The northern coast of France is probably most remembered for the evacuation of troops in 1940 from the beaches of Dunkirk......... but in the last 77 years Dunkirk has evolved into an area offering the visitor and holiday maker alike much to see and do.
Arrive in Dunkirk where golden sand beaches extend north to the border with Belgium. Leaving the port it’s then but a short drive into the town centre and refreshment at one of the many cafes, bars or restaurants. Hotels are plentiful, being mainly in the 2 and 3 star category, but offering good accommodation at reasonable prices making the cost of a holiday stay acceptable. The main beach is Malo Les Bains Beach, 7 kms of gently shelving sand, a wide walkway flanked with bars and restaurants, this is the place to be on a warm summers day.
The name Dunkirk comes from the Dutch meaning ‘Church in the Dunes’ and can be traced back to the late 900’s AD. One of Dunkirk’s hero’s is Jean Bart, local resident and privateer. In the late 1600’s during the Franco-Dutch war Jean Bart is reputed to have captured ships loaded with wheat thus saving his fellow countrymen from starvation. The regions people still refer to themselves as ‘The children of Jean Bart’. Overseeing a square in the town centre is the large bronze statue of Jean Bart bearing the inscription ‘A Jean Bart La Ville De Dunkerque MDCCCXLV’.
A local delicacy produced at the nearby workshop of Jean-Daniel Vandewalle are ‘Aux Doigts de Jean Bart’ a calorie filled delicacy made from coffee cream and almond biscuit and coated in milk chocolate. The L'Atelier de Jean-Daniel at 6, Rue du Sud, really is worth a visit. Filled not just with ‘Fingers’ but with delicacies of different shapes and sizes, in a multitude of colours. You cannot visit Dunkirk without sampling these wonderful ‘Fingers’, try one and you will want another.
The ‘St. Eloi Belfry’ standing 58 metres high has World Heritage status. With the tourist office on the ground floor this is another ‘must visit’ whilst in Dunkirk. The internal lift takes you as far as the bell tower but then a climb up narrow stone steps is needed to access the viewing area affording views over the town, and beaches stretching to the Belgium border. The tower houses 48 working bells, the largest at 7 tonnes is called? Correct, Jean Bart. The cost of the visit is 4 Euro.
Over the years the town has grown into a vibrant centre accommodating both the old and the new. Housing modern shops, supermarkets and boutiques but still tucked away in the older parts of town are small intimate restaurants for which the French are famous. One such establishment is Atelier De. Steff at 3, Place Jeanne d’Arc where a 3 course menu can be had for as little as 29 Euro.
For those interested in contemporary art the LAAC Lieu d'art et action Contemporaine de Dunkerque is a must. A Contemporary Art Exhibition where works by Andy Warhol, Jean Tinguely and other famous artists are on display. This modern building is tastefully set by the river. The entrance takes you directly to the main auditorium, dominated by a work of Francis Bonje entitled ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge’. Ascend the stairs and arrive at the gallery divided into 8 rooms or spaces each housing works depicting different themes. One area is the Karel Appel-Circus with brightly coloured figures. My favourite being the room of ‘Political Objects’, its wall of small cellophane packets containing various objects and pills that purport to do everything from getting rid of ‘A Fear of Puppets’ to teaching you to ‘Play the Guitar Instantly’ to the ‘The Truth Telling Fish’.
As said at the start, when mentioning Dunkirk, people can be forgiven for thinking of the great evacuation and ‘Operation Dynamo’ in 1940 where 1,400 British and French vessels of all types and sizes were used to evacuate 340,000 men to England in 9 days. A huge feat even by today’s standards. Although Dunkirk has evolved since then, there is still a wonderful museum set in arches with the entrance flanked by the French and English flags. Within watch the film taken at the time showing the realism of it all. There are show cases exhibiting weapons, scenes and uniforms. Preserved engines from aircraft and maps showing the advance and evacuation. Open every day from April to September entrance is 3.5Euro but free to 1939-1945 veterans. They say it takes about an hour to tour but I was there longer and still needed more time. The curators who are on hand will answer questions and are proud of their museum and rightly so. It is certainly a museum that I will visit again. For those interested in WW1 and WW2, visit the Dunkirk Town Cemetery, the last resting place of over 1,000 allied soldiers and the Memorial to over 4,500 who have no known grave.
Once again Dunkirk will be brought to the attention of millions with the launch of Christopher Nolan’s film ‘Dunkirk’ re-telling the story of the ‘Dunkirk Evacuation’ in 1940. Due to debut on the 21st July 2017 with a world famous cast and the music by no other than Hans Zimmer it has ‘success’ written all over it.
Dunkirk, now a modern town, but steeped in history, a harbour filled with craft of different sizes including the immaculately preserved Paddle Steamer, Princess Elizabeth that took part in the evacuation. The old and the new blend together so well, and, not forgetting the beautiful beaches leading up to the Belgium border, it is a must to visit. The people are friendly, hotels and restaurants offering high quality at reasonable prices, what more could you ask for. The area has a great deal to offer and my suggestion, try it, you won’t be disappointed.
Alan Fairfax -
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for the
Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent with regular holiday & travel sections in all editions
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