19th August 2019
Le Touquet Resplendent Amongst the Pines of the Côte d’Opale, France
Lighthouses are generally found in isolated places warning of treacherous seas. Le Touquet has a lighthouse in the middle of town. Just one of the many eccentricities to delight and entertain its visitors.
The view from the top of the lighthouse is magnificent. Le Touquet is laid out like a patchwork quilt below. A collage of forest, beach dunes and a natural estuary surrounding a suburb of elegant buildings.
View from Canche Lighthouse in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Golf du Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
I had approached Le Touquet along the Avenue du Golf. The town is famous for its golf courses and its gourmet restaurants. I could explore both at Golf du Touquet as the contemporary clubhouse is open to everyone and features the very popular restaurant The Spoon. I had lunch at The Spoon, enjoying a lovely salmon dish created by its chef, Fabrice Chereau. Instead of a dessert I indulged in the gourmet coffee – a small cup of freshly ground coffee accompanied by six mini-desserts. Exquisite.
Delightful dessert at The Spoon, Le Touquet Golf Club, Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Le Touquet has been a centre of excellence for golf since the early twentieth century after the town was acquired in 1902 by two Englishmen, Allen Stoneham and John Whitley, founders of the company Le Touquet Syndicate Ltd. By this time Le Touquet, simply as Paris-Plage, was flourishing as a summer resort but very quiet in the winter. In 1909 they decided to base Le Touquet on sports. The town acquired a casino, a hippodrome, tennis courts and a golf course. Today Le Touquet Golf Club has three courses. Its famous links course, La Mer, has recently been restored to championship golf layout, as it was when Seve Ballesteros won the French Open in 1977. La Mer is the top course in France and rated as one of the best courses in Europe. In contrast, the eighteen hole Le Forêt course snakes through the pine woods going deeper and deeper into the trees. This course is gradually being restored to the original design of the 1930s. The complex also features a nine-hole course, Le Manoir, and a boutique hotel of the same name. Le Touquet is the ideal destination for golfers and the non-golfers in the family will also find plenty to entertain them in the town centre, my next stop.
La Mer Course at Le Touquet Golf Club, Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
The Historic Hub of Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
I followed the Avenue du Golf towards the town and entered another era – the Roaring Twenties (and Thirties). Place de l’Hermitage is surrounded by glamorous buildings of that era The huge Palais de l’Europe incorporates the Palais des Congrès and the Casino Barrière. Originally this site was occupied by a wooden palace and outbuildings built in 1864 by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Daloz, founder of the seaside resort. Palais des Congrès incorporated gaming rooms and in particular the Casino de la Forêt which in 1927 became the first casino in France. This casino was the inspiration for Casino Royale a novel by Ian Fleming featuring James Bond. During the First World War the building was used as an English military hospital. After this was it was enlarged and the casino became one of the most important gaming rooms in Europe. Celebrities of stage and screen came here as did Parisian high society and English aristocracy. The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) was a frequent visitor. The building was badly damaged in the Second World War and rebuilt in 1950. The Palais de l’Europe is now an international convention centre and about to undergo renovation and extension. It continues to host a casino.
The Palais de l’Europe in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Opposite the Palais de l’Europe is l’hôtel l’Hermitage. The first hotel on this site was a wooden construction built in 1904. It was replaced by the current building in 1910. It was used as a military hospital during the First World War but reverted to a popular place to stay during the Roaring Twenties hosting many popular personalities including the Prince of Wales. It was damaged during the Second World War after which it was converted into an apartment building fronted by a row of shops.
The hôtel l’Hermitage in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Close to the hôtel l’Hermitage are the tennis courts of Le Touquet Tennis Club and the Centre Tennistque. These clay courts, the first to be established in France were opened by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, in 1904. In France, known as the Pierre de Coubertin Centre it is second only to the Roland Garros stadium in Paris and has hosted many world renowned tennis players. Today this large complex includes more than twenty clay courts, a swimming pool and a restaurant combining the Le Touquet tradition of games and gastronomy.
Le Touquet Tennis Club in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
A Walk in the Heart of Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Le Touquet developed amongst a landscape of pine forests, dunes and extensive sandy beaches. It has retained its natural setting and is still surrounded by forests which have always been a great attraction for its visitors. This love of nature is reflected in the open spaces in the town itself. Parc des Pins offers a pleasant walk along its shady paths and a short cut to other areas of the town. It also features the Kiosque a Musique. This little pavilion was built in 1924 and was used for musical events during the summer. In 2001 it was named after Serge Gainsbourg a French singer-songwriter who began his career in Le Touquet.
Kiosque Serge Gainsbourg in the Parc des Pins in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
On the sea-side of Parc des Pins is the very pretty garden of Ypres – Jardin d’Ypres. This garden commemorates the arrival of 6000 exiles from Belgium when the Germans occupied their country in 1914 and they had to leave.
Jardin d’Ypres in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Close to this garden is the parish church of Le Touquet, Eglise Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc. Built in 1911 this elegant church was the first church in France to be dedicated to Joan of Arc. It was damaged during the Second World War but renovated between 1950 and 1955. Of particular note inside the church are the stained glass windows. Although Le Touquet had acquired a parish church by the time the resort became a town in its own right it was not able to build a town hall until after the First World War. Thanks to the success of its casino largely due to the proximity of the town to England where gaming was banned it was able to afford an extravagant building. Hôtel de Ville, an extraordinary blend of different architectural styles, was inaugurated in 1931. It still stands today as a testament to the shared French and British birth right of Le Touquet. As does the main shopping street, Rue St Jean.
Hôtel de Ville in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Shopping in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Rue St Jean stretches from the far end of the town down to the sea front. At the top end it features high-end fashion shops some housed in buildings from La Belle Époque era and the Roaring Twenties architectural styles went crazy. As I continued on my way chic gave way to chocolate. All the chocolate shops are good but the Chocolaterie de Beussent Lachelle just off Rue St Jean, on Rue de Metz, is the retail outlet for a small local chocolate factory and during July and August they offer tours and tastings. Patisseries and boulangeries mingling with art galleries and interior design shops offer quality retail therapy.
The Top End of Rue St Jean in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Le Touquet is also home to one of the most popular markets in Northern France. Le Marché Couvert is the site of a twice weekly market that spills out of the large covered market into the square outside. The covered market was built in 1927. It’s unusual design features two wings in a crescent shape joined in the middle by a central arch topped by a clock. The weekly markets on Thursday and Saturday are supplemented by a Monday market during the holiday season and feature every type of merchandise and produce imaginable. There is also a daily fish market during the summer and I watched this being set up early in the morning. It was not long before customers began arriving – taking advantage of 45 minutes’ free parking to peruse the displays of fresh fish and sip a coffee outside one of several cafés before departing with their bulging bags of fresh fish.
Marché Couvert in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Rue St Jean emerges into the Place du Centenaire on the sea front. I was immediately drawn to what appeared to be a sand sculpture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris that dominates this square.
Tour de Paris-Plage on the Sea Front of Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Tour de Paris-Plage on the Sea Front of Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
The Tour de Paris-Plage, a sand-coloured replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris may not look very important but it encapsulates the history of Le Touquet Paris-Plage to use the full name. La Tour Paris-Plage was created by the Le Touquet artist Alain Godon from blocks of polystyrene, resin and sand. It celebrates the creation of the seaside resort Paris-Plage in 1882, 135 years earlier. It was Villemessant, then owner of the newspaper ‘Le Figaro’, who decided that the isolated moor known as Le Touquet would be the ideal site for a seaside resort. He acquired the land and the first villas were built in 1882. This sculpture is a reference to the link between Paris and the seaside resort (the closest to the capital). Aided by the advent of the railway at the end of the nineteenth century the resort soon became popular with Parisians. They built the first villas amongst the dunes – imaginative and innovative these were designed by the most talented architects to comply with the strict building regulations. The Tourist Information office organises a tour of the most interesting buildings in Le Touquet. But, the advent of the Canche lighthouse is seen by some as representing the true beginnings of a settlement that became Le Touquet.
Castle-style Villa in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Canche Lighthouse in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Canche Lighthouse is one of two originally built on the then deserted Le Pointe du Touquet at the treacherous mouth of the river Canche. Touquet means corner in a French dialect and subsequently became the name of the town that grew up around the lighthouses following the arrival of the keepers and their families. The lighthouses became operational in 1852 and their twin signals distinguished them from other lighthouses on the French and English coasts. These lighthouses survived World War I but both were destroyed during World War II. A new lighthouse was completed in 1951 by which time a whole town had developed and surrounded it. Still functional but no longer operational the lighthouse is open to visitors who can climb the 274 steps to the top of the top of the 57-metre-tall tower as part of a guided tour. A small museum at the foot of the tower occupies the only original building on the site, the house of the masters of the first lighthouses. With a plan of Le Touquet in my head I set off to explore, starting with the shopping street Rue St Jean nearby.
Canche Lighthouse in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Where to Eat in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Dinner at the iconic Perard close to the sea front of Le Touquet proved to be a tasty and entertaining experience. Having perused the extensive menu featuring some amazing choices such as the massive seafood sharing dish I opted for the fixed price menu. I started with the excellent fish soup. I could have had several helpings had I wished but was aware there were two more courses to follow. For my main course I chose the turbot. Beautifully cooked it slide easily off the bone to join simple accompaniments of potatoes, courgettes and a tangy sauce. When it was time to choose my dessert I could only manage two scoops of ice cream (of the three on offer) and it was delicious. As I ate the restaurant filled up creating a lively ambience inside. Outside the street was busy with a steady stream of people passing by some filling the tables outside the restaurants opposite. It was a delightful contrast, French sophistication inside and seaside fun outside – it kept me amused long after I had finished eating.
Fish Course at Perard in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
Where to Stay in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
I stayed at the Hotel Castel Victoria. Conveniently located just a few minutes’ walk from the sea front and main shopping streets this lovely old building is also a heritage site. Built at the beginning of the twentieth century it is described as the first lounge hotel in France. This I took to mean small bedrooms but lots of lounge space in particular the large reception area designated the Churchill library-lounge furnished with comfy Chesterfield settees and armchairs. It is one of the oldest hotels in Le Touquet and began life in 1926 as a guesthouse with a brief respite as a dispensary for English soldiers after World War II. Refurbished in 2011 the twenty-five bedrooms are contemporary in style and offer all the facilities needed for a comfortable stay. My room opened out onto a large balcony, one of many in the building, and lovely places to relax after a day exploring the town. This, a good breakfast buffet served in the reception area and the friendly, efficient and very helpful staff combined to make my stay very enjoyable.
Hotel Castel Victoria in Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
How to Get to Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale, France
I took my car across to France on the DFDS car ferry crossing from Dover to Calais. It was a very pleasant crossing especially as I took advantage of the Premium Lounge enjoying a comfortable seat, a nice selection of drinks and snacks and free WiFi. On arrival in France it takes about an hour to driver to Le Touquet on the A16 motorway. There is plenty of parking on the streets but very busy during July and August and there is a charge for parking – €1 per hour in the green zone and €2 per hour in the red zone (free between 7 pm and 9 am).
This article was based on the personal experience of Valery, an ExperiencedTraveller.