20th January 2019
A Whimsical Wander through Wimereux
If, like me, you appreciate the architecture of the Belle Époque era the forerunner of Art Nouveau, Wimereux is the place for you. This pretty resort is peppered with beautiful houses from this period including a parade of beach huts.
The History of Wimereux
Wimereux on the Opal Coast in Northern France was a small fishing village until Napoleon Bonaparte decided to build a port there in 1803 in anticipation of his invasion of England. It was here, specifically at the pre-historic site of Point Aux Oies, that Napoleon III landed when he arrived to claim the throne of France. This small hamlet flourished when it became a stop on the Paris to Calais train line in 1867. It soon became a popular destination for the wealthy from France and England which resulted in a rapid growth of hotels and villas. Its popularity declined after the First World War but was revived by the construction of the Digue Espace in 1927 which continues to feature exhibitions by artists on its promenade, La Digue.
The Sea Front of Wimereux on the Opal Coast in Northern France
The Architecture of Wimereux
Wimereux, is the oldest and most traditional seaside resort on the Opal Coast. Little has changed since it was established at the end of the nineteenth/beginning of the twentieth century and it has a good selection of the stylish villas built as holiday homes during this period. In particular its wide seawall promenade, known as Digue, is lined with French Anglo-Normand buildings (the same period as the Victorian period in England buildings interspersed with some from the succeeding Belle Époque era. This harmonious mixture of styles is best appreciated by an evening stroll as the sun sets over the sea. These buildings are all privately owned although some house restaurants and small hotels. One of the most impressive and worth a visit is the villa Les Mauriciens. The unusual roof and façade of this remarkable building have been renovated and restored since it was classified as an historic monument. It was built around 1897 by the famous English architect, John Belcher, and is the only work attributed to him in France. Built in the neo-Baroque style https://www.britannica.com/art/Neo-Baroque it has rich, decorative interiors and is surrounded by a park. Although it is a private house some architectural tours (in English on request) are offered by the association Le C harme de Wimereux,
Belle Époque Architecture in Wimereux on the Opal Coast in Northern France
The Beach Huts of Wimereux
In front of the town the sea wall promenade is lined with a parade of beach huts, two lines in some places. These beach huts were built in 1900, one for each residence in the town. The people of Wimereux have the right to have a beach hut on the sea front. These huts have flat rooves so that they do not obstruct the views of the buildings behind them. The owners have to pay rent to the town of Wimereux and are subject to regulations regarding the use of these beach huts which can only be used during the summer months. Each hut is named for the house that owns it. They can be decorated but the colours that can be used are blue and white – the colours of the sea and the sand – with some interesting results.
Beach Huts in Wimereux on the Opal Coast in Northern France
The Beaches of Wimereux
Wimereux has four beaches. The sandy beach Plage de Wimereux is the closest to the town and it is the busiest and the one most suitable for families as it has a natural pool to swim in at low tide. On one side of this central beach is Plage du Club Nautique in front of the nautical centre is a mixture of sand and pebbles. This area is reserved for water sports only. On the other side are the more natural beaches of Plage Nord and Plage Dunes Slack. Plage Nord is separated from the central beach by the River Wimereux. This beach is very rocky and is popular for fishing and kite surfing. Plage Dunes Slack, a huge sand and pebble beach, is on the edge of a protected natural site. At the far end of the Wimereux beach I found some steps that led up to a track that winds along the cliff tops and through the dunes of these two natural beaches on its way to Point Aux Oies.
Cliff walk at Wimereux on the Opal Coast in Northern France
Shopping in Wimereux
Independent shops line the main street of Wimereux offering lovely pastries, fresh fish and exquisite chocolate. Chocolaterie de Beussent Lachelle was created in 1994 through the union of two local factories. Its chocolate is made directly from the cocoa bean, one of the few chocolate makers in France to do so. Most of the beans they use come from its own plantation in Ecuador. It is an indication of its success that it has opened twenty-five Chocolat de Beussent-Lachelle shops in France and one of them is on the main street of Wimereux. I was drawn into this shop by its luscious window display and they taste as good as they look. The original factory in the village of Beussent has been re-developed and is now a popular tourist attraction.
Chocolate shop in Wimereux, on the Opal Coast in Northern France
Weekly markets in Wimereux are vibrant with the colours of fresh vegetables stacked high on the stalls that also grown under the weight of local cheeses, plants and many other products. Items of clothing sway gently on their hangers disturbed by the breeze from the River Wimereux that runs parallel to the road where the market is held. These markets take place every Tuesday and Friday morning and an organic monthly market is held on the second Sunday of the month.
Weekly Market in Wimereux, on the Opal Coast in Northern France
Eating in Wimereux
The French are very proud of their cuisine and the restaurants in Wimereux a reflect this. I dined at L’Aloze a brasserie at Hotel Atlantic in Wimereux. This hotel occupies a splendid example of one of the town’s unique buildings from the Belle Époque era. The large, open restaurant was very busy and the buzz of diners’ conversations creates a comfortable ambience. The food was extremely good. My smoked salmon starter was an ideal combination of some really tasty smoked salmon with fresh bread and a light butter mousse. This was followed by a perfectly cooked sea bream with a crispy skin, accompanied by pumpkin purée – an elegant sufficiency. Wimereux also celebrates its local speciality, moules frites which are prepared on site or served in local restaurants nearby during the annual Mussel Festival which is held every July.
L’Aloze on the Sea Front of Wimereux, on the Opal Coast in Northern France
Not only is Wimereux a lovely place to pass a few relaxing days it is also a very good base for exploring the Opal Coast and nearby Boulogne sur Mer as well as enjoying some excellent restaurants in the region of Pas de Calais.
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This article was based on the personal experience of Valery, an ExperiencedTraveller.