In the picturesque fishing town of Étaples, the arrival of November means just one thing. As the leaves begin to fall, cooking pots are washed, stalls set out and grills fired up. Meanwhile out on the ocean, nets start to fill up as the most important ingredient is gathered for the annual Herring King Festival.
For two days every year, Étaples in transformed by a celebration of this versatile fish, which accounts for a large proportion of the town's economy. If you are looking to sample the local delicacy during the festivities, you may be surprised to find a wide variety of dishes available, all with one constant ingredient – the humble herring. Whether you prefer your fish fried, grilled, baked or stewed, you'll be able to find something to suit your tastes.
But it's not just the good food that draws thousands of visitors every year. It's the festival atmosphere, with crowds gathering along the harbour, celebrating into the night with locals dressed in traditional costume, singing sea shanties and performing folk dances. An unforgettable day out!
While across the channel their counterparts prepare for the onset of winter, the inhabitants of Étaples enjoy a milder climate later into the year, The Herring King Festival is the perfect short break if you're beginning to get those end-of-summer blues.
Étaples is just a 47 minute drive west from the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal in Calais, along the A16 toll road. Avoiding the toll route by taking smaller roads is possible, but this route can have slower traffic and subsequently take longer.
Where to stay
There are several hotels of varying price ranges in and around Étaples, but remember that the festival is very popular, so try to book as far in advance as possible. If you're looking to take advantage of the mild climate of Northern-France then there are also numerous campsites in the area. Charges will vary by number of people camping and other facilities. For more tips see our camping in France guide.
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Étaples began life as a medieval trading port, and the town's long and rich history, coupled with the natural beauty of its surrounding environment, means that there is plenty to explore if you want a break from the herring-based festivities.
On the Boulevard Bigot Descelers, also known as 'The Rope' you can find the official tourist office and the Maison de la Miniature, the home of the Modelisme Club Navals, which houses more than 280 intricate models of boats and nautical dioramas for visitors to enjoy. Head to the back of the exhibition to find the workshops and witness the process of making the miniature marvels.
If you prefer your fish life-size then pop in to the nearby Maréis, an interactive centre where you can have a go at driving a simulated fishing trawler, come face-to-gill with some of the local species and learn how to tie the perfect reef knot.
As you may have guessed by now, fish is pretty important to the people of Étaples, and you can learn even more about the fishing traditions of the town's inhabitants and how it has changed over generations, in the Musée de la Marine, located beside the port. Three floors of displays take you through the history of the town's fishing fleet, the traditions and beliefs of fishermen across the ages.
If this inspires you to take to the waves yourself, why not hop aboard a boat tour from the town's harbour? The bay around Étaples includes large sandy dunes which are part of the Canche Bay nature reserve, home to many species of rare seabirds and other wildlife. Pack some binoculars and prepare for some stunning sights on the 45 minute cruise.
On the outskirts of town, off the route départementale D90, lies Étaples Military Cemetery, remembering the dead from both the First World War and the Second World War. More than 10,000 troops are buried in the cemetery, from across the Commonwealth, including the UK, Canada, Australia and India. There are also 658 German graves. The rows of uniform white gravestones serves as a grim reminder of the human cost of war, but one that is very powerful to witness in person.
Across the estuary from Étaples is the seaside resort of Le Touquet. Popular with the 'In-crowd' of the 1920s, this resort has a faded glamour which is once again making it a stylish and fashionable place to visit. Check out our day trips in France guide for more information.
Whether you are a fan of herring or you just want to experience a great festival, don't miss out on the action in Étaples.