With its deep harbour protected by white cliffs, Dieppe has long been a favourite for cross-Channel visitors. As to daring Dieppe sailors, they explored the globe. Learn about the town’s maritime connections up at the cliff-top castle, down at the Cité de la Mer, and in a theatre dedicated to the tragic Allied Dieppe Raid of 1942. For sheer pleasure, head for the beach, quays and restaurants.
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Dieppe has a long and fascinating history of seafaring, known to go back to the Vikings. The port’s name reflects the fact that it offers deep waters. Fishing was always a vital trade here, and from the 15th century, this included long-distance cod-fishing off Newfoundland – links between Dieppe and Canada down the centuries have been particularly strong.
Many bold adventurers set out from the port to explore and trade in Africa as well as the Americas. In the 16th century, the Dieppe shipping magnate Jean Ango became a celebrated figure for his massive wealth, thanks to having a finger in many a pie. Commerce in spices and ivory thrived in particular. One of Dieppe’s most successful naval men, Abraham Duquesne, served Louis XIV ably, although he remained a Protestant in a strongly Catholic nation. Corsairs from Dieppe regularly harried the English navy. In 1694, a joint Anglo-Dutch fleet came and destroyed large parts of the historic port.
Early in the 19th century, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, Dieppe found a cheerful, more peaceful vocation, as France’s first-ever seaside resort. Following English fashions, Parisians took to holidaying by the sea at Dieppe, with the first purpose-built Etablissement des Bains (or sea-bathing establishment) in France set up here in 1822.
The resort became a magnet for the British too, including a bohemian artistic set who appreciated the more relaxed atmosphere this side of the Channel during the Belle Epoque. Artists from both sides of the Channel found inspiration here. Ferry links made Dieppe a much-appreciated first port of call for many British visitors.
During World War II, an Allied raid to test the strength of German defences around Dieppe ended in tragedy. Today, along with its pebble beach, Dieppe attracts the crowds with its port, seafood restaurants and many historic and cultural attractions, the last aspects recognised in its official classification as a French Ville d’Art et d’Histoire. The ferry service from Newhaven still draws many British visitors to Dieppe.
- The Port: Dieppe harbour, with its fishing port and marina, lies in the very heart of town. Trawlers and other fishing boats provide a colourful spectacle that still attracts numerous painters. Countless restaurants line up behind the quays.
- The beach and sea front: Dieppe has a long pebble beach stretching as far as the tall cliffs west of the harbour. Behind the beach, a broad expanse extending over a mile offers sports facilities, children’s play areas and lawns.
- Estran Cité de la Mer: on the front, this museum dedicated to the sea imparts interesting details on Dieppe’s maritime traditions, from shipbuilding to fishing. Local geology is also covered, while aquaria display fish and sea creatures from the Channel.
- Dieppe Château-Musée: Dieppe Castle stands in a spectacular position atop the cliffs west of the harbour, looking down on the town. It was largely built in the second half of the 15th century, after the English had been pushed out of France at the end of the Hundred Years War. The castle is now packed with collections recalling the great traditions of the port through time, including trading in spices and importing ivory, the latter intricately carved by expert craftsmen in town. The importance of the port to the Impressionists and other artists is covered via a charming array of works.
- Dieppe Mémorial 19 août 1942: a former Dieppe theatre has been transformed into a museum on the doomed Dieppe Raid of August 1942, when a joint British-Canadian attack on the German-defended coast here ended in catastrophe for the Allies. Learn about the plan, codenamed Operation Jubilee, and how lessons were learnt from its failure for the preparation of D-Day and Operation Overlord in Normandy some two years later.
- Saint-Jacques Church: this grand medieval pilgrimage church is dedicated to Saint James of Compostela. It includes many magnificent Gothic features inside and out, including a fine rose window and a 130 ft tower added in the 15th century.
- Saint-Rémy Church: this major church was constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries, while its central spire dates from the 18th century. Inside, the fine wood panelling in the choir, the organ case and the Renaissance decoration in the treasury are all worth the visit.
- La Place du Puits Salé: this square with its well stands out in the heart of the old town. Its name, meaning ‘Square of the Salted Well’, indicates how, in olden days, as the tide rose, sea water mixed with the well’s water. On the Square, the Café des Tribunaux, occupying an 18th century Norman building, has historic links to many famous visitors to Dieppe.
- Les Tourelles Gate: this is the only surviving gate from the medieval town ramparts. It was used as a prison during the French Revolution, and is now a private residence.
- Quartier du Pollet: located on the eastern side of the harbour, this was the traditional fishermen’s quarter of town and it preserves many fishermen’s homes built in typical bands of flint and stone.
- Chapelle Notre-Dame de Bonsecours: perched above the eastern side of the harbour, this prominent 19th century church was built for mariners and holds many touching ex votos left by sailors given thanks for returning home safely from difficult times at sea.
- Sailing and boating: Dieppe offers plenty of sailing and other water sports. Several Dieppe boats offer outings on the sea. Check out the possibilities via the Dieppe Tourist Office.
- Golf de Dieppe-Pourville: set beside dramatic cliffs between Dieppe and the neighbouring resort of Pourville to the west, this golf course was founded late in the 19th century and benefits from fabulous sea views. It was originally designed by specialist architect Willie Park Junior, attached to the Royal and Ancient in St Andrews, Scotland.
- Avenue Verte London – Paris: keen cyclists note that Dieppe is the arrival point for those following the major cycle route of the Avenue Verte London-Paris, linking the two great capital cities.
- Château de Miromesnil: birthplace of the writer Guy de Maupassant, whose stories of life and characters in 19th century Normandy are classics.