The popular resort of Le Touquet evolved from an isolated moor, inhabited only by wild animals, into one of the most chic of the northern seaside resorts which reached its peak in the 1920s. In 1819, the state put up for sale 1,600 hectares of land. It was bought in 1837 by two Frenchmen, Alphonse Daloz and Alyon, who tried to make it profitable, initially with a distillery and a potato industry. After many attempts, Alphonse Daloz planted a pine forest in 1855 and in 1852, two lighthouses arrived, providing employment for six families of lighthouse keepers. This was the beginning of Le Touquet Paris-Plage. It was in 1874, however, that it occurred to Villemessant who owned the newspaper ‘Le Figaro’, that this could be the perfect situation for a seaside resort and the first villas were built in 1882. In the early days, however, Le Touquet was virtually deserted in the winter and it was only when John Whitley and Allen Stoneham decided to base the resort on sports, that Le Touquet finally grew up. It acquired a casino, a golf course, a hippodrome and tennis courts.
In 1912 on 28th March Le Touquet became an independent town with the name Le Touquet Paris-Plage. Shortly afterwards, the First World War halted its development temporarily and the smart hotels became hospitals for a while. However, in the heady atmosphere of post war society, Le Touquet became one of the smartest resorts in the then modern world. The crème of British High Society were regular visitors and the resort gained a reputation for being fashionable with the wealthy and powerful, including potentates from as far away as the Orient and the East Indies. By 1927, the Casino was foremost of its kind in France. As a result of the town’s new-found prosperity, the Town hall was built with the proceeds of one year’s winnings. Villas and Hotels sprung up as well as a covered market, the International Airport, a racecourse and golf course. Many of these early 20th century villas are now listed, as indeed is the town hall, the covered market and the stands at the racecourse.
With the advent of the Second World War, the gaiety of Le Touquet evaporated and it gained new notoriety as the most mined town in France during the war (130,000 mines). After the war, a small port was created and the Le Touquet took up its position as a year round resort and premier seaside destination of the Cote d’Opale – a position it has retained to this day. This is a resort which offers sand yachting, sailing, riding, 3 golf courses, a thalassotherapy spa, the Aqualud water park and much else besides. Within very easy reach of the Channel Ports and the Channel Tunnel terminal, Le Touquet is also much frequented by Parisians and other Europeans. Its ‘year round ‘ appeal has encouraged stylish boutiques, luxurious hotels and a good choice of restaurants and bars as well as discotheques, night clubs and, of course, the Casino.
The Palais de l’Europe and the Tourist Office are at the entrance to the town and are built on the site of the castle which belonged to the notary, Daloz, who originally purchased the land on which the town is built in 1837. The racecourse is listed by Monuments Historiques, with one façade facing the gardens, the other facing the courses. Designed in the English Norman style, the architects were Paul Furiet and Georges Henry Pingusson. A Museum is housed in a typical villa in the forest, once the home of a doctor. The displays include many paintings from the 19th century to the present day, The area drew many artists in the late 19th and early 20th century, attracted by the exceptional light of the coast in this area. There are also fascinating photographs taken by Edouard Champion, a Parisian art editor, between 1880 and 1938. The main attraction is that these photos are signed by many of his famous subjects, including presidents, sportsmen, writers and other famous celebrities of that golden era. The heady days of the early 20th Century may be over, but Le Touquet has retained its reputation for ‘chic’. For good wine, visit Le Chais, 71 rue de Londres, tel 03 21 05 59 83.
Market days - Held in a semi-covered market place, rue du Metz on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. From mid May to September there is a market on Thursday mornings.
Distance from Coquelles - 55 minutes - 66 Kms (Approx)
Le Touquet Tourist Office, Palais de L'Europe, 62520. Tel 0033 (0)3 21 06 72 00 / Fax 0033 (0)3 21 06 72 19. www.letouquet.com
Copyright text: Sarah Francis.
See more images of Le Touquet - Copyright Photographs: www.mincoin.com