Le Touquet: I do like to be beside le seaside

With a century of glamour behind it, Le Touquet is a French coastal resort like no other. But does it still offer the chic appeal of its heyday?

Driving along the coast of northern France, not far from Calais, everything is very grey... and then I arrive in Le Touquet. Celebrating its centenary of gaining "commune" (official town) status in 1912, this colourful seaside town is a strange mélange of French and English and a place not quite like any other.

Le Touquet has always been a playground; a light-hearted folly in a region of industrial seriousness. In its heyday between the wars it attracted not only rich Parisians – its full name is Le Touquet Paris-Plage – but British nobility of the aristocratic, political and showbiz kind. HG Wells eloped here; Edward and Mrs Simpson holidayed discreetly here; PG Wodehouse, Noël Coward and Winston Churchill all frequented the place. It was said that, on occasion, there were more MPs in Le Touquet than in the House of Commons.

According to a booklet published for the centenary, all these tourists "were seduced by our exceptional environment and taste for elegance and refinement". Quite possibly, but another kind of seduction played a part too. Some visitors were said to keep two sets of rooms, one for the wife, the other for the mistress.

Le Touquet's reputation for scandal has faded, but what of the elegance? As I arrive along the seafront, "chic" is not the first word to come to mind. The beach is broad and long, seven kilometres of soft, golden sand dotted with collections of rainbow-coloured beach huts. It would be glorious on a hot, sunny day. The handful of charming art deco seaview villas are, however, dulled by flat-faced concrete blocks, and the 1930s lido with its iconic high diving board (seen on early posters for the resort) is wrapped in a modern water park close to a funfair.

Perhaps the town itself is more elegant. I set off to explore. Just behind the seafront the mix of flavourful vintage and modern vin ordinaire continues. Attractive villas sit side by side with fast-food joints and "English" pubs. I wander down the more residential rue Jean Monnet to the semicircular art deco covered market, bustling on market days (Thursday and Saturday). The market spans the road and I pass through its central clock-topped arch to find a scene that is typical Le Touquet.

A pavement chequered in dark red and yellow runs in front of a fairytale turreted villa. You almost expect the Queen of Hearts to wander out. Walking on, I find a cornucopia of art deco delights, many now listed. This is a place of fancies, of holiday architecture. Even the recently restored lighthouse looks like a vast Ionic column. The names can be enjoyable too. One orangey-pink confection is boldly labelled "Tata Ice", named, I am told, after the children of the family's mis-speaking of "Tante [Aunt] Alice".

A small wooded area in the middle of town is a remnant of the forest of pines planted here in the mid-19th century. Parisians came to walk and ride in the sea air – as many visitors still do in the forest on the fringes of town – and began Le Touquet's reputation for leisure. It was, however, two British entrepreneurs who acquired Le Touquet in 1903 and developed it into the town that became the resort of choice for the British upper classes. Many built or bought villas, while others stayed in the imposing Hôtel Westminster (no wonder the MPs felt at home), which remains the best hostelry in town.

The foyer of the Westminster still has a touch of Roaring Twenties elegance, with polished wood panels, red carpeting, and art deco ironwork. The lounges are less distinguished but comfortable, and the restaurant has a Michelin star. On the one occasion I ate here, not all the food was outstanding, but the potatoes (using a local variety, the ratte du Touquet) deserved the star all by themselves.

The British owners of Le Touquet, keen to retain the resort's reputation for healthy pleasures, appointed Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, to create a "sporting paradise". His legacy lives on. The town is dotted with exceptional sports facilities – particularly for riding, athletics, tennis, sailing, sand yachting, cycling and golf – all of which are open to visitors. Several are now being used by teams preparing for this summer's London Olympics; they also host regular international competitions.

Wandering back into the commercial centre of town I find that a few blocks inland is rather different from near the seafront. Here are chic French boutiques, specialist food shops and classy eateries serving the wealthy Parisians who now own most of the villas and come here for le weekend.

Back on the seafront, the beach is empty. Not for long. Le Touquet offers a programme of nearly 400 events, from the massive winter Enduro beach motorbike race to classical-music and themed festivals. In summer, the town swells from 5,500 residents to around 100,000. This July and August, visitors will be treated to the Centenary Festival, including on Bastille Day weekend (13-15 July) a dramatic firework and laser light show over the beach.

The chic of Paris will rub shoulders with the short-break Brits, elegance will mix with fun. Le Touquet is a charming eccentric cocktail of a place: the classiest bits of Frinton with a sprinkle of beach-front Clacton and a dose of French élégance.

 

Travel Essentials

Getting there

By air: LyddAir (01797 322207; lyddair.com) flies an aircraft at weekends until 14 October from Lydd in Kent for £150 return.

By car: ferry (08716 642121 poferries.com; 08715 747235; dfdsseaways.co.uk) Dover to Calais (90 minutes) or Le Shuttle (08443 353535; eurotunnel.com) from Folkestone to Calais (35 mins) and then a 60-minute drive.

By train: Eurostar (08432 186186; eurostar.com) from London St Pancras to Calais (55 mins), then train to Etaples (around 50 minutes) and a five- to 10-minute taxi ride.

 

Staying there

Hôtel Westminster & Spa (00 33 3 21 06 70 48; westminster.fr). Doubles from €160, room only.

 

Further information

Le Touquet tourist office (00 33 3 21 06 72 00; letouquet.com).

News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballLive! Sanchez makes up for penalty miss to put Arsenal ahead
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all