Deauville, the trendy

Parasols on the beach in Deauville
Parasols on the beach in Deauville

Deauville, the trendiest seaside resort of Normandy, attracts celebrities from around the world.

It is located on the Côte Fleurie, the coastal region of Pays d’Auge.

A mere 2 hours from Paris by the A13-A132, Deauville has become a Parisian’s favourite weekend destination.

As a result, it has been nicknamed the ‘Paris’ 21th district’ and ‘Parisian Riviera’!

Secondary residences represent indeed about 70% of the resort!

Colourful beach parasols and cabins and the Promenade des Planches, a wooden walkway that runs along the long sandy beach, have become the resorts’ iconic images.

Les Planches de Deauville
Les Planches de Deauville

However, Deauville has not always been the luxury seaside resort it is today!

Ancient texts show that in 1060, the then small fishing village, belonged to one William the Conqueror’s lieutenants.

It had developed at the mouth of the river Touques and around the Eglise Saint-Laurent on Mont Casiny.

Its inhabitants were fishermen and farmers who grew crops (mostly sainfoin) in the lowlands near the swamps and quicksand areas along the Touques.

This primitive village had become the current Vieux Bourg.

Deauville and the sea bathing fashion

Deauville started to really developed during the 19th century, when sea bathing became a social phenomenon – at least for the affluent population.

The Duchess du Barry, the daughter of Charles X, indeed launched the trend in 1812, when she sojourned in the small fishing port of Dieppe on the Alabaster Coast.

A trendy resort

The new bourgeois class that had emerged after the Revolution, imitated her and flocked to the Normandy coast!

The aristocracy of the Second Empire followed in 1850, then a wealthy English and Belgians.

The neighbouring fishermen villages soon followed in the tracks of Deauville and transformed into seaside resorts.

Houlgate became the station of the industrialist bourgeoisie, while Cabourg attracted men of letters and theatre.

Honfleur attracted the Impressionists, who discovered the incomparable light of the seashores, while Villers-sur-mer, more understated, became the archetypal family seaside resort!

Trouville-sur-mer, located on the north bank of the Touques, developed into a world-famous seaside resort.

It, however, soon became too cramped and struggled to accommodate an ever-growing clientele.

This was when Deauville developed in order to absorb the many holidaymakers who couldn’t find a place in Trouville!

However, Deauville cleverly invented its own brand image, in order to differentiate itself from it rival!

It therefore became a luxury resort, a city of pleasure designed to attract world leaders, royalty, aristocracy and gentry.

Deauville indeed became ‘the queen of seaside resorts’ under the Second Empire!

Deauville, the birth of a luxury seaside resort

The swamps were drained and the dunes flattened in the 1860s.

A trendy resort

The new resort took shape between the Vieux Bourg on Mont Casiny and the sea.

Parisian investors, all regulars at the Court of Napoleon III, carried out the gigantic development work.

Deauville is laid out on a quadrilateral plane.

A seawall promenade, La Terrasse, was opened along the beach.

The main artery parallel to the sea, the Avenue Impériale, still traverses the resort center.

A first horse-racetrack was built at the foot of Mont Casiny, and a wide avenue perpendicular to the sea in order to access it.

Four districts

The resort consisted of four distinct zones.

1- The seashore was the upmarket residential area with luxury villas, a casino, hydrotherapy center and prestigious hotels.

Clairefontaine racecourse in Deauville
Clairefontaine racecourse

2- Merchants, house staff and building workers settled in the area located at the back of the casino.

3- The marina was developed at the mouth of the Touques and Deauville train station inaugurated in 1863.

Travelers could therefore come directly from Paris without transiting through Le Havre.

4- The fourth district grew around the hippodrome.

A bridge was built over the river Touques in order to connect Deauville to Trouville.

The luxury villas along the seashore had eclectic styles – Swiss cottages, Norman timbered houses or Arabic palaces –  and reflected their owners’ social status!

New infrastructures have today replaced many of these mansions, however quite a few are still standing.

One of the finest, Villa Strassburger, was built in 1907 near the racecourse and at the foot of Mont Casiny, for Baron Henri de Rothschild.

It was renamed after Ralph Beaver Strassburger who bought it in 1924.

Villa Strassburger in Deauville
Villa Strassburger

It was classified Historical Monument on October 29, 1975 and bequeathed to the town of Deauville in 1980.

Deauville is obviously also famous for its long sandy beach … but how many people know that it is artificial?

It creation is indeed linked to the pier built in the 1840s at the mouth of the Touques.

The pier allowed for the construction of the marina and for a landing stage for the travellers who initially arrived by boat from Le Havre train station.

However, it deflected the sea currents that pushed fine sand along the shore!

Deauville – Second Empire to WWI

The craze for Deauville, however, died out with the fall of the Second Empire in 1870.

The aristocracy, royal families and gentry deserted their luxurious villas.

This decline was amplified by a violent storm during the winter of 1874-1875.

Marina and casino of Deauville
Marina and casino

As a result, an underwater strip of pebbles formed some 300m away from La Terrasse promenade and isolated it from the sea by a swampy area of about 15 hectares.

This area was initially transformed into a lake traversed by a pier leading to the sea.

It was converted into green spaces and private gardens bordered by a new paved promenade.

The sea had receded!

Deauville lost its appeal and crowds moved back to Trouville.

However, the resort regained its attractiveness in the early 20th century.

A new casino was built and many villas demolished in order to built luxury hotels.

Then the Great War broke out.

Deauville was deserted, the men were on the front and the hotels were transformed into military hospitals.

Promenade des Planches

Deauville fully recovered during the Roaring Twenties.

Tables and Directors chairs - Les Planches de Deauville
Tables and Directors chairs – Les Planches de Deauville

People were indeed adamant to forget the horror of the war and the Tout-Paris gathered at the casino of Deauville.

A second racetrack was built in 1927 and La Promenades des Planches in 1923.

The long boardwalk, built from azobe wood, runs along the beach from the marina to the neighbouring city of Tourgeville.

It was named in order to compete with the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

Many international celebrities and personalities, including the Queen of England, strolled along it!

Each (permanent) beach hut that line it, was named after personalities who participated in the American Film Festival.

The trendy cafes with tables and film directors’ chairs that border Les Planches are obviously the place to stop by!

Deauville, today

Deauville was part of the Atlantic Wall during WWII; the Germans installed a battery on Mont Casiny.

Belgian troops, backed by the British, liberated the city on August, 24 1944.

Casino de Deauville
Casino de Deauville

The bridge connecting Deauville to Trouville was rebuilt and renamed Pont des Belges in their honour.

However, it took several years for Deauville to recover.

The relaunch of the casino and the foundation of the American Film Festival in 1960 played an important role in this revival.

The latter indeed attracts countless celebrities from all around the world every September.

Deauville is once more a luxurious seaside resort, a holiday destination for the well-off.

All the infrastructures are there: casino, villas, luxurious architecture, 2 hippodromes, tennis club, pony club, mini golf, kids club… and most fashion designers have a shop in town!

Deauville is all about luxury and trend!

Department of Calvados
Coordinates: Lat 49.353976 – Long 0.075122

Photos Wikimedia Commons: Parasols on BeachFilm directors chairs –Villa StrassburgerLes PlanchesTrendy resort – CasinoClairefontaine racecoursedowntownmarina and casino

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