A Tale of Four Cities - Rouen, Le Havre, Caen and Rennes

The French do love their homes surrounded by a lawn and garden, with a car parked in the driveway. Like Americans, many French families prefer single family living even at the risk of becoming car dependent. At least this was our observation as we explored the four small cities of Normandie and Bretagne. Our previous explorations in France had been limited to a short visit to Strasbourg and several visits to Paris over the years, the last time being summer of 2004. So, this was a wonderful new urban research journey!

The four cities range in population from 100,000 to 200,000, with larger surrounding urban areas:

  • Rouen 111,000, urban area 494,000
  • Le Havre 180,000, urban area 250,000
  • Caen 113,000, urban area 420,000
  • Rennes 207,000, urban area 663,000

    Each city felt the destructive impacts of the 1944 Normandy Invasion. The centres of Caen and Le Havre were completely bombed to rubble, while Rouen lost every bridge and the waterfront industrial quarter, and Rennes suffered extensive bombing as well.

    The surviving remnants of the prewar historic quarters of these cities, as well as the will and determination of the residents to rebuild, have shaped their post war development in different ways, as we observed during our brief studies.

    While most visitors rent cars to explore the region, we discovered that this was not really necessary. In spite of the French love of their cars, these cities all have efficient and comprehensive public transport systems, though each has taken its own path to respond to the mobility needs of its residents. The regional bus and rail systems were adequate for our needs as we made day trips to visit the surrounding places of interest.

    Below are links to our story about each of these cities. While each can viewed on its own, we have tried to keep a common approach to our descriptions. We hope you agree.

  • Rouen - City of Spires
  • LeHavre - Port City Created by Auguste Perret
  • Caen - Home of William the Conqueror
  • Rennes - Brittany's People Friendly Capital

    What conclusions have we reached about these four French cities?

  • Each has recovered prosperously from the ravages of war, having regained their economic vitality and their architectural heritage, but in different ways.
  • Each has remained true to the Celtic and Norman roots of this region with unique culture, cuisine and music, while celebrating the landscapes that inspired the impressionist painters.
  • In Rouen, Caen and Rennes, the the student populations bring a youthful vitality while Le Havre is perhaps more staid.
  • Each city offers mobility alternatives to automobile travel through well planned and executed public transport systems.

    But, of the four, we could most easily imagine a return visit to Rennes to stay longer and savor the urban lifestyle offered here.

    Click here to return to our 'Fall 2012 - Encounters with Ike, Claude, William and Ernest' page

    Click here to return to our 'Searching the World for People Friendly Cities' page