Le Touquet Paris Plage: the swish, swanky, secret get away destination for those in the know in Paris and further afield. An easy train journey from the Gare du Nord to Etaples station close by, Le Touquet has always attracted those who like the finer things in life… Bob Lyons investigates.
Le Touquet is a glitzy, glamorous seaside resort on the glorious Opal Coast of Pas de Calais not far from Boulogne-sur-Mer. I first came to Le Touquet in the days when I taught people to fly at aero clubs in England. It was a rather pretentious ambition for the richer private pilots and aeroplane owners to fly over the English Channel and take lunch at Le Touquet. This invariably meant not travelling any further than the airport restaurant before scuttling back to England with a belly full of French red wine. We instructors loved it though. We had to conduct ‘cross Channel flying checks’. We got the trip to France, the duty free and the flying hours for nothing. We avoided the wine of course! I think it was the sight of the sudden glamour of Le Touquet from the air that stimulated my love of France so many years ago.
The origins of the city came from a bleak and barren hunting ground inhabited only by wild animals in the 19th century. The land was bought by the then owner of Le Figaro newspaper. He saw the potential to make money and began to invest.
Later, in 1903, some of the estate and rights were sold to an Englishman. He wanted to turn Le Touquet into a resort that would attract affluent, fashionable people from Britain. The new owner inspired the creation of ‘celebrity’ hotels, summer houses and casinos. The investment had the desired effect. In the early part of the 20th century many notable people became regular patrons of the delights that Le Touquet was becoming famed for. Frequent summer visitors were Noel Coward, the great actor, with his stylish entourage. The writer P G Woodhouse who wrote the Jeeves and Wooster stories lived there permanently until the Occupation came in World War 2. The great writer H G Wells and his partner also lived there and their child was born in Le Touquet. Winston Churchill was a regular visitor before the war and so were Edward and Mrs Simpson.
Many British Westminster MPs were regular visitors. One newspaper claimed that there were more Members of Parliament in Le Touquet than in the House of Commons in London. Le Touquet appealed to rich Parisians too and still does, it is a popular summer escape with celebrities (think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and those who have good taste.
Le Touquet was created and evolved to provide enrichment for the more sophisticated tastes in life. Though the grand ‘art deco’ styles of design still exist in the town centre, there are some buildings that do not seem to blend in at all. There are unusual designs right next door to 19th century style thatched cottages, individual taste is not exclusive here and the quite extraordinarily expensive properties reflect this.
There are several imposing hotels, many of them were designed by the same person and reflect the ‘Louis Quetelart’ style, these days the best in town is ‘The Westminster’ Hotel which has always appealed to the affluent English. One of the greatest features of Le Touquet is the fine town hall with its imposing tower. The construction was financed by the income from the town’s casino after just one year of trading.
The coastal beaches retain their original appeal. They are broad and wide open and the sand is very fine. Two early, very robust light house towers still provide a reminder of the rather more elegant days from the first part of the 20th century. They dominate the beach line. There are also two market days each week (Saturday and Thursday) held in a covered, listed art-deco providing shelter from wet, windy days.
Sporting activity was created in Le Touquet right from its earliest days. Visitors were able to participate in order to relax and take in the healthy sea air. Sporting events remain a sound component of the Le Touquet culture to this day. Cycling, tennis, golf, horse riding and racing, sailing, sand yachting and motorbike racing and other sports continue to be important here with a year round calendar of events.
Today the town is always referred to as Le Touquet, Paris Plage, to reflect the attraction that it has for Parisian visitors. It retains a wrinkly but sublime ambience from its past and there is a general sense of affluence, grace and privilege and just a hint of French kitschness that makes the resort appealing and inviting for all.
More about Le Touquet
Royal Picardy Hotel Le Touquet – once the world’s biggest hotel
Le Pavillon Restaurant, Westminster Hotel, Le Touquet – a foodie’s paradise
The perfect weekend desination – Le Touquet