The Cote d’Opale, or Opal Coast, extends west from Calais along France’s northern coast. Chalk cliffs and grassy dunes characterise the shore. It gets its name from the way the sand glints and shimmers, taking on an iridescent grey-white hue like an opal in the sunshine. It can get windy here, and pastimes such as kite surfing and sand yachting are popular as a result. The area is easily reached from both Paris and London, yet it remains one of France’s underrated gems. Let’s take a look at what you can do there besides go to the beach with Mundana’s introductory guide to the area.
Discover the area’s fishing heritage
You don’t have to look very far to find proof that fishing is important in this part of France. It’s been that way for centuries. Head to Boulogne to learn how fishermen and their families lived and worked at the Maison de La Beurière. If you can, time your visit for the mid-September weekend when locals host the Fête de la Beurière. There’s food, music and stalls selling nautical themed goods. Many of those present will be dressed in traditional costume. Across the road on the quayside, watch the boats heading back to unload their catch. You can buy whatever the day’s haul brings – everything from live lobsters to heaps of mussels and oysters.
Visit Europe’s largest aquarium
Boulogne’s waterfront is also home to Nausicaä, Europe’s largest aquarium. Allow plenty of time in your schedule to do this vast place justice. Themed exhibits explore the relationship between people and the sea, as well as the impact of global warming on low-lying communities. A tank of jellyfish mesmerise visitors as their bell-shaped bodies dome and their frilly tentacles curl and uncurl. A colony of African penguins will delight all the family, while the playful antics of Nausicaä’s resident Californian sea lions will similarly entertain. The main attraction, however, is the aquarium’s huge tank that holds an impressive array of sharks, shoals of smaller fish and giant rays.
Stay in a boathouse
Camping La Falaise in the coastal village of Equihen-Plage is no ordinary campsite. Alongside the regular pitches you’ll see a collection of curious looking upturned boats. These are the Quilles en l’Air. Once, these boats would have stood right on the beach. They were an innovative solution to the need for cheap accommodation, housing fishermen and their families in basic conditions. Outside, sun loungers occupy the hard standing where they’d have mended their nets. Inside, the upturned keel converts well to a cosy sleeping nook. The area boasts plenty of excellent hotels, but if you’re looking for something a little different within walking distance of the beach, this is it.
Search handpicked luxury hotels
Hike the Deux Caps
Two of the most prominent natural landmarks along the Opal Coast are the twin headlands of Cap Blanc-Nez and Cap Gris-Nez. Cap Gris-Nez is the closest point to the UK and if you hit the visibility jackpot you may even see the white cliffs of Dover. This is also one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and it’s fun to watch vessels of all shapes and sizes come and go. Much of the area is relatively flat and low, but from these elevated capes easy hiking trails reward walkers with far-reaching views of the coastline. Nature is the main focus. Pack a pair of binoculars if you’re a keen birdwatcher. It’s sometimes possible to see seals, so keep a close eye on the ocean just in case.
Learn about the impact of the two World Wars
Pay your respects at the Étaples Military Cemetery, where more than 10000 Commonwealth soldiers are buried. Most paid the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War. Nearby, the Musée 39-45 in Ambleteuse houses a large collection of Second World War exhibits in France. Outside, you’ll find a French tank and field artillery. Inside, watch a film about the D-Day landings in a 1940s-style cinema. Elsewhere, the occupying Germans built a series of defences during World War Two to fend off any Allied invasion. Some of these remain in the form of anti-aircraft defences and coastal batteries.
How to get to the Opal Coast
The Opal Coast is easily accessible from both Paris and London. Driving yourself gives you the most flexibility and the back roads are a scenic alternative to the faster A16 motorway. Boulogne-sur-Mer, for instance, is a three-hour drive from the French capital. From London, take the Eurotunnel or hop on a DFDS ferry and drive yourself along the coast from Calais or Dunkirk. As one of the larger ports along the coast, it boasts numerous hotels and eateries. One of the most conveniently located is La Matelote which has a great restaurant, across the road from Nausicaä.
Why not give Mundana’s agents a call and let us help you plan your Opal Coast itinerary today?