Boulogne, part of the Pas de Calais Department, was founded by the Romans and was used by Claudius as a base for the Roman Invasion of Britain. Since Roman times it has remained a major trading port connecting Europe with Great Britain. Napoleon amassed his army in preparation for an invasion of Britain in 1805, but other matters in Europe prevented this plan from taking place. There is a 50m statue of Napoleon just outside Boulogne with his back facing England.
The British and American forces completely destroyed the harbour area of Boulogne by bombing it in June 1944, even though Hitler described it as a “fortress”. It was captured in August 1944 with the assistance of the French Resistance, who guided the invading troops though underground passages to reach the Old Town, bypassing the Nazi guards outside.
Fortunately, the Old Town survived the War relatively unscathed, and remains charming, but many tourists find the modern, and “brutalist” architecture of the re-built harbour area initially disappointing.
Its greater metropolitan area gas a population of approximately 135,000 but the centre of town has about 35,000 inhabitants.
Boulogne-sur-Mer is France’s most important fishing port, and a large part of the population make a living from fishing, including family-owned fishing vessels and the popular fish market. You’ll find the market just around the corner from where you get off the ferry and is particularly strong on Dover Sole!
The direct ferry service from Dover to Boulogne is now closed, but Boulogne is less than half and hour from Calais, so you are no worse off in journey time. You are then left with a choice of Eurotunneland P&O Ferries, depending on your budget.
Things to do
The Fortified Town of Boulogne
Boulogne-sur-Mer is the best-preserved fortified site in Northern France. The Old Town occupies about a square kilometre of period buildings dominated by the Belfry and and the cathedral dome. The medieval fortifications were constructed between 1227 and 1231 by the then Count of Boulogne. There are guided tours daily, more details can be found atwww.tourisme-boulognesurmer.com
Le Château-Musée (The Castle Museum)
The castle was built at the same time as the city walls, and is a powerful centrepiece of the towns medieval fortifications. Unlike other castles there there is no central keep, a quirk of design unique in Europe. The museum itself was founded in 1825 with some very wide-ranging artefacts, including Egyptian antiquities, Greek vases, pieces from ancient Gaul and the Roman period, and many more.
The Basilica of Notre Dame
The basilica of Notre Dame was erected between 1827 and 1866 by Father Haffreingue on the ruins of the ancient cathedral which was destroyed after the French Revolution. The design of the 101 metre dome was inspired by St. Pauls Cathedral in London, St. Peter’s in Rome and the Invalides in Paris.
The Belfry and Town Hall
The Belfry was the Roman-style keep of the Counts of Boulogne, and was listed by UNESCO in 2005. The Town hall was built in 1734 during the reign of Louis the XV. The classical style is the only one in the town built with both brick and stone.
The Column of the Great Army
The column was initially intended to commemorate a successful invasion of England, but it now commemorates the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur at the “camp de Boulogne”, by Napoleon to the soldiers of the Army of England. In September 1804 Marshal Soult informed the emperor of the army’s wish to erect such a column and for its site the town of Boulogne bought the estate of the old royalist, the widow Delahodde-Fourcroy, who reluctantly ceded her field for a monument to the man she called “the usurper”.
The French National Sea Experience Centre in Boulogne is much more than a mere aquarium. NAUSICAA is a unique place where visitors can discover the marine environment. It has more than 34,000 species, 4.5 million litres of water, 46 aquariums, 9 terrariums, with soundscapes and lighting effects.
Where to stay
****Hotel de la Matelote. Situated on the sea shore, in the heart of Boulogne-sur-Mer, opposite the fishing port. Hotel De La Matelote features 35 soundproofed and air-conditioned rooms with personalised decor and 4-star modern comforts. You can enjoy your breakfast in the bar, or a quiet and relaxing time in the cosy and comfortable small lounge while sipping a cocktail.
***Hôtel Metropole. Between the Ville Haute’s medieval ramparts and the sea shore, the hotel Metropole welcomes you in the heart of Boulogne-sur-Mer. The hotel’s lovely garden makes it hard to believe that you are staying in the city centre.
***Hotel Atlantic. The Hotel Atlantic is situated in front of the sea in Wimereux, a charming seaside town on the Opal Coast just outside Boulogne.
**Hotel Restaurant les Cedres enjoys an exceptional situation for the many footpaths, mountain biking tracks and bicycle routes.