Winning fame as the closest beach to Paris, the seafront at Dieppe has a long line of 19th-century mansions and hotels from when sea resorts first became fashionable.
The windswept pebble beach is invigorating in winter and promises classic fun in the sun in summer.
But Dieppe is a lot more than a resort, as you’ll discover at the working fishing port lined by painted houses.
The city is awash with maritime charm, in its old-world fishing districts and historic castle laden with the riches of 16th-century sea expeditions.
Dieppe is on the Côte d’Albâtre (Alabaster Coast), which was adored by impressionists like Monet, Renoir and Sisley who came to paint the white cliffs and seaside villages.
Lets explore the best things to do in Dieppe:
1. Château de Dieppe
High to the west of the harbour and fishing port, Dieppe’s 15th-century castle happens to be the oldest building in the city as it avoided a titanic bombardment by the Anglo-Dutch fleet in 1694. The flint and sandstone castle has a rectangular plan, with circular towers on each corner, but it’s what’s inside that is most fascinating.
There are three rooms dedicated to Dieppe’s 17th-century ivory trade with Guinea, which includes solar discs, fans, tobacco graters, snuff boxes, medallion portraits all sculpted with awesome skill (if you don’t think too much about where they came from!). In the art collection are 12 works by the cubist painter Georges Braque, who is buried not far away in Sainte-Marguerite-sur-Mer.
2. Église Saint-Jacques
Dieppe’s main church was begun in the 1100s and not completed until the 1500s, and so it’s a complete monument to every stage of gothic architecture in France.
The western rose window has very intricate traceries, and see if you can count all of the gargoyles on the facade, because there are more than a hundred.
The eminent fleet-owner Jean Ango, who supplied King Francis I with his vessels for global exploration, was a patron of the church in the 15th century.
He commissioned the carved frieze in the Chappelle du Trésor, which depicts Brazilian Indians as described by sailors and explorers returning to Dieppe from their expeditions.
3. Dieppe’s Fishing Port
On foot you could spend an engaging couple of hours pottering around the quays and fishing quarter in Dieppe.
The obvious place to start is Quai Henri IV, with Dieppe’s grandest waterside buildings and loads of bars, restaurants and cafes favoured with lovely views through the forest of boat masts to the Pollet Quarter.
Dieppe is France’s scallop capital and the boats in the harbour go out to sea for as little as one night at a time, returning to sell their scallops at the early-morning quayside market.
4. Plage de Dieppe
Yes it’s pebbly, but that takes nothing away from Dieppe’s main beach, which runs on for kilometres, way past the western boundary of the city.
The foreshore has spacious lawns, a kind of green belt, separating the beach from the imposing 19th-century hotels, mansions and apartment blocks on Boulevard de Verdun.
In cooler seasons you can come for the blustery and restorative sea air, working up an appetite before retiring to the fishing harbour for lunch.
And in mid-September on even years is the biennial International Kite Festival, bringing a blaze of colour to the beach and holding a packed program of events.
5. Le Pollet
The quaintest neighbourhood in Dieppe is Le Pollet, a village on the right bank of the Arques estuary at the foot of the chalk cliffs.
Instead of walking all the way around the harbour to get there you can take a shortcut on Pont Colbert, which we’ll come to later.
Le Pollet has some adorable old streets, like the cobblestone Rue du Petit Fort, which climbs from the waterside and has painted timber-framed houses and pretty fishing cottages with flint walls.
Stroll up for a few minutes to the top of the cliff you can reach the Notre-Dame de Bonsecours chapel with Dieppe’s best panorama of the city and its fishing port.
6. Le Pont Colbert
The bridge that links Le Pollet to the rest of Dieppe is a wonder in its own right.
Le Pont Colbert is the oldest swing bridge in the world still using its original mechanism.
The bridge is in constant use as it’s the only easy way to get downtown from Le Pollet, and when there’s maritime traffic you can see the spectacle of this structure swinging back to let it through.
It dates to 1889 and is a remarkable piece of late-19th century technology.
Efforts are being made to make sure the bridge is protected as an historic monument.
7. Estran – Cité de la Mer
In this museum in the former fishing quarter you’ll find out everything you need to know about the natural and human history of the Channel.
More than 1,600 square metres of galleries will introduce you to Dieppe’s historic local trades like shipbuilding and fishing, and there are aquariums showing off the species native to these waters.
Some of the tanks are open, allowing you to touch the fish and other sea life.
In the natural history exhibits you can see how the local chalk cliffs in Dieppe were formed, and all of the measures being taken to preserve coastal habitats.
8. August 1942 Memorial
In a 19th-century neo-renaissance theatre on Place Camille Saint-Saëns there’s a small exhibition to commemorate the Anglo-Canadian raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942. The attack was doomed from the start and within hours thousands had been killed or captured, making it clear how long it would be before the Allies could mount a successful invasion of mainland Europe.
There are documents, photographs, weapons and uniforms from the time of the raid, and you can watch a 40-minute film with first-hand accounts by soldiers who took part in the attack.
9. Villa Perrotte
Rue Jules Ferry is lined with red brick Belle Époque townhouses, and then halfway along you come to a geometric and asymmetrical white art deco mansion that resembles nothing else on the street.
Villa Perrotte was built in 1928,commissioned by Pierre Perrotte, who made his fortune in fish oil, and designed by Parisian architect Louis Filliol.
From Thursday to Sunday you can enter for free and can appreciate the stained glass windows, wrought iron radiations, marble fireplaces and beautiful tiling on the floors.
There’s also art contemporary art to see, if you can peel your eyes from the building itself.
10. Manoir d’Ango
We mentioned Jean Ango, the 16th-century fleet owner at the Church of Saint-Jacques, and ten minutes west of Dieppe you can find out where he lived.
Open from April to September, Ango’s manor house is a lovely brick and flint palace, built by Italian architects and used as a summer residence until Ango’s death in 1551. In the courtyard is one of the most spectacular dovecotes in existence: It has a byzantine-style dome and its walls are festooned with alternating bands of flint, brick, sandstone and limestone.
The dovecote, which was a bit of a status symbol in renaissance times, could contain more than 3,200 birds and had 1,600 pigeonholes.
11. Bois des Moutiers
In the Pays de Caux countryside near Manoir d’Ango is a sublime garden and manor house with views of the sea.
When Guillaume Mallet acquired this land in 1898 he hired the esteemed British gardener Gertrude Jekyll and the architect Edwin Lutyens to create a large park that would take more than 40 years to complete.
The result is classified as a French “jardin remarquable” and boasts 12 hectares of giant Himalayan rhododendrons, magnolias and Chinese azaleas around a beautiful mock-Tudor manor house.
You’ll note the interplay between the design of the garden and the layout of the house, which were intended to mirror each other.
12. Avenue Verte
Starting in Arques-la-Bataille, the Avenue Verte is a 40-kilometre cycling route along the old Paris -Dieppe railway.
The line is long gone and has been covered with smooth tarmac that lets you roll through lush green farmland with minimal effort.
For a family outing you ride the 12.6 kilometres to St-Vaast d’Equique ville next to a string of large lakes.
These are vestiges of Dieppe’s shipbuilding industry, where rock was quarried for ballasting on vessels.
At the beginning of the route allow a few minutes to explore the ghostly 14th-century ruins of the Château d’Arques-la-Bataille.
13. Château de Miromesnil
Guy de Maupassant, the 19th-century short story writer, was born at this palatial property 10 kilometres from Dieppe.
You can go inside to admire the interiors and see the room in which he was delivered.
One room has been preserved as a mid-19th-century lounge to give you a sense of the château when it was occupied by Maupassant’s family.
The rest of the building has the wood panelling, wrought-ironwork and furniture of a stately home from the 1700s.
The grounds are a must too for their beech forest and a 200-year-old Lebanese cedar.
The walled kitchen garden is magnificent, with orchards and all sorts of vegetable allotments alive with butterflies in the summer.
The Pays de Caux has welcomed many celebrated artists, who have all been attracted by the drama of these towering chalk cliffs.
Claude Monet spent time in Pourville (part of Hautot-sur-Mer) right next to Dieppe in 1882, where he painted the local seascapes.
Veules-les-Roses, around 15 minutes by car from Dieppe, is an adorable village with medieval churches and three watermills with wheels intact.
These were powered by the River Veules, which replenishes bubbling pools growing watercress.
The village nestle in a small gap in the cliffs, and the beach in front is a mixture of pebbles and sand.
15. Apple Country
Normandy is France’s apple orchard, and this fruit is at the core of all sorts of regional specialities.
La Gentilhommière, driveable from Dieppe in Osmoy-Saint-Valery is a cider press in a magnificent mansion from the 1600s surrounded by a sea of orchards.
Here you’ll get the inside track on how Normandy cider is pressed, fermented and bottled, and also learn about Calvados, the apple brandy that is also distilled made on this site.
In the shop you can buy both drinks, as well as freshly-pressed apple juice and apple vinegar.
The local cheese is the famous neufchâtel, which pairs well with Normandy cider and has a salty, sharp flavour and soft texture.