Roaring into the twenty-first century

By | Category: Travel destinations

Enduro riders; part of the thousand!

Le Touquet is a totally modern creation and first peaked as a holiday destination around 1931. Popular in the past with the wealthy English and Parisian “smart set”, today it’s still a year round resort with the same miles of beaches and offers even more sports and the same great food and choice of hotels

 

Sharing the beach: the Enduro to Polo

Thinking of the pre-war “smart set” days, it seems amazing, now, that Le Touquet’s year kick starts in mid-February with 1,000 motorbike riders competing in the Enduro Rally over the beach and dunes. There’s a big contingent from Dover and it’s become an annual event. Originally established by the founder of the Dakar Rally, it’s welcomed by the town.

and then polo

Later in the year, when the warmth has brought the wild birdlife back, polo matches begin with a mere eight horses and riders competing. Even with the polo on there’s space on several miles of beach for other action.

 

There’s a strong tradition of sand yachting and Louis Bleriot is reported to have hopped along the beaches using an ‘aeroplage’ or ‘beach plane’. Later, by 1935, sand yachts could be hired and lessons were available.

Aqualud is on the beach today: an 8,000 square metre family water park complex with slides, wave machines and pools maintained at a temperature of 27˚C within the covered areas. Next door, also on the beach, is a large modern Thalasso spa so one can sit in the briny without the long walk to the sea – a distance of over 1,000m at low tide.

the hot baths as they were

Trés sportif

For sports enthusiasts, Le Touquet is the place to be and, for those staying five days or more, the chance to get a basic grounding in something new. This includes tennis, horse riding, sand yachting, sailing, sea canoeing, kite surfing and beginner’ golf at Le Manoir. It’s also fairly flat and ideal cycling territory – most hotels can supply bikes or have them sent round and that includes the electric variety.

Famous for golf

In the 20’s and 30’s Le Touquet was a very popular golf destination for Parisians and Brits. It remains so today and the small boy caddie in an oversize cap is still the main brand symbol for the resort. There are three golf courses including the nine hole Le Manoir (appended to Le Manoir Hotel) which is ideal for learners or rusty returning golfers.

the symbol of le Touquet

The two main courses are La Mer and La Forêt. The former, opened in 1931, is a classic Scottish style links course with sea views and La Forêt is cut through a well established pine forest. Officially visitors have to have a handicap Certificate of 21 but, in common with an almost universal “democratisation” of golf, the senior pro assured me that a weaker player could play with two or three stronger golfers, provided play was not held up.

 

Paris-Plage and urban beaches

Over 100 years after the Paris-Plage tag was applied to the “new resort of the future”, Paris started its own beaches along the Seine embankment – not popular at all with the increasing number of Parisians who now work in August as les plages block off major parts of the expressway across that side of Paris. But it is part of the French way to always grab a chance to have a party with plenty of style. The best of this sort of thing I saw was during the 1998 World Cup. Nantes hosted the qualifying group that included Brazil and they turned the whole of one of the city’s squares into Copacabana Beach with a few thousand tons of sand, straw huts and all night Samba events after every match. Meanwhile in London 2013, the 900 square metre beach near Camden lock is a modest first step – and has cafe bars and events like the French.

The Westminster icon and gallery.

The Westminster Hotel is worth a visit if only for a drink or coffee to see the collection of black and white photos, signed and inscribed, by some of the guests over the years including: various Maharajas, Russian Grand-Dukes, the previous Prince of Wales, Lord Mountbatten, the Aga Khan, Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, Serge Gainsbourg, Sean Connery (who signed his contract here for the first James Bond film), Ian Fleming, Charlotte Rampling, and , of course Noel Coward as one of the leaders of the English “smart set”. In this context I found the Casino awful due to the battery of glaring noisy machines overpowering the entrance.

Le Touquet Villas

The notable 1920’s and ‘30s villas are a significant part of the Le Touquet landscape. Each one is different and standing in ample grounds, with no fences around the properties on any side. These can be seen from horse drawn carriages or slow moving buses which provide a commentary. All the swimming pools and tennis courts are discretely out of sight. Louis Quetelart was the architect and gave his name this style of villas. For details of the tours to see the Villas, and other places like Parc de l’Estuaire nature reserve, contact the Tourism Office.

The market

the fish market

Tuesdays and Thursdays see the covered market in Le Place de Marché, an impressive curved building with beams and gables. The market is as good as any in provincial France with abundant fish from the early morning run to Boulogne.

 

Étaples, the place for fish

Just outside Le Touquet (two miles East) is one of the best fish restaurants in the area and certainly the best value; Aux Pecheurs d’Étaples. Étaples was a major fishing port but a few years ago all the boats re-located to nearby Boulogne due dredging costs. But there is still the excellent Mareis Centre a fishing industry museum which includes a simulated trawler deck in a storm – a real white knuckle ride.

Le Touquet: somewhere to stay and places to eat

William Elliott

In both Étaples and Le Touquet it is essential to book at any of the suggested places. The Westminster Hotel kitchen under Canadian chef William Elliott has a Michelin Star and set menus in the Restaurant for €60 and €90 but there is also a Brasserie in the hotel with buffet based menus from €29 including a drink. A very popular fish restaurant is Perard and the traditional Le Cafe des Arts. There is no shortage of small good value bistros, wine bars, and creperies. I always try and stay in smaller independent hotels and was pleased with the recently re-furbished Castel Hotel Victoria 300m from the sea and with a great roof terrace at about €50 a night.

 

Getting there

Grab a ferry or tunnel to Calais and add a 90 minute drive or fly direct from Oxford, Lydd or Heathrow. Affluence is in the air in Le Touquet: there are a good selection of private jets at the small airport which is next to a vast complex of paddocks and stables!

For more about Le Touquet, click here. the English language version of the site is still under construction.

Images © Anthony Lydekker

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