Nip across the English Channel to enjoy the authentic fishing villages and seaside towns of the Opal Coast in France’s most northerly region, Hauts de France. It’s a terrific place for the whole family.
Start your adventure at Calais when you leave the boat. French pastries will set you all up for your seaside jaunt. Set off along the D940, keep the sea on your right and follow the road signs to Boulogne via the ‘cote’.
The Opal Coast route
Boulogne is about 40 kilometres away at the end of this stunning road. The route runs right along the coastline and follows the scenic undulations of the terrain. On a clear day, the English South Downs can be seen from some of the high spots. The kids will be able to spot the busy world of ferry traffic, sailing cargos of people and vehicles between Dover and Calais.
This coastal road towards Boulogne is awash with things to find. There are prominent museums preserving the events of the two Great Wars, wiry grass bound sand dunes and quaint architectural structures. First stop off is Sangatte where you can find the vast golden sandy beach that aviation hero, Louis Bleriot took off from and became the first man to fly the English Channel.
There are numerous places to stop en route to Boulogne, authentic little Audresselles with its rock pools and nautical houses, secret bays, museums, forts and beaches galore.
On the other side of Boulogne are yet more lovely seaside stops.
Hardelot Plage is an oasis of seaside nostalgia. The beach is broad and seemingly never ending. Sand yachts and kite flying fill the scene and families stroll across the sands. It’s a great place for swimming.
Just inland there are shops, restaurants and cafés with large villas and carefully tended highways. Just on the north east corner of the town seek out the country park. The birds, animals and plant life here provide a spectacular diversion from the sea.
Located in the park is a grand Chateau that has often been visited by English Royalty over previous decades. Have a look inside and admire the grand rooms and furniture, it’s a centre of Entente Cordiale, the only one of its kind in France. The park is also home to a stunningly contemporary Shakespearean theatre.
Within the Hardelot town boundaries there are sporting activities for everyone. A celebrated golf course, equestrian centre, tennis courts and pony riding for children. Hardelot is sophisticated and welcoming.
Take the short journey into nearby Le Touquet. The sand is fine and glistening and the downtown culture though is a real contrast to sleepy Hardelot. Le Touquet was created for the well healed and affluent and has many posh hotels, restaurants, casinos and restaurants. The beach was voted the 6th best in France – Trip Advisor, Travellers Choice Awards 2018, just down the road, Wissant beach came in at No. 10.
Le Touquet is a magnet for wealthy Parisians. In the past, famous writers, politicians, aristocrats and Parisians have all brought their money and influence on the town.
Move inland a couple of kilometres and you’ll find Etaples a fishing port. The culture here is the complete opposite of Le Touquet. Etaples is not a seaside town really but still very close to the coastline. Town museums present life from long gone days in Etaples. There are poignant reminders of the horrors of the Great War that was fought on its doorsteps.
Take the coastal road to Berck sur Mer an unpretentious seaside town with a broad and wide-open beach. Berck can literally take your breath away – it’s a windy beach and famous for its annual Kite Festival which attracts contestants from around the world. Berck caught the imagination of many of the celebrated impressionist painters and you can see some of their masterpieces in a museum in the converted gendarmerie in the town centre.
This little part of France is for enjoying the simple pleasures of family seaside life. It provides the sense of being abroad without having to travel far from home.
Bob Lyons is an ex-pilot turned travel writer, and a total Francophile.