A Luminous Lifestyle

  • © Pierre Jeanson

  • © Patrice Le Bris

  • © Patrice Le Bris

A Luminous Lifestyle

By Andrea del Rio 

Since 1860, Deauville has shone with its own light as the most sophisticated seaside resort in Normandy, so much so that during the Belle Époque, it gained international acclaim as “the Parisian arrondissement on the sea.” 

The air is saturated with salt-water particles, the murmur of the surf evokes a hypnotic mantra, and every hour boasts a postcard-worthy liquid luminosity. Deauville and the sea are indolent lovers. They are so sure of their eternal romance that they allow themselves small distractions throughout the year: polo championships, film festivals, horse races, gala dinners, highly competitive regattas–all stoking the flames of this love that is never rushed, yet never idle. 

Only 195 kilometers from the City of Light, this coastal village on the English Channel began at the impetus of Napoleon III’s half-brother, Charles Auguste Louis Joseph de Flahaut de La Billarderie, better known as the Duc de Morny. He was the first to sense that it was precisely there, where farmers and ranchers struggled arduously against the dunes and marshes, that a “kingdom of elegance” could be built. Deauville had all it needed–proximity to Paris, good weather, beaches, and vegetation–to become the oceanfront mecca of the elite of the Second French Empire. And so, in only four years, the Duc de Morny’s entrepreneurial spirit succeeded in securing a new railroad line that connected Deauville to Paris in only five hours. Gone were the flooded and uneven lands: Morny’s master plan included the creation of a resort town with all the services and amenities of the big cities of the era. Soon, hotels, casinos, a hippodrome and a yacht club were built. 

One hundred and fifty-two years later, Deauville remains faithful to the spirit of the bon vivants. Naturally, summertime is its moment of glory: 1,400 meters of fine sand; a meandering beachside promenade made of azobé wood, lined with umbrellas in primary colors and art deco wooden cabins named after the great stars of show business; a magnificent seaside Olympic swimming pool; a thalassotherapy (sea water hydrotherapy) center and spa; and even Pompeian baths, today a historic monument. What is more, every September, the American Film Festival is held there, an event that has earned Deauville the nickname “the Cannes of the North.” Created in 1975, it attracts leading ladies and gents of the film industry, who take part in screenings, dinners and parties that are evocative of the golden era, when the same very town was graced by the likes of Cocó Chanel, Errol Flynn, Colette and Elizabeth Taylor.

Deauville’s charm also stems from its architecture, typified by the emblematic hotels the Royal Barrière and the Normandy Barrière, as well as the legendary Casino Barrière, a neoclassical gem. The numerous boutiques, restaurants and gaming rooms housed within offer the perfect excuse for enjoying a stroll through their halls. Likewise, it is worth taking a moment to admire the surprisingly eclectic coastal mansions that survived the war and the occupation, proof that the pioneers summered just as they lived: like royalty. 

And lastly, it is impossible to forget about the horses–the lords and masters of Deauville. The hippodrome, polo fields and thoroughbred breeding and training centers found there have given Normandy not only its reputation as France’s preeminent horse country, they have also earned it the position of host of the 2014 World Equestrian Games.