Less than 30 minutes drive from Calais port lies Wimereux, a Belle Epoque seaside town on the Opal Coast. It is though best reached by taking the ‘route 66’ of northern France which may take longer as you’re unlikely to be able to resist stopping off. You’ll drive on uncrowded roads, past meadows and pastures where curious cows lift their heads. You’ll pass through authentic fishing villages where you can buy the freshest of just caught fish from the front gardens of fishermen and their families. You can stop off to discover memorials and museums. The D940 takes you up and down hills until you drop into Wimereux, just before you reach Boulogne-sur-Mer. Discover what to see and do in Wimereux – it’s not big, but it is beautiful.
The Opal coast has long lured tourists, celebrities, royalty and jetsetters. President de Gaulle holidayed in Wissant just 20km from Wimereux. Charles Dickens loved this area saying “if only it were but 300 miles further off… how the English would rave about it.” A little further round the coast, Le Touquet Paris-Plage was once the jetset capital of Europe, home to the biggest hotel the world had ever seen in the early 20th century. Impressed by the town’s glamour, Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale based on Le Touquet’s casino, and Sean Connery signed his first Bond contract there some times later.
Wimereux is rather more sedate than Le Touquet, but doesn’t lack for glamour. Its Belle Epoque villas in the Anglo-Norman style, are whimsical but impressive. Decorative facades are painted in all the colours of the rainbow and sprinkled throughout the streets which lead to the long sandy beach.
What to see and do in Wimereux
Napoleon I was responsible for Wimereux’s development. He commissioned the foundation of a town and a port for his Grand Army, intending to conquer England, just across the English Channel and clearly visible on clear days from the Opal Coast.
The supervised beach is superb, vast and sandy with a rocky slipway for boats where children fish for shrimp. But it’s not a seasonal-only seaside town, it’s residential so with few exceptions, most places are open year round. The promenade of Wimereux is a wonderful place to well… promenade!
There are sports activities, sailing, and horse riding, plus a great golf course on top of the cliffs. The town has a varied and cultural programme including a summer festival dedicated to mussels which breed in proliferation along this coast line. There is a weekly market which triples in size in the summer months.
The town remains resolutely old-style French. There are no big chain stores or coffee shops. There are boutiques and quirky stores, cafés and bars, bread and cake shops. Along the sea front there are larger restaurants. In a prime spot overlooking the sea you’ll find the Art Deco style Hotel Atlantic. It has a laid back style which belies its Michelin-star status. Expect the freshest fish and gourmet dishes from the first floor starred restaurant. On the found floor is a non-starred bistro.
Canadian John McCrae is buried in Wimereux where he died in 1918. The author of the haunting poem “In Flanders Field” is honoured on 11 November each year when children in local schools light candles in his memory and read his poem out loud.
Wimereux is a relaxing and an ideal get-away-from-it-all seaside town, with a lot of style and a great base to explore the wider area.
More on the Opal Coast area
Nausicaa, Boulogne-sur-Mer, one of the Europe’s largest and best aquariums