A Weekend in… Dieppe

Overview and history

Dieppe, an easy and inexpensive four-hour ferry hop from Newhaven, is one of France’s most popular seaside resorts, with a rich cultural heritage dating back to its foundation by Viking settlers in the 10th century, and a well-deserved reputation as being the seafood capital of the country.

Its name derives from the Old Norse ‘djupr’, meaning ‘deep’, referring to the river (now the Arques) that runs into the English Channel, forming a natural harbour at its mouth, which enabled the settlement to develop into one of the country’s most significant ports, used over the years for fishing, for commerce, for exploration, and as a ferry port.

During the Norman era, the town prospered due to trade (particularly of herring) with England, though this was seriously disrupted by a series of wars with its trans-Marche neighbour. In 1522-24, three expeditions led by Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed from Dieppe to the New World, returning with tobacco and other goods: Verrazzano is credited as being the first European to ‘discover’ Hudson Bay, and Manhattan Island.

In 1694 the British admiral John Berkeley razed the town to the ground, with a ten-day bombardment from his fleet of 100 ships. The only significant buildings left standing were the Chateau, on the hill overlooking Dieppe, and the medieval Gothic churches of St Jacques and St Remy. The end of the Napoleonic War, however, signalled a lasting peace with Britain and the town was developed into a resort. By Victorian times, over 10% of the resident population was British, with hundreds of visitors arriving daily on packet boats.

During the fin-de-siecle period an artists’ colony developed, featuring painters from both sides of the Channel, notably Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, James McNeil Whistler and Walter Sickert. The latter is often attributed with popularising Impressionism in Britain, having learnt new techniques from the French masters.

Dieppe also has long-standing ties with Canada, as many Dieppois, escaping religious persecution, settled in the North American country from the 16th century onwards. In August 1942 the town was picked as the destination for an ill-fated Allied ‘Raid’ – in effect a try-out for D-Day – which saw 3,623 casualties, largely of Canadian soldiers, killed, wounded or captured in a single day, from a force of 6,086 men.

Today the town has a population of 28,000, supplemented by year-round visitors (particularly from England, Canada and Paris) drawn to its wide shingle beach, its rich cultural offerings, and its reputation for fine seafood, particularly between October and May: scallop season. In this period boats are allowed to trawl the Channel waters for this edible ‘white gold’, termed ‘Coquilles St Jacques’ in French, and much prized by the locals. These plump morsels are served fresh out of the sea, seared in butter: once eaten, never forgotten.

Eating and drinking

The most iconic spot for a coffee is Les Tribuneaux (nicknamed ‘Les Tribs’), which boasts an illustrious roll-call of former customers including Walter Sickert, Claude Monet, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg and Johnny Hallyday. Try a ‘noisette’, the French version of a macchiato, for a quick hit of caffeine, watching the locals go about their business in the Place du Puits Sale, the town’s central meeting place.

For a quick lunch, do what the Dieppois do, and spend an hour at nearby Le Calvados, where dishes include bavette and frites or, for the sturdier of stomach, andouillette, aka tripe sausage (hold your nose and chew). In the evening there’s a wealth of high-class seafood restaurants to choose from. We can recommend A La Marmite Dieppoise, named after its signature dish, a thick, creamy seven-types-of-fish soup (remember to pack Rennies) and La Comptoir des Huîtres, near the fishermen’s quay, where you will be shown the catch of the day on an enormous tray, and told (in machine-gun French) how each item will be cooked. On the restaurant-rich Quai Henri IV, overlooking the harbour, the best of the lot is Le New Haven, for Norman cuisine, including, of course, those succulent seared scallops. It’s advisable to ring beforehand to book a table at any of these establishments.


Dieppe’s Saturday Market (8am-12pm) is the biggest in Normandy, and rightfully famous throughout France. The town’s central streets bustle with locals visiting hundreds of stalls selling fresh fish, locally grown vegetables, weird-shaped ceps, cured sausages and other charcuterie, pungent cheeses, spit-roasted chickens, portions of cassoulet, crêpes (all cooked in situ) and all manner of delicious foodstuffs. There’s also a clothes market in the car park next to St Jacques, and a weekend bric-a-brac market by the beach. Stock up on high-quality tinned fish at La Belle-Iloise, and don’t go home without buying a box of macarons from Divernet, a selection of cheeses from Olivier, or some coffee from La Torréfaction Dieppoise.


We stayed in a very central, very spacious Airbnb apartment – ‘Le Victor Hugo’ – within a few minutes’ walk from the beach the chateau and the quayside, which we highly recommend. The tourist office suggested a couple of other options: the Villa des Capucins bed & breakfast, run by an artist, and the three-star Hotel Aguado, overlooking the beach. It’s advisable to book accommodation in the centre of town, so you can enjoy a carefree, car-free break. Oh, and did we mention the scallops?