Le Touquet Paris-Plage is a small seaside resort on the beautiful Opal Coast of northern France. Architecturally it has a mix of British Edwardian and French Belle Epoque styles. Combined with a zest for outdoor living (and its own microclimate), swanky shops and excellent bars and restaurants. It’s a brilliant place for a weekend break (or longer). With loads of activities from water sports, a historic golf course, horse riding in the sand dunes, tennis and much more – you seriously won’t want for things to do here.
History of Le Touquet
Le Touquet was named Paris-Plage by Hippolyte de Villemessant, the founder of Le Figaro in the 1800s because it was so popular with Parisians who loved its forests for hunting, shooting and fishing. In the 1880s, British visitor Sir John Whitby decided to develop the town targeting rich Britons and the upper classes. Le Touquet became a town in 1912 and is known in France as the “Monaco of the north”. Right from the start it attracted the wealthy and the famous from around the world, lured by its beautiful villas, world class hotels and penchant for fitness and sports.
The great British writer H G Wells (Time Machine) eloped here in 1909. Noël Coward, P G Wodehouse, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Cecil Beaton and Ian Fleming all holidayed here – the latter based his iconic Bond, 007, story “Casino Royale” on Le Touquet’s casino. Serge Gainsbourg got his first singing break here, singing at Flavio restaurant (it’s still there), Sean Connery signed his first James Bond contract in the town. The list is endless for those who have fallen for its charms. And it continues: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are fans!
Le Touquet today
Architecturally, not that much has changed though the biggest difference of the last 100 years is the disappearance of the Royal Picardy Hotel.
Opened in 1930 it was a magnet for the wealthiest people. It was at the time the biggest hotel in the world with more than 500 rooms and apartments so large they had their own swimming pools – 50 of them. There were 120 public lounges and more bars and restaurants than anyone can remember. Cole Porter stayed here and wrote “Anything Goes” on the piano at the casino across the road. It was majestic, splendid and grandiose on a supersize scale. Alas it was destroyed during WWII and what remains is now apartments and shops.
The grand villas and Belle Epoque market, the casinos and the fabulous Westminster Hotel, the tennis courts and swimming pools, golf resort Inaugurated by British Prime Minister Lord Balfour in 1904) and horse racecourse all remain and if Winston Churchill was to return (as he so often did), he would still recognise it from its glory days.
What to see in Le Touquet
There’s a 7km long beach of soft white sand with pretty little beach huts, a water theme park on the beach with heated pools and a choice of spas are on offer. Climb the 274 step lighthouse for jaw-dropping views over the countryside and coast.
Take the little train ride around Le Touquet to view some of the magnificent turreted buildings in the town and the forest on the outskirts of the centre.
The streets are filled with chic French boutiques where you can buy Donna Karen and Chanel alongside less expensive but equally stylish brands. There are specialist food shops, chocolatiers, wine caves and some of the best patisseries I’ve ever come across in France. Head to rue Metz for gourmet cakes, marshmallow creations, artisan chocolate, and artisan food shops that are simply irresistible.
The Saturday morning market in a listed covered art deco market is superb.
Sports and activities in Le Touquet
Golf course La Mer (18 holes) is rated in the top one 100 courses in continental Europe. It has fabulous views over the sea, plus a great clubhouse. There’s also La Foret (18 holes) and Le Manoir (9 holes). Golf Le Touquet is an open golf club and attracts players from all over Europe. There’s a friendly atmosphere and rumour has it a certain golf loving British Royal prince is to be seen on one of the courses from time to time!
There’s also a yacht club that’s open to all, boat rides, sailing lessons, tennis centre with more than 30 courts. And if you need a bit of a pick me up, try the Thalasso Therapy Spa right on the beach. It was created by Tour de France rider Louison Bobbet and located in the avenue named after him. The famous seaweed treatments will have you feeling sparkling and sprightly.
And, when you want to take a break, there are lots of excellent restaurants. For a posh meal try the Michelin starred Le Pavillon in the Westminster Hotel. And for fabulous seafood, the famous fish restaurant Chez Perard (Lord Alan Sugar’s favourite, he’s often seen in there). And there are plenty of bistros specialising in classic French dishes.
Don’t miss: Horse riding in the dunes
Horse riding along the beach and in the dunes is just about as much fun as it’s possible to have. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never ridden a horse in your life, now’s the time to start. I went to the Centre Equestre on Avenue de la Dune aux loups and booked a one hour walk with a horse (pony rides are available for kids separately).
With my two daughters who’d never been on a horse, we had an orientation session then set off for the beach. With the wind blowing in our hair, we followed the walk leader and got to see a different side to this town. It was wilder and less manicured than the posh centre. The waves lapped the beach around the horses feet, they clearly loved it. And so did we.
There are more than 400 events a year held in Le Touquet. They range from wine tasting and book fairs to concerts with international acts. The Women’s Open Tennis takes place here as does the Enduropal race set up by Thierry Sabine who also founded the Paris-Dakkar race. And there are month long Christmas festivities. Le Touquet is a year-round superb weekend destination. And very moreish. You’ll always want to go back…
Tourist Office: gb.letouquet.com
Equestrian Centre: centre-equestre-letouquet.com
Racecourse Le Touquet: www.hippodrome-letouquet.com