Normandy beach town prepares for G8 invasion

Fri May 20, 2011 8:22am EDT
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By Geert De Clercq

DEAUVILLE, France (Reuters) - The gently sloping beaches of Normandy lend themselves well to invasions. From here, William the Conqueror set out to invade England in 1066 and in World War II they were the landing site for the allied assault on Nazi-occupied France.

Next week, Normandy's seaside resort town of Deauville will see an invasion of a gentler kind: the annual Group of Eight summit, which will gather 18 heads of state and 2,500 delegation members to discuss North African unrest and other global issues.

The G8 dignitaries should feel right at home in Deauville, which has been the playground of the Parisian elite for decades.

In 1858, the Duke of Morny, a half-brother of Napoleon III, decided to create "a kingdom of elegance" and built the first half-timbered villas that give Deauville its unique look.

A railway to Paris brought an aristocratic public, and the addition of a casino and luxury hotels set up Deauville to become one of Europe's party towns in the Roaring Twenties.

Just two hours from Paris, Deauville is still a haunt for the wealthy, although the crowd is less exclusive now.

"Deauville is the logical place for an event like the G8. It has long been used to hosting important people from the world of politics and business," said Sebastien Bouchereau, who has written about Normandy for many years for a local newspaper.

After the war, dozens of villas were destroyed and replaced by apartment buildings. The more egalitarian post-war zeitgeist took the edge off Deauville's elitism and by the time it served as a backdrop for Claude Lelouch's "Un homme et une femme" film in 1966, the city looked more dreamy than worldly.   Continued...

<p>General view of Deauville's main street on the eve of the opening of the American Film Festival in Deauville September 2, 2010. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler</p>