France might be our closest neighbour, but it recently dawned on me that we had somehow neglected to ever take our children there. Over the past year they had both been asking when we could take a trip across the Channel so, with the August bank holiday coming up, my husband Jerry and I decided it was time to put things right and turn our weekend into Le Weekend.
We wanted to go somewhere that was close enough for a three-day trip, but pretty enough to feel like a holiday destination, so we followed the recommendation of a friend and headed to Le Touquet, a chic seaside town on the north west coast of France. Just 150 miles from London, the resort is closer to us than many of the UK’s major cities and with its big, white sandy beach, great restaurants, shops and kids’ activities including a beachside water park, it’s perfect for a Continental mini-break.
The beach at Le Touquet in Northern France
The trip was also a good opportunity for my son Paddy, 12, and daughter Juliette, ten, to practise the French they’ve been learning at school, so they packed notebooks to jot down the new words they would pick up along the way. While most Brits have heard of Boulogne and Calais, when I mentioned Le Touquet to friends, most drew a blank. Now, after a fantastic family trip, we’re wondering how we’d never discovered this gem before. And, more importantly, the kids want to know when we can go back. We set off late on Friday afternoon and drove to Folkestone to catch the Eurostar to Calais, boarding the cross-Channel train with our car. The crossing takes just 30 minutes, and once in France, it’s a further 45-minute drive south to Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, the resort’s full name, which sits in an enviable position between sand dunes and pine forest.
Since its creation in the 19th century, Le Touquet has been popular with Parisians wanting to escape the city at weekends and it remains one of the most sophisticated resorts in this area of northern France. In the roaring 20s and 1930s, it became a fashionable destination for the British upper classes and ‘smart set’, including King Edward V111 and his wife Wallis Simpson, actor Noel Coward, writers PG Wodehouse and HG Wells and wartime prime minister Winston Churchill. James Bond author Ian Fleming was another regular, and was inspired to write his book Casino Royale – later turned into a film starring Daniel Craig – after playing the tables here.
There are a number of chocolate shops in the town centre
Today Le Touquet attracts the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, while its most famous resident is French President Emmanuel Macron, who owns an unremarkable apartment above an estate agent’s office in the town’s main street, Rue de St Jean. We discovered this on our first morning in Le Touquet, as we made our way to the beach came across a huddle of TV crews, tourists and police vans who were an almost permanent fixture there over the weekend. The town centre, a few minutes’ walk from our hotel, is a compact area of charming pedestrianised streets filled with an array of boutiques, chocolate shops, cafes and restaurants, which were all full with the buzz of holidaymakers.
A further stroll down the road took us to the lovely, 7km long beach, which is fringed by sand dunes, refreshment kiosks and children’s play areas and has a new 10-metre sand sculpture of the Eiffel Tower on the promenade. Luckily, the weather was on our side and we spent a lovely first morning on the beach, soaking up the sunshine and paddling in the water (the tide was a little too far out for a swim). Meanwhile Paddy, a trampoline fanatic, was delighted to discover there were plenty of bouncing opportunities in beach’s kid zones, which also had zip wires and other fun activities.
We enjoyed lunch at a pavement cafe in Le Touquet
After lunch at a pavement cafe, where we enjoyed Croque Monsieurs, we walked to the town’s tennis club, where guests at Le Westminster have complimentary use of the outdoor swimming pool, or La Piscine, as Juliette jotted down in her notebook. This was a perfect way to spend the warm sunny afternoon, which was a pleasant 28 degrees - not bad for an August bank holiday! While this area of France has similar weather to the UK, Le Touquet’s position between forest and sea is said to bless the resort with its own micro-climate, meaning more sunshine and less rain.
Our gaelic neighbours are well known for their delicious cuisine and there are plenty of dining options around Le Touquet. As evening fell, the streets were full of famlies eating al fresco and we chose a lovely brasserie called Le Matisse, where the menu included moules mariniere, steak and frites, seafood pasta and pizzas, as well as good wine. Paddy has always been an adventurous eater and decided to try some escargots - snails - which, after a moment of hesitation, he gave the thumbs up.
Le Pavillon is a Michelin starred restaurant in Le Touquet
After dinner, we had a walk around the bustling town, checking out the windows of the fabulous chocolate shops and patisseries and stopping to buy ice cream (glace - another word for the notebooks). We stayed at Le Westminster hotel, one of Le Touquet’s best-known landmarks, and part of the Barriere group (hotelsbarriere.com/en/le-touquet/le-westminster), where rooms start at 175 Euros a night for a double.
With its grand Art Deco façade and vintage style furniture, it’s easy to see why it became a magnet for the rich, famous and fashionable. The corridor outside the restaurants is testament to the high profile guests who have stayed here over the years, including Marlene Dietrich, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Prince Edward and Tony Blair, and today it retains every bit of its retro charm.
We stayed at the Le Westminster hotel
We had adjoining double rooms (family rooms are also available) which were elegant, comfortable and came with all mod cons. The kids loved the swimming pool in the basement, which is decorated in art deco murals, and there is also a sauna, Jacuzzi and spa. Paddy and Juliette were particularly taken with the centrepiece of the hotel the foyer – an original wrought iron lift that works on a pulley system - and they enjoyed riding up and down in it whenever they got the chance.
Breakfast was buffet style and served in the hotel’s large dining room, where Paddy and Juliette tucked into cereals, croissants or eggs each morning before the staff wished us a bonne journée (have a nice day) prompting Juliette to scribble down the phrase in her notebook.
Rooms at Le Westminster are elegant and comfortable
There are other dining options too - Les Cimaises brasserie and the elegant Le Pavillon restaurant offer fine dining prepared by Michelin starred chef William Elliot. And while the kids watched TV upstairs, Jerry and I even managed a nightcap in the Le Mahogany wood-panelled bar, which also has an outdoor terrace for warm, summer evenings.
Another highlight of our weekend was a visit to Aqualud, the beachfront water park that sits on the site of the town’s 1930s lido. Half of its attractions are outside, while the others are indoors under a pyramid-shaped glass roof, so it’s great whatever the weather. We spent a fun afternoon whizzing down the slides and drifting around the lazy river in inflatable tyres.
A sand sculpture on the beach at Le Touquet
The town was certainly in full swing that August weekend, with the Music Beach Festival - a huge dance party on the sand - kicking on until the early hours. While the kids were a little young (and Jerry and I felt a little old!) to buy tickets and join the revellers, we still enjoyed a stroll down to the beachfront to hear the DJs.
Also close to our hotel was the restored Canches lighthouse, which has 274 steps to the top, where you can see as far as the white cliffs of Dover on a clear day. Meanwhile the Marché Couvert (covered market), built between 1927 and 1932, is a listed monument and sells a colourful array of local produce. We could have happily spent longer in Le Touquet but alas, our weekend soon came to an end and it was time to drive back to Calais and catch the Eurostar home. We felt relaxed and rested, as if we’d had a Mediterranean mini-break rather than a trip to northern France. We’d enjoyed sun, sea and delicious French food, and had even learnt some new French words. And the children’s verdict? Fantastique!
FAMILY TRIED AND TESTED CHEAT SHEET
When to go: Le Touquet has a similar climate to the UK, so you’ll always take a chance with the weather but spring, summer and autumn are best.
Where to stay: Le Westminster Hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre and beach and dates back to the roaring 20s when the rich and famous chose it as their base.
What not to miss: Aqualud water park, which sits on the fabulous 7km white sandy beach. It has indoor and outdoor fun, so a must-do whatever the weather
What to avoid: Taking your car on the Eurostar on a busy bank holiday weekend. We got on it in the end but much later than the time we booked.
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