Le Touquet is a small seaside town with around 5000 inhabitants though in summer months, that number swells to a whopping 100,000 as this place is hugely popular with Parisians – hence it’s full name Le Touquet Paris-Plage, the Paris beach. An all year-round resort, at Christmas visitors flock to enjoy the lights, the market and the special ambience of Le Touquet which is known as the “pearl of the Opal Coast”.
At just a couple of hours from Paris by train or road, Le Touquet has bags of charm and is quite unique amongst the many gorgeous seaside towns of France. For one thing it has a certain English je ne sais quois.
A unique “English” seaside resort in France
That’s because the town was developed by an Englishman to have appeal for Brits at the beginning of the 20th century. You’ll spot Cotswold style cottages, thatched roofs, tudor style manor houses and coiffed English style gardens – not quite what you’d expect to see in this northern French seaside resort. But it works. Somehow, the Englishness wedded to the Frenchness in the shape of an abundant café lifestyle, restaurants galore, a wonderful street market and fabulous French shops – is a marriage made in heaven.
The Le Touquet resort was designed with sports in mind. At a time when people were just starting to see sports as a recreational hobby, the creators of Le Touquet were way ahead of their time. Tennis courts, a horse race course, swimming pools, polo, horse riding, golf – anything that the wealthy of the day wanted, they could get it here at Le Touquet; it’s rumoured that Queen Elizabeth II learned to sand yacht here as a teenager! It still is a sporting paradise and hosts major tennis matches, has a 65 acre equestrian centre, three fantastic golf courses and water sports galore. It also is where Enduropale takes place – a legend in France. Around 1000 professional and amateur bikers and 800 quad bikers take part in a beach race at the start of the year in an event that kick starts the kick-starts the global motorsport season.
Historic and very chic
Le Touquet attracted wealthy visitors right from the get go. It was the place where jet-setters went to see and be seen. Hollywood celebrities, millionaires, politicians, anyone who was anyone came here to play. Author Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale based on Le Touquet’s casino, where coincidentally Cole Porter wrote the music for “Anything Goes” on the casino piano, and Sean Connery came here to sign his first James Bond contract. Serge Gainsbourg got his big break singing in a restaurant here. Winston Churchill spent summers here and once claimed that so many of his cabinet were there on holiday that he might as well hold office there. HG Wells eloped to Le Touquet and the Dolly sisters, vaudeville performers who captured the hearts of men around the world strolled along the front with their pet tortoises set with a pair of four-carat blue diamonds by Cartier, given to them by millionaire Harry Selfridge, of London Selfridges fame when he took them there on holiday.
Of course all these people needed places to stay and Le Touquet in the early 1900s boasted the biggest hotel in the world. Le Royal Picardy had 500 bedrooms and every one had a private bathroom, in 1930 when it opened – that was unheard of. There were 120 lounges. And, 50 apartments that were so large that every one of them had its own swimming pool as well as a kitchen, and 10 more rooms including for one’s butler. If you was disgustingly rich in those days – you stayed at this hotel.
Sadly it is no more but many other famous hotels of the day survive including The Westminster whose art deco halls are lined with signed photographs of past guests from Marlene Dietrich to Roger Moore and Charles de Gaulle.
Le Touquet’s restaurant scene
Well, there’s plenty of choice here but there are two really standout places that shouldn’t be missed. The Westminster Hotel has two great restaurants – the Michelin Star Le Pavillon with its fabulous menu created by famous chef William Elliot (sounds English but he is French!), and brasserie Les Cimaisses. I have to tell you, I tried the “tasting menu” at Le Pavillon and at 95 Euros it isn’t cheap, but, I have never ever had a meal quite like it, memorably divine.
A little down the road in the famous rue Jean de Metz you’ll find restaurant Perard.
Enjoy a glass of wine and fresh oysters, sushi or soup at the swanky oyster bar or head into the brasserie for a fabulous lunch or dinner with locals who love this place. Enjoy a la carte or choose from menus, and there’s a very reasonable “Perard menu” at 20 Euros. You can also get real bouillabaisse, the only place outside Marseille that I know where they get it spot on!
At the back of the restaurant is the Perard barbecue restaurant, a new concept, this bright terrace has a very posh retractable roof for outdoor eating all year round.
Christmas in Le Touquet
This place positively sparkles for the festive season with the Parc des Pins turned into an enchanted forest list by thousands of twinkling fairy lights and the band stand makes for the perfect Christmas selfie to share with your friends! There are Christmas chalets here where you can pick up a gift or useful things like a winter scarf and hat to keep the chill out!
You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride round the town to enjoy the strings of lights and Christmas decorations that festoon the streets (book at the tourist office).
In mid December the listed art deco market place holds a weekend Christmas Market that attracts thousands to enjoy the music, the stalls groaning with festive fayre from crystallised fruit to wine and cakes and there’s a great ambience.
There’s also an ice skating rink, pony rides and the shops pull out all the stops with great window displays – great for chocolate, macarons, marshmallow, cakes and bread, fish, charcuterie as well as high end gifts and clothes (think Paris style).
Tourist office Le Touquet.com