5 Places to explore in the Côte d’Opale

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The north coast of France has long been popular with holiday-making Brits, but have you discovered these hidden gems?

Long stunning beaches, gastronomic delights and fascinating history - you’d be forgiven for mistaking this as the south of France. Instead it’s the Côte d’Opale region in the north! We’ve teamed up with Office de Tourisme du Touquet-Paris-Plage en Côte d'Opale to uncover 5 places that are not to be missed.

Named after the iridescent grey light from the sea and sky, tourists have been travelling to La Côte d’Opale (the Opal Coast) since the Victorian era. Its seaside towns have kept much of their vintage charm and they still attract plenty of beach-goers today. However, despite how well you may know the area, a few places might have missed your radar and are definitely worth making a return trip for. (Or an ideal short break away, for your first introduction!)

1. Le Phare de la Canche

Where in Côte d’Opale: Le Touquet
Drive from Calais: 70.3km / 1h 1m

See the best views of Le Touquet and the surrounding region at Le Phare de la Canche!
See the best views of Le Touquet and the surrounding region at Le Phare de la Canche! Credit: letouquet.com

If you’re up to the test of climbing 274 steps then you’ll be rewarded with one of the best sights of Le Touquet. La Phare de la Canche (lighthouse) gives you an unmissable view of Le Touquet and on a clear day, you’ll be able to see the three regions of Normandy, Picardy and Nord-Pas de Calais from the 360 degree viewing platform. In excellent weather conditions, your view might even stretch as far to see the familiar sight of the English Cliffs!

At the very least you’re guaranteed a stunning panoramic of where the land meets the sea and its surrounding countryside. Like many of the unique villas in Le Touquet, the lighthouse building is also registered as National Heritage in France.

2. Nature watching

Where in Côte d’Opale: Baie de Canche & Baie d’Authie
Drive from Calais: 92.2km / 1h 13m

The Côte d’Opale is blessed with not one but two beautiful nature parks. Baie de Canche is situated east from Étaples-sur-mer and is a protected area of 45 hectares that’s teeming with wildlife. You can explore this area alone, or for a more unique experience we’d recommend a guided tour that will take you to observe migratory birds and even allows you to taste edible plants from the river’s mouth!

Further south, near to Berck-sur-mer, is Baie d’Authie, where you can bask in the sun with the company of seals. Two species of seals can be seen from here and in certain months as many as forty have been spotted on the sandbanks! A colony is believed to have settled here as far back as 1890, as shown in a dated Francis Tattegrain sketch.

3. La Charteuse de Neuville

Where in Côte d’Opale: Montreuil-sur-mer
Drive from Calais: 71.1km / 58m

All along the coast you can enjoy endless landscapes
All along the coast you can enjoy endless landscapes. Credit: La Chartreuse de Neuville

Steeped in history, La Charteuse de Neuville’s story began 700 years ago when the Count of Boulonge decided to build a monastery at the foot of the ramparts of Montreuil-sur-mer. After some failed attempts, it was finally completed after 3 years of building and is now the biggest Carthusian monastery in France.

Thankfully when the Carthusian Order came to an end the building wasn’t left to disrepair. It served as a printing office from 1905, then transformed into the largest Belgian civil hospital during the First World War in 1914. Today its history continues, as it’s currently the largest construction site "Monument Historique" in France, with works beginning in 2016 with a competition date in 2020. This might not sound too appealing, but the site and its gardens are still otherwise open to the public, including the interior of the old monastery. Do check dates and times on the website for access.

4. Étaples Military Cemetery

Where in Côte d’Opale: Étaples
Drive from Calais: 60.7km / 47m

You’ll find the largest military cemetery in France at Étaples
You’ll find the largest military cemetery in France at Étaples. Credit: letouquet.com

The site where the Étaples Military Cemetery stands today, which is the largest CWGC cemetery in France, was unforgettably placed in the First World War. Once a complex of reinforcement camps and hospitals, it was the largest British military base in the world (at its peak 100,000 troops were housed here).

With a total of 11,500 graves, you can walk through the past of the First World War and discover its history, architecture and construction. (An English brochure is available from the Étaples Tourist Office).

5. Vallée de la course

Where in Côte d’Opale: Montcavrel
Drive from Calais: 67.3km / 58m

The Vallée de la course will take you through picturesque villages and scandalous history
The Vallée de la course will take you through picturesque villages and scandalous history. Credit: letouquet.com

Following the route of the Vallée de la course will take you through some of the most picturesque French villages in the region. The river runs through watermills, mansions, churches and old farms, but has also seen some rich history.

Among one of the more remarkable buildings it runs past is the 18th century Louis XV castle Château de Recq! Further north you’ll find more royal history at Auberge d’Inxent; an inn where the Duke of Windsor used to visit his infamous mistress, Wallis Simpson, to be far from curious onlookers.

Whether it’s your first, second or third visit - the Côte d'Opale region has many hidden gems for you to uncover. If you’re feeling inspired discover these and more book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares.

Top image credit: letouquet.com