Think of France and the beach and your mind may instinctively wander to the Riviera and the glamour of St Tropez, Nice and Monte Carlo. But fantastic days by the sea are much closer to home, and if you take the time to explore Nord-Pas de Calais you can enjoy some of the region’s magnificent beaches and seaside resorts.
Guide to the best beaches
Dunkirk’s main beach is located a couple of miles to the east of the town where the residential district of Malo-les-Bains meets the sea. The area - founded in the 19th century by Gaspard Malo, son of a pirate - boasts around five miles of sandy, sloping beach stretching all the way to the Belgian border.
In the minds of many British people, the beaches of Dunkirk will forever be associated with Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of troops from the sands. But today the seafront offers all kinds of leisure pursuits, from gentle strolls along the promenade to extreme sports such as sand yachting and kite surfing.
Other favoured beaches in the Dunkirk area include those at Leffrinckouke, Zuydcoote and Bray-Dunes, where the coast crosses the border into Belgium.
The sandy beach at Calais is less than a mile from the central Place d’Armes but is often overlooked by tourists visiting the town. But if you are in Calais on a sunny summer’s day it is worth heading towards the sea and the sweep of the coast lined with beach huts.
As well as plenty of places to eat and drink, there are also activities for all the family, including volleyball, mini golf and fun fairs. Alternatively, why not just relax on the sand and watch the world - and the cross-Channel ferries - go by.
The resort of Petit-Fort-Philippe is situated little more than a mile northwest of Gravelines at the point where the River Aa meets the sea. The beach, with views out towards the North Sea, is recommended for children but it’s worth remembering that at low tide the water will be quite some way out. The beach is known for watersports, including windsurfing and sailing.
South of the town’s famous port sits the resort of Le Portel-Plage, a favourite for families and one of the cleanest of the Boulonnais beaches. Keep an eye out for Fort de l’Heurt, which was constructed during the Napoleonic era to protect the town but can only be reached at low tide.
Since becoming a haven for artists, Parisiens and the English aristocracy in the early 20th century, Le Touquet has had a reputation as one of the finest beach resorts in France. One highlight for those seeking a unique experience is the chance to ride horses on the sandy beach. The equestrian centre offers riding for beginners and experienced riders alike.