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  • Writer's picturePeter McNeile

Deauville - golden sands, terrace cafés, and superb racing

For any self-respecting racing fan, there is really only one place to visit during August, and that's Deauville, on the Normandy coast. Here a wide choice of racing and other entertainment beckons the holidaymaker throughout France's month of vacances.

Deauville - a must-visit for August
Deauville - a must-visit for August

Flat racing scarcely needs an introduction at Deauville, where racing takes place in August every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday and for a fortnight either side in July and September. The course's best known race is the Jacques le Marois, a Group I over a mile, named after the first president of the Société des Courses de Deauville, who died 101 years ago. The race's history is littered with champions, among recent winners of which include Miesque (1987, 1988), Dubai Millennium (1999), Dubawi (2005), Kingman (2014) and last year's winner, Palace Pier, arguably the best-rated horse in the world currently.

However, every fixture, and notably the weekends, is punctuated by races straight out of the top drawer as the calendar stages 6 Group Is, and a further 14 at Group II or III - truly an embarrass de richesse. There's also an all-weather surface, introduced in 2002, to maintain racing outside the traditional turf season for the many trainers who house their horses at or near the course. Normandy is, after all, horse country from top to bottom. Around every corner is another thoroughbred breeding establishment, and if you visit the racecourse in the morning, you'll see strings exercising on the gallops.

But if the bluest of blue bloods are not enough for you, then Deauville town is blessed with a second racecourse just along the avenue de la Republique (D513) to the west of the town. Clairefontaine stages Jump, falt and trotting races throughout August on every day Deauville is not, allowing for any racing addict to fill his or her boots for a full 31 days!

Jumping and flat action takes place at Clairefontaine too
Jumping and flat action takes place at Clairefontaine too

Deauville town first came to prominence in the middle of the nineteenth century on account of its fabulous long beaches and proximity to Paris. The development of the town came about at the direction of the Duc de Morny, a half-brother of Louis Napoléon, first president of France, and Emperor of the Second Republic from 1860-72. At a time when France, like Britain, was benefiting from the wealth generated by an extensive foreign empire, Morny saw fit to develop Deauville into a resort that would attract France's finest artists, drawn by the extraordinary light.

Before his death in 1865, Morny had seen Deauville turn into a splendid resort with over 40 seaside villas frequented by wealthy Parisians, an elaborate hydrotherapy spa, the Grand Hotel with over 200 rooms and a casino, art exhibitions, the racecourse, and, critically, a direct rail connection into the heart of the capital.

During the early years of the twentieth century, further investment in hotels by the Barrière organisation resulted in a significant uplift in tourist traffic to Deauville, and evidence of conspicuous expenditure abounded: this, not Paris, was the location for designer Coco Chanel's first shop, and yearling sales did a roaring trade among aspirational Frenchmen and foreigners alike. It was a halcyon era for the town, now spread to both sides of the Touques river, with the growth of quayside restaurants and boutiques in Trouville.

Now racing is but one part of the fierce attraction Deauville holds for France. Its mock half-timbered houses and manoirs set the scene for a series of independent boutiques, a thriving daily market and bustling restaurants and eateries with fresh fish you can select yourself. An international film festival, regular arts & music festivals, and of course the beach holds thrall over everything. There's even an international marathon.

Foreign visitors to Deauville may be rather muted this year as the whole of France recovers form the Covid crisis. However, the French will be unperturbed. This is their summer playground, and whilst international competition continues, if regular British visitors are missing this year, there'll be more room on the beach, and arguably less competition for the best yearlings!

However, this is a racecourse and a town to savour at leisure - an elaborate amuse-bouche as the racing calendar progresses toward the competing delights of the major autumn races.

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