Le Touquet is a glitzy, glamorous seaside resort, reserved it so often seems, only for the rich and famous.
It lies on the coast in the region of Nord, pas de Calais, Picardy not far from the now rundown port of Boulogne. The tentacles of the privileged society have presumed to infiltrate almost to the edge of the North Sea. I have been able to grace Le Touquet a number of times in my life. The origins of the city came from a bleak and barren hunting ground inhabited only by wild animals in the 19th century. The land was bought by the owner of Le Figaro newspaper at the time. He saw the potential to make money and began to invest.
Later, in 1903, some of the estate and rights were sold off to an Englishman. He wanted to turn Le Touquet into a resort that would attract affluent, fashionable and upper class people from just across the Channel. The new owner inspired the creation of ‘celebrity’ hotels, summer houses and casinos. The investment had the desired effect. In the early part of the 20th century many notable people became regular patrons of the delights that Le Touquet was becoming known for. Frequent summer visitors were Noel Coward, the great actor, with his stylish entourage. The writer P. G. Woodhouse lived there permanently until the Occupation came in World War 2. H.G. Wells and his partner also lived there and their child was born in Le Touquet. They subsequently split up and went their separate ways. Winston Churchill was a regular visitor before the war and so was Edward and Mrs Simpson. Many British Westminster MPs were regular visitors too. Some people often said that there were more Members of Parliament in Le Touquet than there was in the House of Commons in London. Le Touquet appealed to rich Parisians too and still does. It is a summer escape for many of them. Many elite and affluent people keep two rooms in the resort; one for their wife and one for their mistress.
Le Touquet was created and developed to provide enrichment for the more sophisticated tastes in life. Grand ‘art deco’ styles of design exist in the town centre. The ‘Centre Ville’ is home for many individual private properties that do not seem to blend together at all. There are crusty and sprawling unusual designs right next door to last century thatched cottages. They are all there to meet demand for individual tastes. Many exclusive estate agents operate in the town advertising the sale of quite extraordinarily priced properties.
There are also many imposing and expensive hotels as well. A lot of them were designed by the same person and reflect the ‘Louis Quetelart’ style. Many of the grandest architectural features define a particular panache. One of the greatest in town is ‘The Westminster’. This has always appealed to the well healed English. It is still present and does excellent business. When I last visited in November 2015, I stayed in the ‘Red Fox’ hotel. It is in the town centre, very clean and comfortable and cost me about 48 quid a night. I shall return sometime.
One of the greatest features of Le Touquet is the fine town hall with its imposing tower. The construction was financed by the income from one city casino from just one year of trading profits. Nowadays, the fine architectural quality of the original Le Touquet has been rather diluted. To attract wider visitor attention, the earlier features have been mixed with rather bland and grey block constructions. The sophisticated planning style sits side by side with ‘English’ style pubs. There are fairgrounds and waterparks that provide greater provision for broader requirements. I last visited the town towards the end of the autumn. Most of the beach facilities had been closed for the year. I was a little sad to look upon a rather sullen and lonely carrousel grazing under a gloomy sky and surrounded by long grass. It was just waiting for the next intake of spring and summer visitors. Everywhere was so much like an abandoned British seaside resort in the winter.
The coastal beaches though retain their original appeal. They are broad and wide open and the sand is very fine and glistening. There is a selection of central parks in the middle of the town that provide space for walking and cycling. Visitors can use them to find relief from the currently more commercial atmosphere in the streets. The end of 2015 when I was there really was so beautiful. The natural colours of the trees and the patterns of the leaves on the park grasses were absolutely stunning.
The early, very robust two light house towers still provide a reminder of the rather more elegant days from the first part of the 20th century. They dominate the beach line. There are also two market days each week. They continue to provide for the more sublime French tastes and attract much business. Visitors can find a covered market in the town centre providing shelter from the frequent wet, winter days.
Sporting activity was created in Le Touquet right from its earliest days. Visitors were able to participate in order to relax and take the sea air. For many people, this was considered very beneficial to improve any health problems that they may have had. Sporting events remain a sound component of the Le Touquet culture to this day. Cycling and motor cycle racing play a large role. Horse carriage racing and golfing are also strong features. All people love to relax and play games by the seaside.
I first became introduced to Le Touquet in the days when I taught people to fly at aero clubs in England. It was a rather pretentious ambition for the richer private pilots and aeroplane owners to say that they wanted to fly over and take ‘lunch’ at Le Touquet. This invariably meant not travelling any further than the airport restaurant before scuttling back to England with a belly full of French red wine. We instructors loved it though. We had to conduct ‘cross channel’ flying checks. We got the trip to France, the duty free and the flying hours all really for nothing. We avoided the belly full of wine of course. I think it was the sight of the sudden apparent glamour of Le Touquet from the air that began to stimulate my sense buds for France so many years ago.
Today the town is always referred to as Le Touquet, Paris Plage, to reflect the attraction that it has for Parisian visitors. It was formerly declared to be a ‘Commune’ or official town in 1912. Le Touquet is available to everyone these days of course. It has lost its early reserved and glitzy appeal but retains an indestructible, but somehow wrinkly sublime manner, as ever from its past. Take a visit some time. The shining diamond heart is still there behind the dusty net curtains and still radiates brightly. Observe the general sense of affluence, grace and privilege that dominates all around you.
Nowadays though, there is just the hint of French kitschness that makes the resort available to us all. The main streets in the centre are brightly lit at night and invite everyone to join in.
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Ex airline pilot Bob Lyons
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
specialsing in Europe & Flying
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