For our first holiday in Northern France we thought it might be fun to combine a long weekend, a road trip and a birthday, destination Condette in the Pas-de-Calais region on the Opal coast. The Cote d’Opal is steeped in history and the beaches are stunning from Calais, through to Bais de Somme. My family and I drove down from Nottinghamshire through the night to board the Eurotunnel at Folkstone in Kent and arrived a mere 35 minutes later in Calais early in the morning, we headed to the D940 coastal road, a back road with beautiful, yet quiet beaches with sand so fine that it squeaks beneath your feet, picturesque rolling countryside, idyllic and with so much to explore, in fact so much we’ve decided to return as soon as we get another opportunity, four days just isn’t long enough to take it all in.
Arriving so early in the morning gave us plenty of time to drive the coast road and stop at every opportunity, we found so many places to visit from, the breathtaking Sandgate beach near Calais then moving on to Cap blanc Nez which is the closest point to England along the channel. Audinghen near Cap Griz Nez is where I highly recommend a visit to Battery Todt museum, a German built battery of coastal artillery capable of reaching the British coast and an important part of the Atlantic Wall, but more on the “Musée du Mur de l’Atlantique,” (Batterie Todt,) later.
Ambleteuse beach turned out to be a favorite location, in fact I ended up taking a spontaneous picnic on the beach with brioche and local cheeses and a naughty but nice, rum baba desert with whipped cream and a cherry on top, tasty indeed but way too messy to eat on a beach on my birthday. I can say without a doubt a beach picnic in France is a gorgeous way to spend a birthday combined with a fascinating visit to the Todt battery at Audinghen! Access to the beach at Ambleteuse was an easy walk and parking was freely available at les Dunes de la Slack car park, a lovely little walk by the side of the river slack take you to the beach where you will notice the fort at the side of the river Slack, Fort Mahon constructed by Sébastien Vauban in the 17th century is the only fort of this era preserved in France. The same stretch of dune lined beach can also be accessed from Wimereux off the D940.
Some of these locations are too interesting to gloss over at a glance and I will have to come back to these on their own merit.
Our trip was partially planned with the Eurotunnel and accommodation booked in advance plus a few locations researched, one of these destinations was the wonderful Nausicaá sealife centre in Boulogne Sur Mer. Nausicaá is the largest most spectacular sealife centre in Europe and it certainly lives up to its reputation in my opinion, you must experience this sealife centre to fully understand its popularity, there’s something for everyone here.
I found the harbour at Boulogne-Sur-Mer not only picturesque and photogenic but quite diverse. Tourist attractions and industry hand in hand, small fishing boats moored alongside the jetty and a boat yard in full swing, grinding and welding plus various factories along the roadside, some operational some not. Personally I find the non touristy parts more interesting when I’m somewhere new, some may think it strange but I’ve always liked looking at things from a different angle.
I love the art on the harbour walls and pillars depicting scenes from history in an abstract manner, and with a large vessel close by getting ready to move out to sea at that time there seemed to be so much drawing my attention. We had unfortunately missed an opportunity to head out for a boat trip on The Florelle and I had hoped for a 3 hour boat trip during our weekend especially after visiting Nausicaa sea life centre, but we seemed to pack so much into every minute of the day it just wasn’t realistic to fit it in. Now I guess there’s another goal for our next adventure here.
Our base for the 4 days was a gorgeous little village called Condette in the Pas-de-Calais region, just a short drive from Boulogne Sur Mer. Condette is within walking distance of Cháteau d’Hardelot. The first castle built on this site was built in the 12th century by the Counts of Boulogne. The castle is most recently dedicated to arts, cultural heritage and close Franco-British ties. I would very much like to return to Hardelot Castle and fully explore the grounds and interior, unfortunately on this occasion with only a short time to pack in as many sights as possible this was just a fleeting visit.
While visiting Hardelot Castle it is worth mentioning the relaxing walk around Lake Mirrors and the local nature reserve. But If you like a hike and have an interest in history I’ll mention the Walk of the Jews. “Le Chemin des Juifs.” During world war ll the Nazis set up many POW Labour camps, Condette and Hardelot Plage were no exception. The Nazi’s barbaric treatment of the prisoners of war during the construction of the Atlantic Wall is still visible to this day along the route which starts near the castle and heads up through the forest and up to a view point which would have been used by the Nazi’s as a spotting post, looking over the channel. The route then goes toward and through the dunes, eventually onto the beach where you will see a German blockhouse that had fallen onto the beach. On route, you will see the footsteps of German “Wehrmacht” boots, the paw prints of guard dogs and the foot prints of the Jews forced into hard labour, intensively building the Atlantic Wall. The Nazi’s were too impatient to let the concrete dry fully and therefore those footprints are still a testament today, some of those footprints are barefoot showing the true sense of cruelty here. There is a Jewish memorial put in place 1994 in memory of those who lived and died toiling on the construction of the “Atlantic Wall.” Once a year there is a dedicated ceremony in memory of the Jews who worked and died on the road constructing the Atlantic Wall at the hands of the Nazi regime. 1942 -1944
Condette has a lot to offer whether it’s the beautiful rural location, the hiking opportunities or the many golfing locations all around. The ease of reach to the immaculate beaches and short drive to Boulogne and Calais were a real draw for us too. We stayed at the Hotel Metropole in the centre of Condette, a lovely family run Hotel, with such a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere. The Hotel Metropole is run by Michel and his lovely British wife Joanne, they made our stay very memorable and helped us feel at home. We had a front facing family room with a double bed and bunk beds for the kids plus en-suite, comfortable and functional, not that we needed to spend much time in our room, too much to pack into the 4 days! The hotel also has a cosy bar area and restaurant which was very welcome in the evenings, the food was homemade and with tasty generous portions. I enjoyed chilling out in the garden at rear with a cool drink and when I spotted a kitten hiding behind a bush I was of course in my element too, having left my 7 cats behind in England being looked after by my son and his fiancée. I soon discovered there were 3 kittens hiding in the garden, all soon to be in new homes, but in the meantime making me feel more at home. On a couple of evenings, we had fun playing pool in the playroom next to the bar, there’s plenty to amuse us all and a big screen sports tv in the bar so you won’t miss a match. Talking of sport, Joanne had just competed in the Cross Triathlon European Championships in Romania just the weekend before we arrived and won a Bronze medal for Great Britain. What a team! Michel, Joanne and their 3 children at the Hotel Metropole.
We were amazed at the beauty of the area, we didn’t need to travel far to discover a fascinating new location, another gorgeous beach with super fine sand and dunes for miles or more history and local cuisine. One thing that I noticed while visiting some of the most fascinating areas along the Opal Coast was the availability of free parking, something we’re not so used to, what a difference it makes in deciding to stop spontaneously and discover more of the area. The long weekend to celebrate my birthday was absolutely fabulous but I must return to discover and explore more, this is just the beginning of our new adventures in France. The Cote d’Opale is a gorgeous location for many reasons and I hope you’ve been inspired to visit some of the locations that are just a short drive away from Calais.