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Spotlight on: Le Havre © Pixell Le Havre Tourist Office Janine Marsh discovers a city rich in architecture, history and art... Le Havre was a hugely popular seaside resort after the Paris to Le Havre railway line opened in 1847, bringing Parisians to the beach. But these days it’s famous for its huge port and for the extraordinary architecture of its rebuilt city. A purpose built city that was a blueprint for modern life Some people love the modernity of Le Havre (I’m one of them) and some don’t. But you can’t ignore it. It’s one of the few 20th century cities in the world to have received UNESCO heritage listing – and it is extraordinary. There’s nowhere else quite like it in France. people, many of whom were sheltering in US barracks. Belgium-born architect Auguste Perret, a teacher of Le Corbusier, was appointed to oversee the rebuild between 1946 and 1964. He was a man who simply loved reinforced concrete. For me, the layout and the concept of this new city reflects some of the dreams of Le Havre’s creator King Francis 1, who originally wanted to call it Francisopolis. He worked with genius Leonardo da Vinci on an urban planning project. Whilst not for Le Havre, he longed to create an “ideal city” and Da Vinci’s notes show that he included prefabricated houses, improved sanitation, streets that were easy to traverse. Le Havre was flattened at the end of the Second World War. Around 80 per cent of it had to be rebuilt rapidly to rehouse 80,000
In Le Havre, Perret delivered an ideal city almost 500 years after Le Havre’s creation in 1517. He built a city of concrete buildings, using it in different ways and instructing the project’s 100 architects to use concrete as their main medium. Many of the buildings have a somewhat Soviet air but with a hint of French flair – art deco sculpturing, balconies and French windows. The view from the 17-storey tower next to the Hôtel de Ville shows a city with straight, wide French boulevards, like Avenue Foch, known as the Champs-Elysées of Le Havre, but at 80m wide, it’s 10m wider than the Paris version. Perret’s Church of St Joseph, which from the outside is rather utilitarian looking despite it’s rocket like spire which can be seen for miles, is incredible inside. An astonishing mosaic of 12000 tiny stained glass windows in red, orange, gold and violet give it a warm feel. Seating is organised in a circle around the concrete altar. Perret died in 1954 before it was completed, and though a lifelong atheist, legend tells that he asked to be baptised here and wanted to be buried here (he was in fact buried in Paris according to his wife’s wishes). There are just two statues inside, from the original church. Over the years the city has continued to develop and just a few of the unmissable sites are: Les Bains des Docks aquatic centre designed by legendary architect Jean Nouvel, don’t miss a chance for a swim in one of its 12 pools when you go to Havre, it’s strikingly beautiful.
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