Cabourg should call itself Paris Plage! While Paris sets up its own “beach” along the banks of the Seine every summer, it certainly felt like we were surrounded by all of Paris last weekend. Located only about 2.5 hours from the capital, Cabourg feels like a second-home to Parisians looking for a seaside break. Now that I’ve seen Cabourg, I will never again complain about the number of Parisians in Dinard! The beach goes on down the coast as far as the eye can see for kilometers of pure flat sandy fun. The difference between low and high tide is impressive–the beach seems to triple in volume when the tide is out! Lifeguards man the beach, there is a children’s play/activity zone and even a “Surf School” for teenagers and adventurous adults. While I had heard Cabourg attracted a more elderly clientele, the beach itself was full of families the day we were there. For those visiting with children, baby changing and toilet facilities are located along the beach next to each Poste de Secours.
Cabourg feels like an upscale family resort–one that prides itself on appearances (the lawns and gardens are perfectly manicured) and good behavior (signs remind you that you need to wear clothes in town). It’s the type of place for which the slogan “good, clean fun” could have been invented. A concrete boardwalk, named after Marcel Proust, the famous turn-of-the-century French writer, dominates the entire beach. Proust visited Cabourg as a child and returned throughout his adult life. He used the town as a model for the fictional Balbec in his monumental À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). The Promenade Marcel Proust runs from Franceville all the way to Cap Cabourg and covers almost 4 kilometers! It is one of the longest pedestrian-only walkways in all of Europe.
There are plenty of benches to sit down and relax or enjoy the view. I have to admit that they were overwhelmingly occupied by the above-mentioned elderly set. That said I don’t equate a few older people with calling a place sedate. While it has a casino, horse track and golf course aimed at older/more affluent visitors, Cabourg’s main attraction is the family-friendly beach. Don’t got expecting a party-scene and you won’t be disappointed. Most of the people we encountered were simply looking for a bit of sea, sun and time away from Paris.
There is no town per se, or at least no easily identifiable town center. The closest thing to a town center would be the area behind the Le Grand Hôtel and the Casino. Proust stayed at the Grand Hôtel and literary aficionados can still stay in his room. If you can imagine a fan with its center at the hotel gardens, you can get an idea of what the town’s layout looks like–concentric semi-circles of streets! Most of these streets lead to residential areas full of summer homes and are of little interest unless you’re desperately trying to park your car.
From a visitor’s perspective, the most interesting street to explore is the Avenue de la Mer. It starts at the gardens behind the casino and runs in a straight line down to the town hall. (If you are looking for the tourist office, it is at the very end of the road near the traffic lights.) This stretch is full of cafés, stores and a few restaurants all catering to the tourist clientele. To say that it was crowded would be an understatement. I almost felt overwhelmed by the number of tourists as we walked along looking for a spot to stop for tea. While the boardwalk was also bustling, I did not feel as hemmed in as I did while we window-shopped in town. If you’ve ever wanted to taste one of Proust’s famous childhood loves i.e. a madeleine and go down memory lane, this is your chance–they are on sale everywhere and in a multitude of flavors. Even if you don’t like Proust (or have never heard of him), make sure you try one of these buttery French cookies. From then on, you can always bite into a madeleine and bring back your own memories of Cabourg and it’s beach.