Opal Coast: Winding roads & windy skies
Traveling with Expat Club is always an adventure, and our trip to the Opal Coast was no exception. We left the grey skies and pelting rain of Brussels behind as we drove west to the northern coast of France. Skies cleared, but brisk winds accompanied us on our full-day foray to France.
Our first stop was the port city of Dunkirk, a city steeped in history. Towering over the city is Tour du Leughenaer, or “the liar’s tower.” Erected in 1450 and converted to a lighthouse around 1793, it’s the city’s oldest building. Legend says false lighthouse signals lured ships into areas where they were grounded and then looted. We had time to walk through the maritime city, visiting the active market, having a coffee and fresh croissant, or viewing spectacular churches like the Gothic-style Saint-Éloi Catholic Church, which suffered from some WWII bullet hole damage to its exterior walls. We even got to see historic Citroens in the town square!
Back on the luxury coach, we continued to the walled city of Gravelines. The town is encircled by moats that flow into the Aa River, and from the stone ramparts above the city, we found great views, although the wind picked up making the stop a breezy one. The wind was our constant friend for the day!
After our walk through the town, we made a short stop at the magnificent Calais Town Hall, and it was well worth the detour. We were rewarded with an explosion of colour, beautiful flowers and a vibrant clock on a 74-meter-tall belfry tower, which has held landmark status since 1995. Construction on the Neo-Flemish-style building began in 1911, but was halted during WWI. It was finally completed in 1925.
Our lesson in history continued as we continued further into Calais, breaking into two groups. One group opted for a guided tour and lunch, and a second, more adventurous group, continued to the white chalk cliffs of Cape Blanc-Nez for a 16km hike. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but gale force winds made the hike a challenge. Sand blew into our eyes, nose, hair and clothing as we fought our way forward toward Cape Gris-Nez. Of the nearly 30 starting on the trek, only seven completed the challenge! They were the hardiest of the lot! Most of us gave up at the halfway point of Wissant and joined the bus there to meet up with the others at Cape Gris-Nez. Still, it was great, and those of us hiking were treated to glorious views of the coast, the cliffs and the churning ocean. It was an exhausting trek, but rewarding — and certainly memorable! There was even a little time for a coffee and lunch. I had a wonderful seafood lunch at La Terrasse (highly recommended) — and a ride back to the bus, thanks to Marienne and Riyadh, the amazingly hospitable staff from the seaside restaurant.
Collapsing back on the bus, we were in for another pleasant surprise: the charming village of Wimereux, just north of Bologne-sur-Mar. The seaside destination has a remarkable collection of Belle Epoque buildings offering a rainbow of colors. It was a photographer’s dream! It would have been perfect, if not for the brisk and building winds. Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate.
“The sand is actually blowing into my shoes from the shoelace holes,” said one participant from Belgium. “It’s like being in a wind tunnel,” exclaimed two participants from the United States, who were on their last Expat Club trip before returning to their homeland.
The idea of walking along the beach in Wimereux was quickly abandoned as the group split up to discover the colourful houses, restaurants and buildings. There was so much to see and do!
After a refreshing stop in Wimereux, we had a short ride to Bolougne-sur-Mer, an ancient city with Roman roots and France’s largest fishing port. The walled old town boasts a complete city wall, a medieval castle, the domed Notre-Dame Basilica and a UNESCO belfry that dates back to the 1100s. We explored the city on foot and discovered wonderful cafes and restaurants.
As the sun set, we headed back to Brussels with a spectacular sunset bidding us adieu. “It happens every time,” joked Edgar Hutte.
We’re all ready for our next adventure!