Every year on a May or June weekend, a very special crab festival takes place in the little fishing village of Audresselles on the Opal Coast of northern France.
Along this twisting, winding road which runs through picturesque villages and cliff top towns facing the White Cliffs of Dover, you will find a rather hidden part of France. Visiting the little hamlets on this route will take you back in time to a more gentle age when fishermen pulled their small wooden boats up onto the sandy beach. Their families would be waiting to help take the day’s catch and sell it to the public from their homes – they still do.
Nothing much has changed in the village of Audresselles half way along the D940 since those days – you will find in this lovely, vibrant village several homes where fish and shellfish are sold direct from the garage or the front garden. Fish are caught by hand, from small boats or from flobards – the traditional flat bottomed boats which have been used since time immemorial in this area. Madame Baillet who sells the fish from the garage of her home at 119 rue Gustave Danquin, bought in fresh each day by her sons Stephane and Francois, tells customers how proud she is to be a part of this tradition.
In June or May (it changes each year), the annual Fete du Crabe is held in honour, of course, of the crab, which is caught in profusion in these parts. The tractors of the town fishermen pull the boats up onto the beach under the hot sun; fishermen and women wade out into the rock pools via the Jurassic looking jetty with its immense boulders. Carrying big crates to put the crabs and shellfish in they return to the town laden with fresh shellfish for the visitors in the know who arrive here for a fabulous lunch and to enjoy the fete.
Bands play, there is bag pipe music, majorettes and sea shanties. Local folk dancing group Les Bretons de Dunkerque perform on stage to huge applause and I think to myself they must be warm, the sun is beaming down on their black costumes, the gold brocade glinting but the smiles stay throughout, everyone is enjoying the gorgeous Opal Coast day.
There is a lot to enjoy but it’s the crab that hogs the limelight.
The staff of the crab stall are rushed off their feet as people queue for freshly cooked crab and soft baked bread – simple but delicious.
Take time to explore this beautiful coast line and you’ll discover ancient forts and WWII bunkers and museums. Climb the Colonne de la Grande Armée – a 50 metre tall tower erected in honour of Napoleon on the spot where he issued the first Legion d’Honneur medals on 16th August 1804, and where almost 2000 years earlier Julius Caesar planned his invasion of Britain. The gardens and avenues at the base of the Column are perfect for a shady picnic with a view.
The countryside is beautiful, a mosaic of colours against the backdrop of the English Channel. Tiny towns with artisan boulangeries and charcuteries will tempt you – let them! A picnic along the Opal Coast is the perfect way to enjoy the fresh air and the special quality of light that you’ll discover here – the reason it is called the Opal Coast.
You don’t have to wait for the Crab Festival to enjoy the route, the villages or the fresh fish – the fishermen sell their produce all year round along this coastal road and a visit to this lovely part of France is always a good idea.
Photo Gallery Feature: See the gorgeous Opal Coast in big photos!