Dieppe, a seaside resort with a long history

Dieppe and côte d'Albatre © T.Joly
A seaside resort that will soon turn 200 years old, Dieppe has a huge pebble beach framed by impressive cliffs. Marina and fishing ports, castle, museum as well as manor houses and botanical gardens make it a destination worth visiting all year round.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
200 km from Paris on autoroutes A13 and A139 till Rouen, then on N338 and autoroute A151 till Dieppe.
- By train
Intercités from Paris Saint Lazare to Rouen, then TER from Rouen to Dieppe. The journey takes 2 hours and 10 mn.
- Hotels
Grand hôtel du Casino
Mercure La Présidence
Hôtel de la Plage
Hôtel Windsor
- Bed and Breakfast
La Villa Castel
Les Petites Suites
Les Voiles d’Or
Le Trèfle
Bistrot du Pollet
La Présidence
What to do
- Wine bar Vin en Scène
12 rue de Clieu, 76200 Dieppe
Ph : 0235828128
- Centre Aquatique et Spa
Les Bains
101 boulevard de Verdun, 76200 Dieppe
Ph : 0235828090
- Cercle de Voile de Dieppe
Quai du Carénage, 76200 Dieppe
Ph : 0235843299
- Château – Musée de Dieppe
Rue de Chastes, 76200 Dieppe
Ph : 0235066199
- Dieppe Tourist Office
Ph : 0232144060
If you ask people around you what is the oldest seaside resort in France there is little chance that someone gives you the correct answer that is Dieppe. Nowadays this town of Normandy is indeed better known to the general public as a fishing port, for its ferry service to England or as the place of the 1942 failed landing of Canadian and British troops.
However, it boats a vast 1.6 km long pebble beach where, in 1824, Duchess of Berry launched sea-bathing fashion in France.

Shipowner mansion © T.Joly
 Popular with English and French vacationers
Then, she came every summer until 1829 and, following her example, aristocrats and wealthy Parisians flocked to Dieppe where large hotels, casinos, ballrooms and theatres popped up all over town. A trend strengthened by the creation of a railway line connecting it to Paris in 1847 while a sea link served London in 8 hours. The town thus welcomed illustrious guests. King Louis Philippe, Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, Winston Churchill who, according to some reports, might have met his wife while vacationing here and various artists such as Pissaro.
But during the twentieth century Dieppe has been a bit overshadowed by seaside resorts with sandy beaches, most popular with tourists who like basking in the sun for hours. However, pebbles are hardly a disadvantage for those coming primarily to swim and the steep white chalk cliff overlooking it provides Dieppe’s beach with a special charm and a scenery enchanting ramblers.

Marina © T.Joly
 Sea outings
It also boasts a major asset, it is the closest and most rapidly accessible one from Paris both by train and by car. On first beautiful spring days , large numbers of Parisians come there, especially as the city has many other things to offer. First of all, a pretty marina whose quays are dotted with restaurants and mansions once built for the wealthy ship-owners. If you feel like it, you can embark for a sea outing to get a different view of the town and admire the Côte d’Albâtre, nickname given to this stretch of coast because of its white cliffs. Either by motorboat or by sailing boat for through the Cercle de Voile de Dieppe where families and groups of friends can hire a skippered sailboat for a half-day or a day.
As for the gourmets, they come across their dream on the small market held each morning on the fishing port where sailors sell fish and seafood they just caught.

Fishing harbour © T.Joly
 Hundreds of kites
The town is famous for the quality of its herrings and scallops, two sea products celebrated every third weekend of November with a fair during which you can enjoy them in every form and attend various events such as brass band and brotherhood parades. Another not to be missed event is the International Kite Festival taking place every other year in September. It is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world and hundreds of kites then fill the air for more than a week. If you prefer a more relaxing stay, an aquatic centre with a spa offers a wide range of wellness cares. Located on the waterfront, it boasts an outdoor heated seawater swimming pool from where you get a great view of the cliffs and the mighty castle overlooking the town.

Castle © T.Joly
 Castle and museum
Built in the 15th and 16th centuries, it is now a museum containing works of art and objects related to the history of Dieppe. Its highlight is one of the Europe’s largest collections of ivory objects. Prior trade ban of this material, the town was indeed home to worldwide famous craftsmen specialized in ivory carving. Make sure you also see the two great models of tall ships dating from the nineteenth century as well as the Renaissance marine charts and portolans, a reminder of the time when many navigators sailed off Dieppe to explore the world. Let us mention the brothers Jean and Raoul Parmentier, first Frenchmen to pass the Cape of Good Hope, who discovered Sumatra in 1529, and Giovanni Verrazano, a Florentine sailor in the service of Francis I, who in 1524 was the first European to explore the Bay of New York which he named New Angouleme.

Beach and waterfront © T.Joly
 Vast waterfront
Even if you do not plan to visit it, go up to the castle and you will be rewarded with the best view of Dieppe and its beach which extends from its feet to the mouth of the Arcques river where the Vikings founded the town in the 10th century, naming it Deep in reference to the depth of its anchorage.
Main event of the 20th century, the August 1942 attempted landing is reminded with a small museum and several monuments dotted along the waterfront that pay tribute to the units that set foot on the beach and the 1 197 allied soldiers who were killed there. Most were Canadians who rest in peace in a military cemetery located on the outskirts of town, in the Vertus hamlet. Although it planned this military operation, the English general staff did not send many of its own men in this risky attack. Once there, you will certainly realize that it was indeed a very risky and even foolish attempt, given the distance between the beach and the first houses where the Germans were entrenched.

Ango manor © T.Joly
 Renaissance manor
Very broad, almost completely free of any construction, covered by lawns, the waterfront looks like that since the late seventeenth century, when the city was rebuilt after being destroyed by a joint Anglo-Dutch fleet. The two countries wanted to take revenge on corsairs from Dieppe who were very active for several centuries. Their greatest feat was in 1522 capturing of the Spanish galleon bringing back from Mexico the treasure of the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc. A catch made by Jean Fleury, captain of the ship-owner Jehan Ango who then treated himself to build a superb mansion a few km from Dieppe, in Varengeville. Still visible, it is a Renaissance building unique in its kind because it is made of sandstone and flint. It also comprises the largest dovecote in Normandy, an impressive construction that could accommodate 3,200 pigeons.

Varengeville cemetery © T.Joly
 Marine cemetery overlooking the coast
A not to be missed visit, but there are also other reasons to include this village in your program when staying in Dieppe. First, its marine cemetery overlooking the sea that offers a beautiful view of the coast, where the painter Georges Braque rests in peace. Having fallen in love with the region, he spent half of his time there from 1929 to his death in 1963. The nearby church keeps a stained glass window he made. Varengeville also boasts the only sandy beach in this part of Normandy and two remarkable gardens. One, the Shamrock, houses one of the world's largest collections of hydrangeas with species from Asia and America. The other, the Bois des Moutiers, which extends around an "Art & Craft" style English house built in the late nineteenth century, contains a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers such as rhododendrons, magnolias, Chilean eucryphias, azaleas, Atlas cedars and maple trees from Japan.

August 09, 2019
Thierry Joly