On a cold blustery day in February 1848 the last King of France skulked along the quay in Trouville-sur-Mer, desperate to secure passage to England for himself and his family.
The winds were high and no sailor could be swayed by the many francs he offered them.
A kingly failure
He had arrived on the French throne in 1830 a popular man, famously unpretentious. On that hot August day they called him ‘Citizen King” and the “bourgeois monarch”. He had been Trouville’s kind of man.
Over the next 18 years Louis Philippe tried his best but by the time he abdicated, and ran away from Paris to save his skin, the rich were richer and the poor a lot poorer. France faced economic crisis.
Last views of a country loved and lost
How his heart must have ached to see the late winter sun shining on Trouville’s cheerful new villas climbing up the hill. Beneath them the seafront a cacophony of jostling sailing boats and market traders selling the day’s catch of shrimp, mackerel, scallops and sole. In the background a chatter of street cafes warmed by hot coffee and crepes could not temp the fugitive king.
Louis Philippe had shaved off his whiskers, thrown away his wig but thanks to a thousand angry etchings in the Paris papers, was soon recognised.
In fear for his life he hurried back to his hiding place, a little cottage belonging to a faithful palace gardener, just outside of Honfleur.
Louis Philippe’s last few gulps of French air were flavoured by fresh fish and the sea, in a Normandy port that was far too busy to take much notice. Trouville would not save him, an English steamer called ‘The Express’ docked the port of Le Havre and bound for Southampton did the job.
Trouville’s transformation from Viking port to fashionable spa was well underway by the time the last king left. It had taken nearly a thousand years for ‘Thorulfr’s ville’ to became Trouville but less than 20 for it to become a nineteenth century hot spot.
Blame the artists!
The change was quite startling and you can blame the artists for it. Charles Mozin can take a lot of the blame.
Age 19 but already a supremely talented artist, Charles was painting with friends around Honfleur when exploring west along the coast he discovered and fell in love with a tiny fishing village called Trouville; the softly lit clear waters, the drama of sailing boats against a quietly curving hill, a cluster of picturesque cottages… This was everything he dreamed of finding in Normandy. It was 1825.
Beautiful paintings bring more visitors
By 1827 he was exhibiting his first painting of Trouville in Paris. ‘Effect of snow at the edge of the sea’ was soon followed by ‘Trouville beach at night, low tide’ and ‘Moonlight, returned to port’… All very romantic and appealing.
The more adventurous took themselves north to see for themselves. They found a warm welcome and the tastiest, freshest sea food.
More lost, more solitary – but not for long
When Alexandre Dumas arrived in Le Havre, Normandy in 1830, wanting a quiet corner by the sea, the suggestions were Sainte Adresse and Trouville.
He had ‘heard that Trouville was even more isolated, more lost, more solitary than Sainte-Adresse’ ‘I opted for Trouville’.
Impressed, he was back the next year, proclaiming the little fishing village ‘the most picturesque in Normandy’ and joking that the language spoken by local fishermen was so impenetrable he could only communicate through mime…
Visitors and villas
Quickly the number of summer visitors grew. By the 1840’s Charles Mozin was painting new villas behind his fishing boats and the craze for Trouville had begun.
Health and happiness
The ‘discovery’ of Trouville coincided with a new fashion for health spas. A growing middle class, benefiting from the profits of new mass production, had money to spend and time to indulge their whims.
It was easy to convince them that a holiday by the sea would be good for their health. Sea water baths were recommended as the perfect rejuvenating tonic for the old and the cure for a multitude of ills. Claims included curing rabies, anaemia, depression, asthma… The list of benefits, and the spas, grew.
Sunny Trouville-sur-Mer cheerfully embraced the new trend, although by 1857 thought it necessary to regulate sea bathing, dividing the sands into areas for ladies, gents and between them an area ‘mixed’.
Gambling their cares away
It was only fair those health seekers should have some fun so a fine casino was installed at the end of the beach.
In 1844, the newspaper L’Illustration exclaimed ‘Nowhere is the beach as beautiful as Trouville, a velvet carpet strewn with gold glitter and silver’. Grains of sand that still glisten today in Monet’s painting ‘Beach at Trouville’, painted en plein air during the happy days of his first honeymoon in 1870.
Darn that Duke de Morny!
But Trouville’s place in high society had taken a big knock long before the Claude Monet and Camille lazed under it’s summer sky. In 1860 the swamp on the other side of the Touques river was drained and some canny investors led by the Duke de Morny built Deauville.
Deauville. Stylish, reassuringly expensive with luxury fun on hand in the form of a smart new racecourse, tempted the best chefs, shops and the very very rich away from Trouville-sur-Mer. All aided by a new railway line from Paris 1863.
The casino upgraded in 1861 when new town Deauville threatened Trouville’s popularity, attempting to win back the big hitters. An orchestra was employed to entertain the bathers on Trouville’s beach.
But of course the railway that carried the rich also carried a lot of other people looking for less extravagant seaside fun. They piled in to Trouville and still do.
Put to work in the Great War
As Trouville-sur-mer thrived the casino was rebuilt again in 1911, creating the magnificent shape we see today. Just in time for the first world war, when wounded from the front could find themselves waking up under its twinkling chandeliers as the building became a hospital for the duration.
Take me to Trouville!
Now as we drive along the winding road from Honfleur, Trouville is heralded by an army of exuberantly shaped villas, each vying to see over the next, to claim a view of the sea.
Down in the town a maze of streets reveal useful shops amongst the galleries and brocantes, all leading to a charming sea front.
Here fishing boats mingle happily with pleasure yachts. The sun shines on little café’s and a colourful market sells the latest fashions amongst the latest catch. Take me to Trouville!