This swish resort vaunts broad sands, a wide promenade and genteel airs. Such elements seduced the famed French novelist Marcel Proust. He enjoyed staying at the majestic Grand Hôtel, from where, still today, you can contemplate Cabourg’s multiple modern seaside pleasures.
Cabourg is a chic seaside resort, created from nothing in the middle of the 19th century and lies not far east of Caen and the D-Day landing beaches, at the mouth of the dives River. Cabourg is also romantic. Its glorious sands stretch over two and a half miles and are ideal for all manner of beach sports. A wonderful broad pedestrian promenade runs along above the beach. The resort has preserved a good many of its smart Belle Epoque villas, imparting an elegant feel, plus its period casino, but all are outdone by the palatial, central Grand Hôtel, where Proust used to holiday regularly before World War I. Cabourg provided much inspiration for the fictional seaside resort of Balbec in Proust’s masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time. Nowadays, the town hosts an annual Romantic Film Festival. In addition, the casino and art galleries are popular, as is the sea-water treatment, or thalassotherapy, centre. Horse-racing is also on the cards here, thanks to a smart racecourse.
dives-sur-Mer and connections with William the Conqueror: a bridge takes you east across the dives River to the railway station for Cabourg and the historic port of dives-sur-Mer. It was at dives that William the Conqueror waited several weeks for favourable tides to set off with his armada on his conquest of England in 1066. Visitors today linger at the yachting marina (named Port-Guillaume after William), at the charming Place de la République, with its stunning timber-frame 15th-century covered market, centrepiece of the Saturday market and at the Village Guillaume le Conquérant, with craftspeople rather than warriors waiting to greet you. As to dives’s charming Gothic church, it contains a 19th-century plaque listing nearly 500 of William the Conqueror’s companions in arms who aided him in his invasion of England. You can also spot reproductions of scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry dotted around town.
- Grand Hotel: not simply a hotel, but also an iconic French Belle Epoque building. Its grandeur attracted celebrated visitors, most famous of whom was the great chronicler of his era, the brilliant novelist Marcel Proust (1871-1922), who stayed here regularly from 1907 to 1914. During World War II, German forces occupied the hotel. However, its fortunes revived and now tourists flock to the Grand Hôtel, not just to stay, but also to take tea and madeleines, a simple French pleasure that Proust typically turned into a near-magical act that could open the floodgates of memory and the past.
- Casino: this stylish Belle Epoque casino beside the Grand Hôtel also has a long-established reputation as a music venue. It has attracted many leading French singers since it was run by Bruno Coquatrix, manager of Paris’s leading music hall, L’Olympia, from the mid-1950s. Aznavour and Piaf were among stars who performed here. Since the casino’s make-over in 2007, music is high on the agenda again.
- Hippodrome de Cabourg: Cabourg racecourse puts on horse races year-round. In summer, the floodlit trotting events have a special atmosphere.
- Art galleries: as well as exploring the private art galleries dotted around town, the Espace Bruno Coquatrix in the Villa Bon Abri is run by the town as a centre for changing exhibitions.
- Etablissement des Bains: run by the tourist office in summer, set below the Grand Hôtel, head to the Etablissement des Bains to hire you traditional striped bathing cabin, parasols and sun loungers.