Falling in love with Houlgate, France

Falling in love with Houlgate

What can I say about Houlgate? I warn you right away that this article will, once again, be anything but objective. This seaside resort is my heart town. When you grow up in a Parisian suburb apartment, the seaside is a little paradise. During my faraway travels, the name Houlgate came back as that of my roots. I spent all my childhood holidays there, danced at my first teenage party, lit fires on the beach, got into trouble, lived my first bashes and my last ones, and met my partner there. Let's put intimacy aside for a moment, to talk about what interests you more: what to do during your visit to Houlgate? Just 2 hours from Paris, it attracts crowds in summer and becomes a village of 2,000 inhabitants in winter. My favorite periods are the off seasons: May/June and September/October, but it's up to you to decide...

Houlgate, between the sea and countryside

Heritage | Houlgate villas

Houlgate is located in Calvados in Normandy, 25 km from Caen. It enjoys a Belle Epoque atmosphere just like the neighboring seaside resorts of the Côte Fleurie: Villers-sur-Mer, Cabourg, and further Trouville and Deauville.

This coast has been popular with Parisians since the late 19th century. At the time, the Sea Bathing Society advised Parisians to breathe the sea air, recommended for its therapeutic virtues. It was for this reason that a few years later, my great-grandparents decided to come to Houlgate. They wanted to cure my grandmother of a bad cough. They fell in love with the place and decided to buy a vacation home.

In 1825, there were 36 houses on the left bank of the Dives River, inhabited by farmers and fishermen. The village took the name of Beuzeval. The right bank, which would become Houlgate, brought together cultivated lands. From the 1850s, sea bathing became a leisure activity. Everything accelerated at that time for the fishing village. Parisians and other "foreigners" came to enjoy the beach and sea air.

In a few years, many villas were built. Styles mix together. Each property competes with its neighbor. The roofs are decorated with ridge spikes and dormers, and the facades with geometric figures. The architects have a field day, playing with materials and colors and drawing inspiration from past styles. Gothic, classical, Renaissance, or modern elements are used. About 300 villas were built in the 1860-1900 years.

In 1859, the Grand Hotel was built of brick and stone and the bathing establishment. Twenty years later, the railway and station provided access to the city from Paris. In 1905, the town took the final name of Houlgate.
The aristocracy and upper bourgeoisie went out in evening dresses at the Grand Hotel. Families lived in gigantic villas, employed drivers and cooks, and women bathed in full bathing suits... in short, it was not the same era!

Unlike the more ostentatious Deauville, the town of Houlgate remained family-oriented. Strolling through the streets and on the dike while observing the villas is a treat if you like heritage.

To immerse yourself in the past, the Tourist Office organizes guided tours in the summer for individuals and all year round for groups. Themes are proposed such as "Villas and seaside resorts" and "Belle Epoque".
For families, visits and rallies are offered during school holidays to discover Houlgate playfully. Visits are adapted for hearing, motor, and mental disabilities.
You can download the villa trail from the tourist office.

Falling in love with Houlgate

Nature | The Black Cows – Villers-sur-Mer – Auberville

Houlgate also has a preserved natural area. We move away from the built-up area for a while to walk on the sand. At low tide, the beach seems infinite as the sea moves away. We walk on shells and enjoy the breeze. Can you hear the seagulls?

To extend the calm and serenity, walk north along the sea to access the Black Cows. This natural and wild beach is magical. Cliffs made of clay and chalk overlook the sea for over 4 km. They connect Houlgate to Villers-sur-Mer. Halfway through, black rocks emerge from the sea. It is they who gave their name to the site, because from their boats the sailors mistook them for cows.

Nature finds its full expression here. The site exudes power and fills us with energy. The tide constantly transforms the landscape. When the sea is high, it is no longer possible to get through. The English Channel takes over.

The Black Cows between Houlgate and Villers-sur-Mer
The Black Cows are renowned for their geological wealth. They are much older than Beuzeval and date back to the Jurassic period! This is why you will be able to discover fossils there and for the luckiest ammonites. Even dinosaur remains have been found there. The Black Cows are classified as scientifically and scenically interesting and will delight budding geologists.
To learn more, the Houlgate Geo-Paleo-Archaeological Association organizes outings to the Black Cow cliffs.

For long walkers, you can go to Villers-sur-mer and come back inland, through the paths of the village of Auberville. It's a very nice hike. You need to allow 3 good hours. You can leave in the morning, plan a picnic, and spend several hours walking, breathing, and enjoying the sea and backroads.
Be careful, before venturing to Villers along the beach, be sure to check the tide times so as not to get trapped.

At the end of the journey, you arrive at the orientation table coming back from Auberville. Enjoy the breathtaking view of the beach and the mouth of the Dives.
For the less athletic, it is possible to access this orientation table by taking the 100 steps from the beach.

City | The port of Dives-sur-mer and Cabourg

More urban, this walk takes you south to Dives-sur-Mer and Cabourg. Take the dike south, pass the temple, then the Villa du Carillon whose bell rings every hour, the old Imbert Hotel, and you arrive on a narrower dike. It is one of my favorite views of the tip of Cabourg and the mouth of the Dives.

The fishing port is still active. Every morning, you can go there to buy your fresh fish, be sure to try the sole, a real treat.

After the covered market, you arrive at the charming marina. If the tide is low, you can take the small bridge on the right just after the harbormaster's office. This path will lead you along the Dives straight to the footbridge that connects to the Cabourg dike. Go all the way to the Avenue de la Mer to eat an ice cream or drink a cocktail at Guillou's if it's aperitif time.

Countryside | Peace and quiet in the hinterland

If you travel to Houlgate in the summer and want more peace and quiet, you will certainly appreciate a little silence from the hinterland, away from the town center. This is the third route on the map below.
Don't miss the cascade path with the old Moulin Landry and the Fishermen's House.

  • Path No. 1: Nature | The Black Cows - Villers-sur-Mer - Auberville (impossible to indicate the route along the sea)
  • Path No. 2: City | The port of Dives-sur-mer and Cabourg
  • Path No. 3: Countryside | Calm and tranquility in the hinterland

Falling in love with Houlgate

What to do in Houlgate?


The beach is obviously the main activity for those who like to get a tan. There are two supervised swimming areas, at each end of the guide. At the bathing establishment, near the casino, you can rent deck chairs, parasols, and the famous striped orange and white beach huts. Victor and his team will always welcome you with their good humor.

Sports activities

  • It is also the bathing establishment that manages the volleyball nets, the swimming pool for adults and children as well as the Mickey club.
  • For kitesurfing lessons, contact Kevin from Kiteparadise. He also offers other activities such as wakeboarding, towed rings, and bananas, as well as paddle excursions from Granville.
  • The sailing school at the Port of Dives organizes sea outings with instructors. In July and August, a temporary shop is set up at the end of the dike where you can rent stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, and catamarans.
  • Let's not forget that we are in horse country! Beach or countryside rides are organized by "Les poneys sur la plage" or the equestrian farm.
  • Fishing for sand eels is an institution here. On days with a high tide coefficient, walk at low tide opposite the temple to the water's edge and dig. Pick up the little fish that slip into the sand, be quick! Fried in the pan for snacks, and you're on top!
  • A mini-golf course to do as a family is located opposite the Grand Hotel. In the hinterland, an 18-hole course will delight pros.
  • During holidays, Le Croquan organizes climbing workshops.
  • You can play tennis at the Sporting Club or at the Chevaliers Tennis Club.


  • Houlgate Full Sail. Every year, wind activities are featured: kites, sliding sports, workshops, and entertainment meet in spring on the beach.
  • The Festijazz offers concerts in the streets of Houlgate for a weekend in August.
  • The European Film Festival unveils every October a rich program with premieres and meetings around European cinema.
  • The magnificent photography festival Les femmes s'exposent aims to be committed and quality. Each year, it successfully showcases women artists. I'm a big fan.

What to do in Houlgate when it rains?

I'm not going to lie to you, the climate there is temperate and... humid. If you need some freshness during heat peaks, Houlgate is the place to be!
Here are some ideas for activities when rain is on the agenda:

  • Sylvain welcomes you to the Cinema du Casino.
  • Put on your boots and raincoat and go for a walk.
  • Go get a massage at Deep Nature Spa
  • Visit the Paleospace in Villers-sur-mer to learn more about fossils
  • Thrill at Les Franciscaines in Deauville (opening scheduled for 2020, we can't wait!)
  • On the other side, relive World War II at the Caen Memorial
  • Enjoy good dishes in Houlgatais restaurants

Where to eat in Houlgate?

  • 💰 To shop, the weekly market takes place every Thursday. Under the market hall, traders are open from Thursday to Sunday all year round and every day during school holidays. As I told you, the fishermen offer fresh fish at the port of Dive.
  • 💰💰 Les Passantes. Brand new brand new, this restaurant is run by a talented young chef who has honed his skills in good Parisian addresses.
  • 💰💰 L'Abondance. The owners are welcoming and generous, both in service (the lady) and in the kitchen (the gentleman). A delight.
  • 💰💰 The restaurant des Halles no longer needs to enhance its reputation. The cuisine is less refined, more "terroir" and very good. The atmosphere there is friendly.
  • 💰💰💰 L'Eden aims to be more upscale and gourmet. We love the cheese platter (we are still in Normandy!), but after that, you won't be hungry anymore!

Falling in love with Houlgate

Where to sleep in Houlgate?

  • The campsite on the beach has a sea view and unusual accommodation in tepees and caravans.
  • The Maison d'Emilie offers rooms in a beautiful typical 19th century Houlgataise villa.
  • If you prefer the countryside to the sea, the Roussel farm, a farm in the hinterland, has rooms and a dormitory.
  • For unusual nights, go dream and observe the stars in the Noctam'bulles, cabins in the trees a few kilometers from the coast. To discover what glamping is, this is the place!

What to do around Houlgate?

  • In the surroundings of Houlgate, in addition to the activities already mentioned, the village of Dives-sur-mer allows you to retrace the footsteps of William the Conqueror. In 1066, it was in the port of Beuzeval-Dives that he gathered his crew to go and conquer England.
  • The market of Dives-sur-mer takes place every Saturday. Don't miss taking a short tour of the Covered Market.
  • At the Bouquetot eco-estate, you can visit a spirulina farm to learn all about the cultivation of this tiny green alga, rich in health benefits. In the meantime, discover the portrait of its creator, Laurent.
  • At the Roussel Farm, go visit the animals or taste a good Norman cider.
  • Speaking of which, the Cider Route will take you to the different apple alcohol producers. A must in Calvados.
  • For cyclists, many trails can be taken to discover the hinterland. The Cabourg marshes are absolutely to be traveled: calm, cows and birds await you. You will take a section of the Vélomaritime which connects Dunkirk to Roscoff.

How to get to Houlgate?

There is a train station in Houlgate. The TER comes from Deauville and serves the coast up to Dives. In Deauville, trains come from Paris. If you come from the west, you can arrive in Caen. A green bus (No. 20) runs along the coast to Houlgate.

By car, it takes 2 hours and 15 minutes from Paris via the A13, 35 minutes from Caen.

I hope Houlgate will seduce you as much as it did me. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to post your comments below.

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