It has in many ways been Southampton’s true rival for over half a millennium.

The city of Le Havre was founded to rival the trading ports of England and over the centuries the animosity between the two nations ensured a lot of bad blood flowed.

Now all that is in the past, with the two ports even official Twin Cities. But as Le Havre prepares one huge party of festivities to commemorate its 500th anniversary this summer, will the port at the mouth of the Seine show up its rival across La Mer with an outrageous display of French flair?

Certainly Le Havre is preparing to celebrate on a grand scale. Planning has been meticulous down to the huge street party to formally open the celebrations (May 27) to art displays, gastronomic events, parades and, this being a sea-facing city, maritime extravaganzas to include the arrival of the famous Tall Ships race.

Even our own QM2 will be getting in on the act with a celebration sailing from Le Havre to New York. (sold out).

The city is a-buzz with anticipation, as Eric Baudet, director of media relations explained.

“Certainly we are expecting to have lots of visitors, both from France and internationally,” predicted Eric.

“This is a big occasion for the city and everyone is getting involved.”

The city and port of Le Havre were founded in 1517 by King François I, who reigned over France at the same time as Henry VIII over England. Due to its strategic position at the mouth of the River Seine, Le Havre was originally built for military reasons. Today, it is the second largest port in France after Marseille.

And while its boast that it offers a ‘captivating mix of the industrial and natural grandeur’ is true, visitors might think that a town virtually re-built in concrete after being terribly bombed in the Second World War – by us - would hold few architectural treasures. Not so.

The unusual concrete architecture of Le Havre, designed by Auguste Perret,

features columns and clean lines, and its grand main boulevard opens the city up to the sea.

Indeed, the boldness of Perret’s design resulted in Le Havre becoming a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Perret was one of the world’s pioneers in using concrete. Not only was concrete cheap, but Perret also believed he could achieve an overall uniformity, where all the units could be designed using

the same modular pattern.

Together with pupils and former students, he formed the Perret working

group, which rehoused 40,000 people by building around 10,000 apartments in 150 blocks.

The earlier configuration of the town was reflected in Perret’s reconstruction. New iconic buildings were reintroduced, such as the town hall with its 70m-high tower.

Another key structure designed by Perret is the iconic 107m-high Saint Joseph’s Church, the tallest building in Le Havre.

Even with the post-war re-birth of the city it is hard perhaps to realise that Le Havre was actually the birthplace of one of the great periods in art.

It was in the port that Impressionism began.

One of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors, Eugène Boudin spent most of his childhood in Le Havre. In 1858, Boudin met the young Claude Monet, and is credited with persuading him to become a landscape painter too. In 1872, Monet painted the sun rising through the industrial chimneys of the port, and named his creation Impression, Sunrise. Unimpressed by Monet’s canvas, the art critic Louis Leroy dismissively dubbed Monet’s style of painting ‘Impressionism’. The name stuck.

Le Havre’s André Malraux Modern Art Museum (MuMa) on the seafront has always been closely linked to the Impressionist masterpieces painted of the Normandy coastline, and the role of light remains a key feature for both the building and its exhibits.

The MuMa’s permanent collection centres contains the second largest collection of Impressionist works in France after the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, including paintings by Boudin and Monet as well as Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Corot, Marquet, Derain and


Visitors will be able to follow in the footsteps of the Impressionists and explore Le Havre with the Impressionism Art in Le Havre mobile app.

A survivors from an even earlier period in the city’s history is the must-visit Ship Owner’s House Museum.

Many a ship owner has lived in this mansion, which was designed and built in the wealthy Saint- François neighbourhood in the late 18th Century.

What makes the building truly unique is how its five floors are all arranged around a central octagonal light shaft with a large skylight at the top. The building became a listed French Historic Monument in

1950 and was bought by the city of Le Havre in 1954, which made it into a museum. (

Whether it is enjoying Le Havre’s art, its architecture, its food, or whiling away sunny days on its wonderful beaches, there will be plenty of visitors from Hampshire to take in this summer.

There’s little doubt we will be left with the impression that our near-neighbours know how to throw a party.

Events planned for Le Havre’s Summer 2017.

The 500th anniversary of Le Havre will see the city and port come alive with festivities and special events taking place from 27 May to 5 November 2017. All across the city, from the historic

docks to the shopping district and the beach, art exhibitions, theatrical performances and boat races will be taking place over five months.

Highlights include:

• 27 May 2017: Opening ceremony with Art Point M Collective

Get ready for a street party on a massive scale, as the opening ceremony will be organised by the Art Point M Collective, founders of the popular N.A.M.E electro music festival that takes place every year

in Lille!

• 6-9 July 2017: Royal de Luxe street parade

July will also see the highly anticipated return of the iconic Nantes-based Royal de Luxe street theatre company and their giant puppets, which always draw hundreds of thousands of spectators.

• 8 October 2017: Closing ceremony

The closing ceremony will be a huge public get-together and visual spectacle celebrating the 500th anniversary of the city and port.

• Early June 2017: Christening of the MSC Meraviglia. Constructed in Saint-Nazaire, new generation ship the MSC Meraviglia will arrive in Le Havre on 1 June and will be christened in the port on 4 June before sailing to Marseille for a season in the Mediterranean. © Le Havre Tourisme Office © Les Grands Voiles du Havre - RDV 2017

• 27 October – 5 November 2017: Jacques Vabre Transatlantic Race

Since the first race in 1993 along the historic coffee trading route between Le Havre and Cartagena in Colombia, the legendary race now known as the Transat Jacques Vabre has always set sail from the

port of Le Havre.

• 14-22 September 2017: Luxury transatlantic cruise to New York on board the Queen Mary 2

• 31 August – 3 September 2017: Final Stage of the Tall Ships Regatta

The Tall Ships Regatta, officially known as Rendezvous 2017, will stop over in Le Havre for its final stage. The race, which brings together 40 of the largest heritage ships in the world.

• 27 May – 20 August 2017: Pierre and Gilles: André Malraux Modern Art Museum (MuMa) The MuMa will host an exhibition dedicated to the artist couple Pierre and Gilles, born in 1950 in

Roche-sur-Yon and in 1953 in Le Havre respectively. This exhibition will display 80 works from the 1970s to this day.

• 9 September – 8 October 2017: Impression, Sunrise

André Malraux Modern Art Museum (MuMa) Impressionism will be celebrated throughout the month of September as Claude Monet’s masterpiece

Impression, Sunrise returns to the city where it was painted. The MuMa will host a landmark exhibition centred on the canvas that gave this world-famous art movement its name

For more information:

ferry routes Portsmouth to Le Havre: