Culture vultures who visit the Opal Coast area of France will be delighted to find that this area offers a wealth of art and culture to keep even the most serious of art lovers happy.
Opal Coast Girls week from 26 October to 3 November sees the local tourist agencies promoting the area to ladies, their partners, friends and kids with great exhibitions amongst much else.
This is an area which through the centuries has attracted artists to try to capture the beautiful quality of light that gives the area the name Opal Coast – a translucent bluish tinge which makes the coast and surrounding areas look particularly clear and fresh. JMW Turner loved to paint the local scenery and people and there was even an international art colony at Etaples made up of some 200 artists.
Top Opal Coast museums and cultural visits
A must-see is the Calais Lace Museum, the Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode de Calais. This amazing museum is housed in a 19th Century lace factory but inside is state of the art chic – redesigned by the same architects who created Jean-Paul Gaultier’s headquarters. This fabulous centre is dedicated to lace making with a huge collection of garments spread over 2,500 m² covering the history of lacemaking, techniques and fashion design with works by well-known designers such as Givenchy and Chanel to demonstrate the use of lace in high fashion. There is a library for research, lectures and workshops and a 3D booth that takes your measurements and allows you to create your own personal avatar. The appeal of this museum is for everyone – not just the ladies. Clients of Calais lace include Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Lacroix and Calvin Klein. Take home a souvenir from the shop or pop into the town to find two excellent lace shops: Noyon Boutique Dentelle and Royal Dentelle.
The Chateau at Hardelot is not your average French chateau – it was built by an Englishman over a century ago on the site of a medieval castle and is now home to exhibitions dedicated to entente cordial, a unique institution in France which promotes and celebrates the close ties between France and the UK. The lovely tea room with its piano recitals is well worth a stop-off.
In nearby Le Touquet, British Week coincides with Opal Coast Girls Week, it too celebrates its links with the UK in a series of daily festivities – a concert by Jane Birkin, a picnic on the race course, polo matches on the beach and pony riding for the kids and much more.
The Château Musee de Boulogne-Sur-Mer – Boulogne Castle museum is home to an eclectic set of art and objects from a disparate group of cultures from around the world. The collections are housed in a medieval castle that was built on the remains of Roman walls. Find your way to the museum through the Old Town of Boulogne and enjoy the views from the ramparts and the amazing historic buildings. Be sure to visit the Basilica de Notre Dame, this ancient church is simply stunning and full of unusual artefacts including a bronze hand which is said to have worked miracles.
In Montreuil-sur-Mer wander in the footsteps of Victor Hugo who fell under the spell of its picturesque ramparts and old citadel, its steep cobble stoned streets and its fabulous old buildings. It’s hardly changed since the great writer was there – pop into the tourist office to pick up an audio-guide from the tourist office and out for yourself what a wealth of history this town has to share.
A large part of the Musée des Beaux-Arts Calais is dedicated to Auguste Rodin who created the iconic Six Burghers of Calais statue which you can see in front of the town’s Art Deco Town Hall next to the UNESCO label Belfry. The great artist’s sketches, moulds and models are to be found in a unique collection.
This year sees Dunkirk take the title of regional capital of culture and the town is certainly pulling out all the stops to live up to this prestigious award. With a dozen or so museums to its name you certainly won’t lack for things to see and do. We like the Musée des Beaux-Arts which has a rich collection of old masters from the 18th century and over 4000 objects from continents worldwide. Modern art lovers will enjoy Dunkirk’s FRAC Contemporary Art Collection. The town’s Port Museum is dedicated to the maritime history of the area and floating outside, a number of boats of various ages which can be explored. Close by is the “Liar’s Tower” an ancient faux lighthouse which was said to lure boats to their doom on the dangerous Dunkirk sand banks – to the gain of the local people!
Gravelines near Dunkirk is home to France’s only dedicated Print Museum, located in the historic and off the beaten track coastal town of Gravelines where kids will love the Lifeboat museum where they can climb aboard and look out to sea!
Musée Municipal, Berck – Housed in the town’s picturesque old Gendarmerie built at the end of the 19th century you’ll find several well-known artists whose work is displayed including the wonderful Francis Tattegrain.
This is just a small taste of the fabulous culture of the Opal Coast but remember, not far by car or by train is the Louvre in Lens, the fabulous new wing of the Paris Louvre and in Lille several important museums and galleries as well as the Matisse Museum in Cambrai, the town where the artist was born and which he chose himself to house his collection.
Find out more about art and culture in the region of Nord-Pas de Calais:
Pas-de-Calais Tourist Office Website