The twin beach
AFTER a week’s exciting holiday in Paris, we thought we could round it up with a couple of days of sea air. A friend suggested Deauville-Trouville, the twin beach resorts. This involved only a two-hour train ride to the Normandy coast.
So we went to Gare St-Lazare. This Paris railway station with its imposing architecture is efficient and orderly. And — like other French trains — we found ours clean and comfortable, fast and punctual. The undulating countryside with all those shades of green presented a pleasing sight.
The SNCF station of Trouville-Deauville is common to the two towns. As you come out, to your right is Trouville. You just have to cross the bridge spanning the River Touques, a small river that separates the two towns and joins the sea a mile below the bridge.
Trouville retains at
least some semblance of a real town, with a constant population and
business other than tourism. Yet, primarily it has been a beach resort
since Napoleon III started bringing his court here for the summer in
the 1860s (his empress, Eugene fled France from here in 1870 in the
yacht of an English admirer).
One of the Emperor’s dukes looking across the river, saw not marshlands but money, in the form of a racecourse. His dream materialised. Villas appeared between the racecourse and the beach to become Deauville. Now you can lose money on horses, cross five streets to lose money in the Casino. And finally lose yourself to sports (horse riding, buggy riding on the beach, sailing, fishing, golfing) and "cure" facilities and private bathing huts.
Both towns have extensive boardwalks, with the beaches kept meticulously clean. Deauville’s 500 metre broad beach is longer and far more impressive. It has the backup of hundreds of elegant changing rooms (each named after a film celebrity). The seafront is lined with deck chairs, bars, and striped cabanas — the place for celebrity spotting.
You can hire a beach canopy that sports a small changing tent. In season, parasols sprout so thick they almost obscure the sea. And sunbathers stretched across acres of sand — women mostly sunbathing topless.
Both towns boast of a casino each; the Deauville one is much grander, one of the smartest, gilt-edge casinos in Europe. Both levy an entry fee of 70 franc and you need your passport. The Deauville casino also insists on formal attire. Winston Churchill spent the summer of 1906 gambling there every night till 5 in the morning. Both towns have a street named after him.
Deauville and Trouville have distinctly different atmospheres, but it’s easy (and common) to shuttle between them. As an economy measure, we booked our stay in a Trouville hotel, though we did end up spending most of our waking hours in Deauville.
Deauville is a chic watering hole for the affluent French and the wealthy from afar, attracted by its racecourse, casino, marina, regattas, palatial hotels and gardens, and, of course, the fabled sandy beach. There are umpteen designer boutiques, top-class restaurants and high-priced hotels; the famous ones being Normandy (with an underground passage to the casino), Royal, and Beach Hotel.
Trouville is now considered an overflow town for its more prestigious neighbour. Yet it remains a popular family resort for many Frenchmen. In fact we have happy memories of it; walking its narrow streets and enjoying excellent breakfasts in small cafes — filled with the aroma of strong coffee and offering fresh croissants straight from some nearby bakery.