The French ministry of tourism has awarded the small seaside town the status of ‘Ville d’Art et d’Histoire’ (Town of Art and History), and it won’t take long to see why. It boasts a magnificent fortified old town, a thriving artistic community and some of the best produce markets you’ll have the pleasure of eating your way around.
Get your bearings
Central Boulogne is made up of the old town (upper city or Haute Ville), perched above the rest of the city behind its imposing 12th century wall, and the newer Basse Ville (lower city), where the commercial district around Rue Victor Hugo and Rue Adolphe Thiers is found. Along the coast is the quayside home to the Capécure (fish market and dock) and the ferry terminals, which recently welcomed the return of direct services to Dover and the beach. The main train station, Gare Boulogne-Ville, is 1200m south-east of the centre.
Wining and dining
Given the town’s location, there’s a ready supply of fresh seafood and a wealth of intimate, reasonably priced restaurants. Similarly, there are plenty of eateries serving up typical French fare, as well as patisseries, fromageries and chocolateries stocked with the region’s finest. The produce markets in Dalton Place on Wednesday and Saturday mornings are a must for all food lovers – they have it all and at tasty prices.
If you’re after Channel views there are a handful of hotels scattered along the quayside, as long you don’t mind the inflated prices that come with them. The town centre, however, has several affordable hotels and B&Bs from about €25 per room. Budget travellers should check out the modern 135-bed Auberge de Jeunesse hostel (beds from €17). Nestled among the narrow cobbled lanes of the old town is Enclos de l’Evèche (www.enclosdeleveche.com), once home to the eminent Egyptologist Auguste Mariette and now a cosy B&B.
Worth a look
Haute Ville Built on top of a Roman fort in the 13th century, the old town is linked to the new town by four large arched gateways. The best way to see the sights of town is to climb the wall’s stone stairs and stroll the perimeter. Among the centuries-old buildings and streets, there’s a cathedral, a 12th century watch tower, a castle and a park.
Basilique Notre Dame
With its towering Italianate dome visible all over Boulogne, the cathedral is hard to miss. It was built between 1827 and 1866, when Abbe Benoit Haffreingue wanted to restore the cult of Notre Dome.
Chateau-Musee (Castle Museum)
Hidden behind the walls of this 13th century chateau, you’ll find an eclectic treasure trove including an exhibition of Egyptian art (which inspired Mariette to travel to Egypt), the largest collection of Eskimo masks in Europe and the second largest collection of Greek vases after the Louvre. Napoleon left his hat here while preparing to invade England and it now holds pride of place.
Learn about the big blue, the creatures that inhabit it and man’s relationship with the world’s oceans. See sharks, sea lions, caimans, stingrays and other aquatic creatures up close in their watery territory. The centre’s latest exhibition Our Planet, Our Home develops the notion of global preservation. See www.nausicaa.fr.
Bonus points for: Small town charm
Loses marks for: Nightlife (or lack thereof)
Additional information supplied by Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com). The sixth edition of Lonely Planet France is out now.