Houlgate – seaside resort – Basse-Normandie

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Houlgate on the Côte Fleurie

Houlgate is one of the seaside resorts on the Côte Fleurie, the coastline of Pays d’Auge.

It is located on the northern bank of the mouth of the river Dives, opposite Cabourg.

It stretches in the valley of the tiny river Drochon.

Two hills, Butte de Caumont on the south bank and Butte de Houlgate on the north, frame this valley.

The land was once the property of one of William the Conqueror‘s comrades in arms.

It consisted of a village, Beuzeval, which had developed around the manor-house, and of a small fishing village.

Amazingly, this was from this tiny port that William and his troops embarked for Hastings in 1066!

The Manoir de Beuzeval was rebuilt in the 19th century and is classified Historical Monument.


The fashion of sea bathing spread like wild fire among the Parisian aristocracy and gentry, but also among the middle class.

Beuzeval was therefore turned in a small family seaside resort, in order to accommodate the first vacationers.

Most came from Caen and often stayed with a family in the ‘Hameau de la mer’, as they liked to call the tiny resort.

A wooden guesthouse on stilts was soon built in order to accommodate the increasing clientele.

It was then replaced by the ‘Pension de famille Imbert’, which in 1877 became the prestigious Hôtel Imbert.

This first wave of vacationers were Protestant and continued, over the decades, to sojourn on the south bank of the resort.

Beuzeval became known as Buzeval-les-Bains.

Butte de Houlgate

Birth of the seaside resort

In the late 1850s, the increasing number of holidaymakers encouraged a group of three investors to build a larger resort on the north bank of the Drochon.

This flat and extensive land was indeed more adequate for the development of a proper urban infrastructure.

A stone dike was erected along the seafront in order to protect the lavish villas and the newly built prestigious Grand Hôtel.

This new resort took shape at the foot of the Butte de Houlgate, hence its name!

Beuzeval-les-Bains on the south bank, and Houlgate on the north bank, were two distinct villages.

However, Houlgate railway station was inaugurated in 1882 in order to serve both villages.

The direct line, inaugurated two years later, allowed the Parisians to reach Houlgate in only 4 hours!

This easy access triggered the growth of the resort.

Therefore, by 1898 Houlgate had overtaken Beuzeval-les-Bains, and the two resorts merged in Beuzeval-Houlgate.

They became definitely known as Houlgate in 1905!

Despite the merging, the Protestant holidaymakers continued to sojourn on the south shore, and the Catholics on the north shore.

Les Vaches Noires

The Impressionists at Houlgate

The beach, the Falaises des Vaches Noires, Beuzeval and Houlgate became a large source of inspiration for landscapes Impressionist painters of the era.

Indeed, Paul Huet, Constant Troyon and Léon Riesener founded Le Cénacle, a study group that met at the Moulin Denise (inn).

Berthe Morisot, Edouard Manet’s sister-in-law, Edgar Degas and Gustave Caillebotte joined them in their discovery of the untamed beauty and incomparable light of this coastal area.

The Falaise des Vaches Noires unfolds between Houlgate and Villers-sur-Mer to the north.

It is now protected by the ministry of the environment and its access has been banned since 1995.

Le Grand Hotel de Houlgate

Houlgate and the Belle Epoque

The Belle Epoque was indubitably the golden age of Houlgate!

The resort was enlarged between 1870 and WWI with an architecture of quality.

Indeed, 230 villas were built on the seafront between 1880 and 1895!

The Grand Hôtel was enlarged, the casino rebuilt, and extensive new urban infrastructure put in place.

Houlgate was expanding and attracted celebrities and royals.

WWI obviously put an end to this expansion.

Sadly, the war over, Houlgate failed to recover the success it once enjoyed.

In 1928 the city council classified the Colline de Houlgate as ‘picturesque area’ and planted it with trees in order to prevent eventual landslides.

WWII brought its share of devastation; Houlgate was occupied in 1942 as it was part of the Atlantic Wall.

The Germans installed a battery on the Colline de Houlgate; by the end of the conflict the hill was no more than a pile of rubble.

It was replanted with horse-chestnuts, plane and ash trees.

Colonne de Guillaume

The Colonne de Guillaume was originally erected in 1861 on the Butte de Caumont on the spot where the troops of William the Conqueror encamped before embarking for Hastings in 1066.

It today stands on the beach.

This monolithic column is engraved with the following dedication:

Au souvenir – To the memory of
Du plus grand événement – The biggest event in the
Historique des Annales Normandes – History of Normandy
Le départ du Duc Guillaume Le Bâtard – The departure of the Duke William the Bastard
Pour la conquête de l’Angleterre – For the conquest of England
En 1066 – in 1066 Pendant un mois – For a month
La flotte du Duc Guillaume – The fleet of Duke William
Stationna dans le port de Dives et son armée – Stationed in the port of Dives and his army
Composée de cinquante mille hommes – Consisting of fifty thousand men
Campa dans le voisinage – Encamped in the neighborhood
Avant de mettre à la voile. – Prior to sailing.

Modern day resort

Houlgate is a renowned family seaside resort and a charming town that has retained its prestigious architectural heritage.

This includes the casino, 300 mansions and two grand hotels – the Hôtel Imbert on the south bank and the Grand Hôtel on the right bank, not to mention its Protestant Temple.

Department of Calvados
Coordinates: Lat 49.300913 – Long -0.075126
Photos Wikimedia Commons: header –  Falaise des Vaches NoiresButte de Houlgate

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