The beaches of the Opal Coast northern France, vary from vast golden sands to wild and dramatic cliffs and Jurassic rocky outcrops. Stretching from the Bay of the Somme to the Belgian border, you’ll find areas of outstanding natural beauty, friendly resorts, seaside towns and fishing villages that look like they haven’t changed in decades. The Opal Coast got its name from the irridescent light that bathes the the area, luring painters to try to capture its special ambiance.
Caps Gris-Nez and Blanc-Nez
The cliffs of Gris-Nez and Blanc-Nez mark the boundary between the English Channel (La Manche in French, it means sleeve) and the North Sea. These dazzling white cliffs reach 130m above sea level and are favoured by migrating birds. It was from here in 55BC that Julius Caesar sailed to conquer Britain.
At the top of these cliffs, apart from the abundant wild birds, the panoramic scenery is breathtaking. It’s a favourite spot with paragliders who hurl themselves over the edge and float off to enjoy the views. Across the sea lay the White Cliffs of Dover, to one side is the lush green seaside town of Wissant and to the other side the rolling hills of Boulogne.
There are parking spaces along the route and this outstanding natural beauty spot is well worth seeking out.
This pretty little fishing village just a few kilometres from Cap Gris-Nez attracts visitors from far and wide. White and blue nautical colours are predominant here. This is a place that time seems to have forgotten and in the little streets you will see traditional fishermen’s houses and flobards, traditional wooden boats, parked outside like cars.
This is a great place to buy seafood and shellfish from the fishermen who sell from their front gardens and garages and it doesn’t get much fresher than this!
There are two small beaches, separated by a cliff known as the “iron coast” because of its colour. The beaches are great for rock pool fishing and you’ll often spot locals with their buckets out on the beach collecting something for supper.
A little way on from Audreselles is Ambleteuse, a great little beach, famous for the majestic Fort Mahon, built in the seventeenth century by Louis XIV’s favourite engineer Vauban. It’s not open to the public but it’s a dramatic looking building, especially when the waves beat up against it. Close to here is the Bay of Slack with its impressive sand dunes and special flora. Stop off and discover a very special secret beach where seals frolic and gulls gather.
Wissant has a huge sandy beach which stretches along the bay between the cliffs Gris-Nez and Blanc-Nez. Thanks to its tranquillity and immense charm, General de Gaulle was amongst many who holidayed here. It’s a family-friendly resort and the beach is famous in Europe for its waves, perfect for windsurfers.
This charming little resort has retained a beautiful Belle Epoque style waterfront enhanced with a touch of art deco style. The high street is full of quirky shops and cute cafés and there are plenty of places to enjoy the freshest fish dishes and local cuisine. Beware it gets packed here in the summer and parking spaces are hard to come by but it’s worth persevering to enjoy this lovely little seaside resort which offers all manner of seaside sports. There’s an excellent golf course, one of the first in France, built in 1901 and with stunning views over the English Channel and a friendly club house.
The Opal Coast might not be as sunny or glamorous as the French Riviera but it has a charm and authenticity that are unique in France.
Take the D940 Opal Coast road and stop off at these lovely villages and many more, on this never crowded route where you’ll discover the most amazing views.
DFDS crossings on the Dover-Calais route take 90 minutes each way and prices start from £39 each way for a car and nine people. Book at www.dfds.co.uk.