Dieppe, home to the closest beach to Paris
It was France’s first ever seaside resort. It has a rich history dating back to the Vikings and can boast about having been the home of privateers and renowned ship-owners and about having been immortalized by the world’s best artists and writers . However, it also lays claim to having had an important yet unhappy role in the events of the Second World War. This enigmatic Normandy resort has managed to retain its mystery and simplicity. With the unobtrusive kind of tourism attracted by its secretly exquisite spots, surrounded by the sea and buffeted by winds, the top port in France for scallops really does offer more than just a breath of fresh air!
Dieppe, home of Vikings, pirates, princesses and World War II history
The history of Dieppe is closely linked with maritime history. Built on a mound of shingle at the mouth of the deep river that gave it its name (mentioned by the Vikings as far back as the 10th century), the town of Dieppe subsequently expanded over the tall cliffs that dominate the settlement. Destroyed several times up to the 18th century, its architectural heritage nevertheless retains many traces of the past, notably in the form of the 15th century castle that proudly towers above the town and beach and the remains of the fortified walls made from the sandstone and flint that is so typical of the region. Furthermore, its 14th and 16th century churches, the districts of little steep and twisting lanes overlooked by flint houses, and the manor houses and stately homes in the surrounding area all bear witness to a rich and abundant history that can be seen at every single glance as you take a cultural walk around the town.
In the 19th century – thanks to the enthusiasm of the Duchess of Berry – Dieppe became an extremely popular seaside resort. Accompanied by her courtiers, the Duchess started the trend for bathing in the sea, thus ushering in a century of holidays at the seaside. Dieppe became a haven for the aristocracy who, in their turn, were the patrons of numerous impressionist artists. Architecture was not neglected, either, with the construction during this time of the theater, casino, and even a bath house – directly on the beach! Thus, Dieppe opened itself up to the sea and became the most popular getaway for the people of Paris. An important port, a cosmopolitan holiday resort, frequented by artists, and on the Paris-London axis, Dieppe was at its zenith until 1914.
Dieppe has also been marked by war – particularly by the Second World War. Occupied in 1940, on August 19, 1942, Dieppe was the scene of an unsuccessful Anglo-Canadian raid that left more than 1000 dead. The town was liberated on September 1, 1944, but the scars can still be seen as you stroll along its promenades.
With this rich and extensive history, Dieppe holds a thousand treasures, all of which bear testament to its important culture: Culinary treasures, naturally, but also architectural and crafty, in the form of the town’s internationally renowned ivory work (the Castle Museum pays homage to this art).
We’ll be able to discover this priceless heritage together in our strolls through the old town, visits to monuments, rambles through the famous District of the Pollet – intimately linked with the life of the port – and in the Îlot de Sainte-Catherine sector.
Dieppe, hub of art
Pissarro said: “Dieppe is a wonderful place for a painter who likes life, movement, colors.”
The most renowned impressionist artists have come to savor the ambiance of Dieppe, their easels in tow. These “plein air” (open air) painters – Pissarro, Degas, Gauguin, Renoir, Boudin, Sisley, Monet, Sicker, Whisler and Blanche – wanted to take advantage of the nuances of the maritime sky, observe the changing effects of the light through the filter of the clouds, and study the reflections bouncing off the water. They chose the landscape of the Seine-Maritime and – in particular – that of Dieppe and its surrounding countryside for their aesthetic inspiration. A mixture of chalk formed from marine sediment and alternate layers of flint, the cliffs are the real living heritage of the Côte d’Albâtre, surrounding Dieppe with a backdrop of ever-present evolution. The colors and shadows change constantly depending on the light and tides. This is exactly what the artists came in search of.
Impressionist art would not be the same without this magnificent and distinctive light with changing blue and grayish-green hues as captured by the famous artists who have worked here.
Before this great wave started, the romantic painter Eugène Delacroix liked to come to Dieppe (1850). His time in Dieppe gave birth to a renowned work of art – “The Sea from the Heights of Dieppe”, exhibited at the Louvre.
More recently, other artists have based themselves close to Dieppe, such as Georges Braque. Braque had a passionate love affair with the Dieppe countryside. From 1927, he spent each summer in his own residence here in order to revitalize himself. Along with Picasso, who often visited him, he developed the basics of cubism here.
Dieppe is also a hub of writing. Numerous writers have enjoyed the Dieppe climate and drawn inspiration at the foot of the castle or from long walks along the pebble beach. Hector Malot, Marcel Proust, Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Chateaubriand and even Oscar Wilde spent time in Dieppe, and there are many references to their visits in their writings. Moreover, we shouldn’t forget to mention that Guy de Maupassant was born in one of the most delightful stately homes of the Dieppe region.
We will make our way through this intense history of pictorial and literary art in search of the many traces left behind in Dieppe by these grand masters.