For our Three Hours or Less from Paris journey this month we did a long day trip, a bit over three hours to Granville, a small city in Normandy on the Mont Saint-Michel Bay. It’s also just an hour away from the popular Mont Saint-Michel.
The main reason we went to Granville was for the Princess Grace exhibit at the Christian Dior Museum. The museum is actually the home Christian Dior grew up in during the early 1900s, which had a significant impact on his later life. In his memoir “Christian Dior et Moi”, he states, “I have most tender and amazed memories… of my childhood home. I would even say that my life and my style owe almost everything to its site and architecture.”
Villa Les Rhumbs was the original name of the house purchased by Dior’s parents in 1906, but in 1932 his father had to sell the house for financial reasons during the Great Depression. Luckily the city purchased the villa in 1938 and opened the garden to the public. In 1997 the villa was bought by LVMH, the parent company that owns the Dior brand today. The unique museum celebrates the life and designs of the master couturier.
Until November, the museum is presenting “Grace de Monaco, Princesse en Dior,” an exhibit tracking the fairy tale story of how a movie star gave up a thriving Hollywood career when she married a real Prince Charming, Prince Rainier III of Monaco. They met at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 during the premiere of the Alfred Hitchcock film Dial M for Murder and Rainier swept her off her feet. Announcing her engagement six months later at her parents’ home in Philadelphia, she wore a stunning dress adorned with flowers designed by Christian Dior. Soon after she was exclusively dressed in Christian Dior with Marc Bohan, the creative director of the house, personally designing all of her garments until her death in 1982.
Over 90 designs display the princesses’ wide-ranging wardrobe, including suits, gowns, day dresses, casual clothes and accessories. The clothes are interspersed with artifacts of her well-chronicled public life in the press, which includes magazine covers, portraits and photos. The highlight of the exhibit is coverage of the annual gala ball for charity Princess Grace would throw, where she had noted designers and artists create the lavish sets while Dior designed a gown to match the theme.
After the informative and entertaining exhibit, we treated ourselves to a stroll in the lovely surrounding gardens bursting with late spring blooms. An outdoor café with white wood trellises covered in wisteria was too pretty to pass up, so we sipped on Earl Grey tea served in a porcelain teapot, admiring the handsome manor house and gardens.
The house and gardens are perched on a high bluff overlooking the dramatic, rocky beach, and we took the long staircase down. It was a blustery day and the Caribbean blue-colored water crashed on the high boulders. The sea air made us plenty hungry, so we had lunch at Le Restaurant du Port, which specializes in locally caught seafood. We enjoyed their hearty signature dish of seafood charcroute, a bed of steamed sauerkraut and bacon bits topped with salmon, haddock, sea bass, cod fish and shell fish.
After lunch we walked through an ancient stone archway, which led to the old quarter of Granville. Charming cottage-style houses with exposed stone facades and window boxes brimming with seasonal flowers lined the uneven, cobblestone streets. In the center was the oldest church in the village, Notre Dame du Cap Lihou, which was built in 1440 by the English but not consecrated until 1641. The brilliant stained glass windows with geometric and abstract forms appeared to be from the 20th century, and two chapels had small, wooden sailboats hanging in them, commemorating the strong presence of fishermen in the village.
Passing the inviting white lattice exterior and the heavenly scent of fresh crepes being made, we couldn’t resist La Courtine. We practically inhaled a dreamy warm crepe smothered in whipped Normandy cream and gooey chocolate syrup.
At the end of the afternoon we discovered the rue de Juif, a street chock full of art, ceramic and painting galleries. Most of the high-quality work is from local artists depicting the village scenery.
Although we didn’t have time on our day trip, it would be worthwhile to stay longer to take a boat ride on an early 19th century schooner, Lys Noir. The half-day sail takes passengers to Iles de Chausey, a series of inlets, and small islands. Rugged and mostly untouched, the islands have white sand beaches, a chapel from 1840, an ancient fort, and are a haven for fishermen.
Granville takes between three and three and half hours to get to from Gare Montparnasse Paris.
Grace de Monaco, Princesse en Dior
Until November 17, 2019
Christian Dior Museum, 1 rue d’Estouteville, Villa Les Rhumbs 50400
Le Restaurant du Port
19 Rue du Port, 50400
Lys Noir Boat
Hotel: Mercure Granville Le Grand Large
Four-star hotel overlooking the sea
5 Rue de la Falaise, 50400
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