapshot paintings painted en plein air have grains of sand from the windswept beach mixed in.

No. 289-290: Deauville and Trouville

deauville.jpgWe are wrapping up our quick getaway to the “Normandy Riviera”. It has been a lovely sojourn to celebrate Button turning 18 and the visit of a very dear friend and her 4-year-old fille. While the weather has been cool and grey, we have had a few hours of bright sun showers and sandy beach excursions followed by ominous, Armageddon skies, massive rain fall, and mad dashes across the notoriously wide strand in search of temporary shelter.

deauville_beach3.jpgdeauville_beach2.jpgdeauville_beach4.jpgStill it has been well worth taking the quick (and inexpensive) hop to the fashionable seaside town of Deauville and the funky and family friendly beach town of Trouville. Separated by a tiny inlet that depending upon the hour and the tide, can be traversed by a wooden footpath or accessed exclusively by a water taxi, these sister cities are a perfect pair.

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Deauville is the glamorous sister frequented by film stars, polo and horse-racing enthusiasts and high-stakes gamblers, while Trouville is the hip, but retro sister—a working fishing port, eulogized by artists and writers. Both towns offer the visitor a chance to lose themselves in the days of la Belle Époque. A Woody Allen movie in the making, the seaside towns are bursting with over 600 buildings protected as historical monuments. The lovely half-timbered houses so common in Normandy are complimented by the grand Art Nouveau casinos and Baroque-style buildings.

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It is easy to imagine the Paris smart set roaring into town in the 1920s and strolling Deauville’s famous boardwalk, disrobing in the individual beach cabanas and sunbathing in their scandalous swim costumes under the expanse of multi-colored parasols. How I would love to go back in time and walk the wooden-planked promenade or sit among the deck-chairs and umbrellas and admire the spectacle.

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Coco before she was Chanel (as you may remember from the movie) came to Deauville with her lover in 1913 and was so taken with the possibilities for dressing the beach, yachting, polo and racecourse crowd, that she was inspired to design a line of easygoing and wearable vêtements which she would eventually sell at her famous boutique in town. These days, Deauville is still considered a sophisticated shopping destination and continues to be a chic town packed with haute couture boutiques and stylish diversions.

Trouville, as I mentioned, is the more laid back sister, less expensive and super groovy, frequented by families and colorful bands of primary students exuberantly enjoying their first day ever on the long swaths of soft golden sand. The maritime town radiates the energy of the daily life of fishermen and sports one of the most interesting fish markets I have come across in France.

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The connection to Trouville’s past can be seen in the many en plein air Impressionists painting inspired by sunbathers, dinghies, sailing boats and seascapes. Impressionist artist such as Boudin, Monet, Sisley and Pissarro flocked to Trouville (and Deauville) to capture the holidaymaking, harbor and stormy skies and Proust, Flaubert and Marguerite Duras all found inspiration in this fisherman’s village.

There are still plenty of artistic offerings in each town and I loved them both. If you are planning a trip to Paris and are the nostalgic sort fascinated by the Golden Age in France, I would highly recommend taking a detour to these sister cities.

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