About Boulogne

Legend has it that in 636 AD a boat carrying only a statue of the Virgin Mary washed up on the beach of Boulogne and made it a pilgrimage site.

Today they gather for the fish!

Since then Boulogne’s has been action-packed across the Millennia. Julius Caesar sailed from there, when it was known as Bononia, to invade England in 55 BC. Napoleon used it as a waiting room while his Grande Armee of 2000 flat bottom boats set sail to invade England in 1802-5. Even Hitler eyed-up the white cliffs of Dover from there.

Thankfully, the catch of the day these days, is a plateful of seafood, and the only part of England that they want to capture is the hearts of the British tourists. And this they have done successfully.

There are, after all, plenty of reasons to visit this historic and pretty town. For one thing, it is easy on the eye. Secondly it is very accessible being just a 50 minute ride on the Speedferry Seacat from Dover. When you exit the port you are immediately, and conveniently, in the thick of the town and this is ideal for foot passengers who can use the covered walkway on the first bridge – Pont Marguet – which links the port to the town. If you are coming from Calais, it is just a 20 minute dash along the superb A26 motorway.

And thirdly, it’s packed with historical sights, an impressive clutch of gastronomic restaurants, a lovely beach with an amazing aquarium and some really enjoyable shopping opportunities too. As day-trip fodder, Boulogne is ideal.

The lower town is laced with quaint streets and shops especially in Grand Rue and the pedestrianised rue Thiers and if you walk past the tidal harbour as far at the beach to the Sailor’s Calvary you will be rewarded with a good view of the port.

Venture a little higher to the old city (vieille ville) and you will find the appealing thirteenth century stone ramparts that remained, miraculously, unscathed after World War II. They surround a network of narrow cobbled streets perfect for a quiet ramble. The most vibrant street of the old town is the fairly steep, but highly colourful, rue de Lille, a cobbled pedestrianised stretch packed with a motley mix of shops, market stalls, eateries and bars. The castle at the top of rue de Lille is used as a museum and for various exhibitions that are open to the public.

Boulogne’s claim to fame is that it is France’s premier fishing port – in fact a quarter of Boulogne’s population are involved in the fishing industry in some way or other. Indeed Bouglone’s major attraction – Nausicaa national sea centre – is all about the sea. If you have time, take the short drive to the nearby fishing village of Etaples and visit the Mareis museum, an interactive museum about the life of the fisherman and his family right through to the point of sale at Boulogne’s quai side fish market. This impressive museum is even more fascinating because it has been put together by a consortium of fisherman who have managed to convey a real feel for their trade.

For those staying a little longer, Boulogne has its own forest spanning more than 200 hectares and this offers great rambling opportunities with over thirteen kilometres of sign-posted footpaths, cross-country horse riding and even cycling. The beach is perfect for an exhilarating whiz in a sand yacht and golfers can tee off at three 18-hole golf courses: one at Wimereux and two in Hardelot, both nearby towns.

Perhaps a little shopping at the hypermarket or jostling in the weekly street markets with the locals is more your style or simply join the ranks of literary genius Charles Dickens who dubbed Boulogne as his ‘French watering hole’.