Is Le Touquet-Paris-Plage on your bucket list? It should be
By Vanessa Munnings
Cover photo: Patrick Tully
If there was an award for the jolliest town in France, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage would win it. Hands down. Every part of this happy little seaside town, which is just 35 minutes’ drive from the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal in Calais, exudes joie de vivre!
I’ve been visiting jolly little Le Touquet, which is the Pas de Calais region of France, for about 20 years for short breaks and, being a ‘soupçon’ less than two hours from Folkstone, it’s an easy-to-reach escape, steeped in Frenchness, great food and an amazing beach. Possibly my favourite thing is that you can experience a completely different culture and immerse yourself in life ‘Touquettoise’ without having to wait in an airport lounge. Plus you can bring a load of cheap booze back and it’s cheaper than flying!
As you approach the town, you’ll drive through the pine wooded environs and pass the homes of the rich Parisians who holiday here and wish you could have your own white, thatched cottage amidst the pines. Try not to let the envy get the better of you. These houses cost a pretty penny and you’ll quickly decide an hotel or AirBnB is a more affordable option!
Other than the utter joy which exudes in Le Touquet (at Christmas, Le Touquet authorities were pumping out ‘Feliz Navidad’ a la Michael Bouble via speakers on street corners, while French Santa handed out presents to children – how unbeatably jolly is that?), the best things to do in Le Touquet are the beach and the food.
The best things to do in Le Touquet
Le Touquet beach
Le Touquet beach is a vast expanse of white sand which stretches for miles – big enough to absorb kite surfers, horse riders, sand castle builders, joggers and people like me, the meanderers. This region is called the Cote d’Opale and one assumes that is because, at sunset, the sand turns all shades of pastel. Trust me, you’ll be Instagramming the blazes out of that beach. If it’s not too brisk, you can swim in the sea in Le Touquet (and lots of people do), but currents can be strong so observe the beach warnings. Areas marked with green flags mean swimming is safe, orange signifies lifeguards are on patrol but bathers should be cautious. Red flags mean the current is too dangerous to swim. Le Touquet is one of the best beaches in France near Paris, which is why you’ll find many Parisians on this beach topping up their tans. The beach is perfect for families too, there are playgrounds dotted along the front, trampoline parks and the popular waterpark Aqualud, which has indoor and outdoor pools and attractions.
Le Touquet weather – what to expect
Le Touquet is a warm and friendly place whatever the time of year. In summer, the place becomes alive, but I’ve never found it too busy to get a seat in a restaurant or a spot on the beach. The weather in is very much like that in the south of England. The best time to visit Le Touquet for sunny weather is between May and October, where average temperatures soar as high as 21C. If weather in Le Bouquet is important for your trip or activities (or you just want to sunbathe), do what I do and keep an eye on your weather app and book a last minute crossing and accommodation when the weather is hot. It’s so convenient to get to Le Touquet from the UK, it’s one of those places where you’re able to do that quite easily.
Pretty as it may be, Le Touquet weather in winter is suitably freezing but in December, you’ll be able to enjoy the Christmas light and markets. There is always something going on in the town and quite often you will find live music happening in the streets and big stages popping up. Get into the Le Touquet spirit and join in with the locals for a dance on the streets.
TOP TIP: Look online for when the Christmas markets are open and pop over for a seasonal break, stocking up on wine at Cite Europe, the huge supermarket at Calais, while you do so. It’s well worth a stop – Picpoul de Pinet is around 4 Euros a bottle there, but £30-£40 a bottle in restaurants over here. Hurry and go before 31st October! Every season offers something special in Le Touquet. Jolliness is a year-round pursuit!
Beach bars on Le Touquet beach
One of the things I love about Le Touquet is the places to eat and drink. It’s high-brow enough to keep hen parties at bay, but not too posh to be vacuous. The best place to start is on the beach. Pick a beach or restaurant Le Touquet and you could probably stay in the same spot all day and never get bored. My favourite Le Touquet beach bar is the last one on the boardwalk, La Plage. This chic, laid-back bar has grown from a couple of red plastic tables in the sand to a French take on the Ibiza vibe, complete with occasional DJs and palm trees. Pick a table up by the wall and you’ll find yourself in a sun trap. If sunshine isn’t guaranteed, it’s even cosier when you bring a blanket with you.
Where to stay: the best hotels in Le Touquet
After years of trying virtually all of the Le Touquet hotels in the little town, I now stay at the Novotel Thalassa Le Touquet, which is at the furthest end of the beach. Slightly resembling a military bunker from the road, (don’t be put off), the hotel is literally built into the dunes, meaning you have unrivalled views of the beach with nothing between you and all the pinky-blue loveliness. Always ask for a room with a seaview and a balcony. In some of the rooms, the beds are plonked right in the middle of the room, facing the sand and sea. Breakfast also affords the same, amazing views and is very calming.
TOP TIP: Join the Sofitel Club when you book and you will get five per cent of the room price and can use your points for money off on future stays.
One of the clever ploys of booking the Novotel is that you can walk into town via the boardwalk on the beach. This route takes you past all of the colourful beach huts which are built into the sea wall but, most importantly, past all of the beach bars, all of which have wind breaks and deck chairs in the sand, making them perfect to stop for an aperitif.
Whilst it is a 15-minute walk back to the Novotel from the centre of Le Touquet, you are guaranteed peace and quiet there. There are other great little hotels in Le Touquet town. The Red Fox is on the Rue de Metz and offers great value rooms, right in the thick of things. Given the location, it can be quite noisy and walls in the main building are paper thin. Ask for a room in the annexe and it feels quieter – although that might just have been the wine! If you are visiting Le Touquet on a budget, this is a top choice.
Notoriously, one of the best hotels in Le Touquet is The Hotel Westminster, a very imposing, grand building in the centre of town, just along from Macron’s pad (yes, Le Touquet is so cool, even France’s president Emmanuel Macron has a holiday home here). It is very grand indeed and lots of people are impressed by this hotel and regard it as ‘the’ place to stay in Le Touquet. However, I personally feel the price tag should warrant rooms which are less tired and dated, as some French hotels can be… Having said that, if you like slightly faded grandeur and want a very short walk into town, this is the place for you. I was also slightly disappointed when I stayed there last because they wanted to take a hefty deposit from my bank card, which isn’t common in Le Touquet hotels. (Maybe I looked as if I wasn’t good for the cash).
Le Touquet paris plage for families
It’s worth mentioning that Le Touquet is not only great for adults, but kids too. The French cater so much better for kids than us Brits do and there are loads of activities for them on the sands, including trampoline parks and carousels. But because the beach is so vast, it absorbs kids and families up, so you don’t fret if you are there for adult fun and don’t want to be bothered by hoards of young ‘uns.
Shopping in Le Touquet
In town itself, there is much to do, if you are into shopping, eating and drinking. There are several mid to top-end clothing stores (I bought a fab maxi dress from a French label in a little pop-up which had been open for 40 mins, just underneath President Macron’s house, on my last visit). Yes, this is Macron’s home turf and he has a home above an estate agency! You’ll be able to tell which one, as there is a heavily armoured vehicle always parked outside and the most charming armed guards you’ve ever met. Even they are full of Touquettoise joy!
Le Touquet is known for its chocolate shops and there are a growing number in the town, all of which are good. There are a couple of original chocolatiers, but the oldest and possibly the best is Au Chat Bleu (which translates to At the Blue Cat, in English), where they take the art of confectionary very seriously indeed. They should do, as they have been open for over a century. Finger their fare and you will be told to ‘touche pas’ in no uncertain terms (maybe they are the exception to the jolly rule!). If you have a sweet tooth, you could be considerably poorer by the end of your visit, as this is costly confectionary, but utterly delicious.
How to pick a restaurant Le Touquet
There are places to eat and restaurants in Le Touquet abound. Unmissable for any trip for me is Le Matisse on Rue de Metz, which is the main street in the town. Sit underneath the red awnings on the terrace whatever the time of year (there are patio heaters) and people watch as you glug a Kir Royale or an Aperol spritz. Le Matisse is an institution in the town, as are the super-jolly staff, who dish out happy banter all day long, serving from breakfast to supper.
You can feast on bowls of moules frites, rich stews, fresh fish, salads or just a sandwich in this vibrant little brasserie. If you come at breakfast, they are happy for you to buy a coffee and then procure some artisan pastries from the patisserie on the opposite side of the rue to enjoy with it. So French.
Another institution restaurant Le Touquet is Perard, which is directly opposite Le Matisse. Macron has a regular table at this fabulous seafood restaurant, which also has a swanky oyster bar and fish counter. I am told our very own Lord Sugar is also a regular here, but don’t let that put you off… The thing to eat here is a seafood platter, which is crammed full of shells and claws, but you can also get a very reasonably priced three-course menu du jour, which offers whatever is fresh that day. People wander in there for dinner on Perard’s banquettes until well after 10pm. Forget what people sometimes say about the French, the service in Perard is friendly, warm and not at all stuffy.
After dinner, enjoy a dessert in Perard or Le Matisse, or stagger along to Aux Mignardises, which is the place to go for crepes in Le Touquet. The choice is endless and they are made in front of you – or you can choose to take one away with you and munch on it on your way home. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you can’t beat the joy of having a pancake drenched in booze and then set on fire in front of you, though.
Bars in Le Touquet town
If you are still able to party after you’ve filled your face with sea snails, lobster and fancy pancakes, The Globe Trotter on the corner next door to Le Matisse is a fun sports bar which, despite its initial appearance, is decidedly French. Locals appreciate that Le Touquet is built on tourism and if you wander in, you’ll no doubt engage with a resident who wants to tell you all that is good about their little town and become firm friends. Recently, I met a middle-aged lady who extolled the benefits of eating frogs’ legs and wanted to protect frogs and prevent them from getting squished on the roads – which are decidedly less packed than British roads, by the way. There will undoubtedly be groups of middle-aged golfers from Essex imbibing in there, but given the age demographic, it rarely gets too rowdy. Another lively bar is L’Impasse, which keeps pumping out music and bon homie until the early hours.
There’s a real mixture of people who visit Le Touquet year-round. It is mostly French residents and in the summer, you will come across some Dutch and Belgians too. There are some French families populating the beach, but in the evening, you’ll more likely find well-behaved groups of British golfers in some of the more lively bars. It’s not the sort of place that rowdy Brits go on hen and stag weekends, although I certainly would if ever walk down the aisle again! The French love families and I’ve noticed that many kids go out to dinner with their families and are usually impeccably behaved. People also take their dogs into restaurants, which is especially lovely if you are a dog-lover like me.
Parking in Le Touquet town
If you are taking a road trip to Le Touquet, be clever about parking your car. The local council has recently clocked on to Le Touquet parking and there are meters everywhere. Watch out, because some are for a limited time only. Parking at the Novotel Thalassa is free, if you are a guest there, which is another great reason to stay there. Many other hotels, especially those i Le Touquet town, have paid car parks. If you are going to pay, one of the best places to try is (oddly) right in front of the sea. You’ll find loads of spaces there.
Places near to Le Touquet-Paris-Plage
As I touched on earlier, I’ve almost always combined a trip to Le Touquet with a jaunt to the huge Cite Europe supermarket in Calais, to stock up on reasonably priced wine, tins of confit de canard and washing powder (much cheaper than the UK). There is an outlet mall near Calais in Coquelles, Channel Mall, which a range of shops including Adidas, Hugo Boss, Galeries La Fayette and even a Haribo outlet store! Plan to shop Monday to Saturday as, rather quaintly, they are closed on Sundays. The shopping centre couldn’t be easier to find when you leave the tunnel terminal – it’s huge!
Le Touquet is decidedly French, with a focus on quality food and eateries. It is viewed as upmarket and parts of it have an avant garde ‘Brighton’ vibe, but it’s genuinely not like anywhere else I have ever been. It’s a unique little gem. Like Brighton seafront, many of the old buildings have been torn down and replaced by modern apartment blocks, but plenty of charm still exists in the town itself. With a next-day return on Eurotunnel being as little as £60 return per vehicle, Le Touquet has my vote year after year. I will be back very, very soon – if only to see how many frogs my new drinking buddy has managed to save!
Find out more: Discover Le Touquet
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