weekend away - Rouen
Written by Gillian Thornton
A firm favourite with the Impressionist painters, Rouen offers rich history and heritage alongside modern museums and a vibrant maritime scene, all in one easy-to-explore package.
Rouen lies 120km from Le Havre along the flamboyant meanders of the Seine, and just an hour and a half from Paris. And yet the regional capital of Upper Normandy is still an important river port, which proudly celebrates its maritime heritage.
Impressionist painters flocked here in the 1870s, attracted by the city’s historic buildings and atmosphere surrounding the river, the quality of light, and the surrounding landscape of lush pastures and fragrant orchards. Claude Monet, who lived at nearby Giverny, painted the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral no less than 300 times. Today, many of Monet’s works are housed in the Fine Arts Museum, along with paintings by Sisley, Delacroix and Géricault. Culture lovers can also enjoy museums dedicated to ceramics, antiquities, and the story of the river and port.
Easily explored on foot, Rouen’s historic centre packs a dramatic architectural punch, with its half-timbered medieval houses and imposing Renaissance buildings. It’s not only the Cathedral, but also Saint Ouen Abbey with its soaring roof and stunning stained glass; the Normandy Parliament, largest civil Gothic building in France; and the Great Clock, poised high above the shops and cafés of France’s very first pedestrian street. An impressive modern church now stands in the marketplace where national hero Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake in 1431.
Rouen is renowned as the arts and crafts capital of Normandy, home to the second largest ‘village’ of antique dealers in France. It also has a thriving cultural scene, hosting many high profile events. From April 27 to September 29, 2013, the city will be a key venue in the second Normandy Impressionist Festival, and from June 6–16, 2013, international tall ships will assemble along 7km of quayside for the sixth Rouen Armada, held every five years.
Where to stay
Stay at the Hôtel De Bourgtheroulde, a 5-star boutique hotel with 78 rooms, spa, and indoor swimming pool in a 16th-century heritage building. Privilege Rooms offer great views over the old quarter, whilst Junior Suites each have that added historic something.
Explore on foot with an audio guide from the Tourist Office or travel around on two wheels by picking up one of 250 city bikes available from 20 stations across the city.
On fine days, relax amongst the flowers, lakes, and aviaries of the 8.5 hectare Botanic Gardens on the south bank of the Seine or take a river cruise with commentary to see scenes painted by Impressionists.