We sat at the little Café Le Copo in Le Touquet Paris-Plage on the delightful Opal Coast (Nord Pas-de-Calais), listening to the band from neighbouring resort Berck-sur-Mer. Me, my husband and our British expat antiques dealer friend Gary.
It was the last Sunday in August and we’d come to Le Touquet for the weekend. This swish and swanky seaside resort in northern France is the secret ‘get away from it all’ destination of Parisians as well as Brits in the know. At less than an hour’s drive from Calais it offers the chance for a perfect break all year round. It’s a taste of France that is hard to beat with its long golden sandy beaches and pretty Belle Époque villas, gourmet shops, fabulous restaurants, great golf courses, horse riding, tennis – I could go on and on. For a small seaside resort, Le Touquet packs a big punch.
Not only that, Le Touquet prides itself on putting an hundreds of events all year round – there is never a week without something going on and my interest had been piqued by the annual brocante (flea market – there are more than 3000 a year in the region!) which has a reputation for being a bit of a bargain hunter’s paradise.
I don’t need any excuses to visit Le Touquet, I adore its art deco style which is evident in abundance – from the covered market place to the glorious early 20th Century villas, the town hall and just about everywhere you look. The whole town is like one big homage to the style of art deco and hints at its hedonistic past as the playground of choice for the wealthy and the famous in the early 20th Century. Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, PG Wodehouse, Winston Churchill – they all loved this little town – much for the same reason I love it today. It has class.
So, there we were, the band playing “Peter Gunn” (think Blues Brothers). It was overcast, the first such time in weeks in northern France but everyone was smiling and happy.
Mamans stopped with babies in push chairs to listen to the band, two little girls with braided hair were dancing in the pedestrianised road, and oldies were tapping their feet, arms crossed. Gary pointed out that the cool dude playing the tuba was only using one hand and indeed he was – it was that sort of band.
We ordered three grand crèmes – we always hope to have American style big cups of coffee but as usual it was a miniature strong espresso – in a big cup!
An old lady, tiny and crooked wandered past with a basket and a baguette, waiters wandered in and out of the tables and chairs which spilled out of Le Copo onto the pavement. Cool Parisians, tanned from a month at their impossibly posh and stylish second homes in the north sat and enjoyed the last of the summer before La Rentrée (the return to normal… work, Paris) the men wearing leather hats, pink jumpers tied jauntily round their shoulders, the ladies wearing Hermès scarves and carrying chic shopping bags.
“Sometimes”, said Gary, “This place is just like living in Trumpton” and I know what he meant. Trumpton was an imaginary town which featured in a children’s programme in the UK, where the town hall clock told the time “steadily, sensibly; never too quickly, never too slowly…” – the perfect town, the one that fired children’s imaginations.
A man walked by, he had a rolled up carpet tucked under one arm and balanced on top of the plaster of Paris that covered his other broken arm – we were reminded why we were there and set off to look for something unique with a bit of history.
Since this town is such a huge art deco utopia I hoped to find something appropriate and I wasn’t disappointed as I found almost immediately an immaculate 1930s toaster and then a silver art deco desk calendar – perfect condition and just a few Euros each.
We wandered, browsed, haggled and bought until lunch time. The Pavillon Michelin starred restaurant at the Westminster Hotel (affectionately known to the locals as Le West) is a firm favourite but let’s be honest, the choice is huge. Pavement style cafés, gourmet and fine dining, brasserie and traditional – just picking your eaterie of choice is fun!
We decided on a whim to go to Le Fireman (6 Rue de Metz). Just off the main high street this place is not touristy – it’s authentic and very friendly. The waiters wear long red aprons, calling out orders to the bar staff, balancing their trays precariously and with style. It seemed we were not the only ones looking for the real deal, the place was buzzing with glamorous blondes and tanned gents quaffing back pre-lunch aperitifs.
A granddad came into the bar with his young grandson, the waiter bent down to the four year old to take the order for granddad’s beer and the little one’s juice as if he was the most important customer in the place. The old man and the young child sat on the long retro banquette and had an animated conversation, separated by seventy years but not noticing.
In came a perfectly coiffed and manicured woman of a certain age, the waiter kissed her on both cheeks “Ah Anita… mon Cherie”; the bar man prepared a kir royale without a word passing between him and the waiter and the elegant Anita. Sometimes I long to be French like that.
I wandered up to the bar and one of the waiters said “Ah – I recognise you: The Good Life France!” It was one of the most surreal moments. “I am Franck” he said “we met at The France Show in London – I am just helping my friend Gregoire who owns Le Fireman as he’s so busy today” and we shook hands and kissed on the cheek, and just like that – my dream came true.
Sometimes it’s not all about great monuments, it’s about great moments – ambience and culture. I didn’t just leave my footprint in the golden sand of the Opal Coast that weekend – I left a little bit of my heart.
Le Touquet’s historic past – Le Royal Picardy Hotel where royalty and celebrity partied
Le Touquet – Perfect French Weekend Break
Le Touquet Tourist Office website where you will find details of the year round events
Getting there: P&O Ferries Dover-Calais route takes 1 hour and 30 minutes