Boulogne is sited at the mouth of the river Liane and is France’s biggest fishing port. It has been an important town and port since Roman times, when it was the main link for trade and military movements between Roman Gaul and Britain.
Today you can walk all round the ramparts, with good views inside to the Old Town and, looking outwards to the newer town centre, the port and the sea. On most sides the walls are lined with trees and gardens and in one corner there is a medieval castle which is now the town Museum.
The château strengthens the weakest landward-facing corner of the town’s defensive system – built in the 13th century by the Counts of Boulogne on the foundations of earlier Roman walls. There are four gateways by which you can enter the old town one on each side of the rectangular fortification. Boulogne sur Mer is the most rewarding of the northern ferry ports.
It still has an intact medieval centre with a 19th century Basilica Notre-Dame which presides over the port. Nearby is the Chateau-Musee with its eclectic display of Egyptian mummies and 19th century Inuit masks. In the Ville Basse or lower part of town you’ll find some superb shops and fish restaurants especially on quai Gambetta on the east bank of the river Liane.
Boulogne is home to the first-class marine aquarium Nausicaa which has plenty of interactive displays and informative exhibitions on marine life. This serves as an appropriate introduction to the Cote d’Opale – a 40km stretch of coastline backed by cliffs and sand dunes from Boulogne to Calais. The coast with its spectacular vistas is the ideal spot for cyclists, walkers and riders alike.
Boulogne-sur-mer is just 30 minutes down the road from Calais and makes a great base to work from. Boulogne is the premiere fishing port of France so there is always plenty going on in the harbour area and great opportunities to buy fresh fish and shellfish to take home, so don’t forget the cool bag!
Walk along the seafront promenade a few hundred yards, heading east from the town centre, and you will find yourself in front of the entrance to the Nausicaa sea-life centre, probably the best marine-life centre in France. Nausicaa is always worth a visit but especially if the weather turns wet or cold – you’ll really appreciate a fascinating couple of hours spent here under cover.
Boulogne town itself has a lot of history to visit and admire – city walls still surround the old town from Napoleonic times when Napoleon himself came here to view England and plan, or at least dream of, his attack.
Now it’s more a question of the English ‘attacking’ Boulogne with the objective of enjoying its many fine restaurants, gourmet delicatessens and fine clothing boutiques. We have featured the ‘La Matelote’ restaurant and its sister hotel for the very good reason that it is one of the best restaurants in the region.
However, if you are looking for a more ordinary, but still very pleasurable, eating experience then we would suggest that you make your way back up the hill into the old town where you will find a selection of reasonable priced places serving good quality French food such as ‘raclette’ – mmm!