Discovery of France : bathing-places

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot,
1845, huile sur toile,
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Some towns were building sites for the best part of a century and were still quite fresh when they were flattened again in the Second World War. Cabourg-les-Bains, founded in 1855, was a cement-and-asphalt wasteland for seceral years before it acquired its crescent of elegant villas and its gas-lit promenade. News towns such as Berck, Berneval, Deauville and Le Touquet-Paris Plage were developed by speculators, advertised by shareholding journalists and prepared as if for a mass evacuation organized according to social rank. Corty's guide to the Normandy coast (1889) was careful to define the clientele of each resort to avoid embarrassment: Mers was 'an informal bathing-place' for petits bourgeois and their families; Agon-Coutainville was for well-to-do shopkeepers and tradesmen (its breach was called 'the booksellers' beach', where booksellers come to forget that they are booksellers); Landemer-Gréville was for 'artists' and Etretat for 'famous artists'; Houlgate was the resort of 'aristocratic families', its 'soft, fine sand' being 'worthy of the most elegant and delicate feet'; while Arromanches was 'recommended to bathers who like to live in patriarchal simplicity' (i.e. who don't have much money). Some unfashionable resorts, not mentioned in the guide, received the children of paupers sent to sanatoriums by the Assistance Publique.


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